Niantic Bay’s eight-week “Adventure Sailing” program offers entry to the water

How many teenagers does it take to raise a sail?

Late Tuesday morning, on a sailboat floating in Niantic Bay, four boys hover around a set of ropes and a crank, trying to figure it out.

“Is the top of the mainsail halyard connected to the head of the sail? says Sara Beth Bouchard, one of the instructors. “You’re not going to pull him if he’s under the winch.”

It’s a busy day on the water. The Larry White Regatta, a race that attracts about 100 young people from southeast Connecticut, is organized by the Niantic Bay Yacht Club.

But the boys on the sailboat – dubbed ‘Effie’ – try something different: they learn how to tie knots, hoist the sails, measure the wind and get general tips for surviving long stretches at sea.

Raising the sail (Credit: CT Examiner)

Their work is part of an eight-week summer program called Adventure Sailing, which teaches young people basic sailing skills combined with scientific and environmental knowledge. This is the first year that the club has offered this type of program.

One of the teenagers, Max Savin, 15, a student at Williams School, said he wanted to join the Coast Guard. Learning basic boat maintenance and navigation skills – like using a compass – are things he sees as potentially useful for his future ambitions.

Savin said he loved the experience of being on the water, feeling the sea breeze and hearing the waves. He also said he felt working in the Coast Guard, where he would do things like make sure drugs didn’t enter the country, was better than being in the navy or the army.

“To me, that’s more important than going out and killing other people,” he said, adding that more killing tends to “cause more war.”

Another teenager, Logan Tomarchio, 14, who goes to Norwich Tech and said he wanted to work in plumbing, said he used to go out on boats with his father.

“Last year me and my dad sailed for hours,” said Tomarchio, adding that it was both convenient and peaceful.

Pam Woodruff, the program director, said she created the program for Niantic using a combination of US Sail’s STEM and math courses and programs – and she said other clubs in the area have programs. similar. Woodruff, a teacher with Manchester’s alternative education programme, said the summer program was an alternative for children who didn’t want to run and was more “accessible” for children who have no experience or knowledge of running. sailing.

Troi Trickett, Logan Tomarchio, Max Savin (Credit: CT Examiner)

“Just throwing a kid in a canoe… doesn’t really promote lifelong learning,” Woodruff added.

She said at least half of the students in the program had never been on boats before.

Such was the case for Troi Trickett, a freshman at Waterford High School.

“It got me out of the house and sounded interesting,” said Trickett, who hopes to become a carpenter.

Others have sailed for years but turned away from the competitive aspect of sailing.

“I feel like the water is supposed to be calm,” said 13-year-old Nick Brothers, who started boating when he was six or seven.

Ken Shluger, President of the Niantic Bay Sailing Academysaid a program like Adventures, which is more about “team effort,” helps stave off some of the burnout he’s seen in younger sailors.

The first week, Woodruff said, the kids made anemometers and anemometers. Last week, they were given a single propane grill and told they had to use it to cook a meal — a reflection of the small kitchen space in a typical sailboat. The teenagers made pancakes and Thai stew. They also made eco-friendly reusable wraps out of cloth and beeswax, and they built clay and aluminum boats to learn buoyancy.

“We try to give them a lot more experience than good sailors,” she said.

Around 11 a.m., the boys pile into a speedboat and pilot the small boat to the Effie.

The boys will spend most of the afternoon at sea, and they’ve brought supplies – which, for fourteen-year-old boys, means Brisk iced tea and bags of Doritos.

Once on board, the first task of the day is to hoist the sail. It needs a bit of tweaking.

“Don’t sky nothing. Please. Don’t skimp on anything,” Bouchard told them. She explains that “skiing” is about pulling up the rope without the sail fully attached. If that happens, she says, they won’t be able to get the rope back down.

Once the sail is successfully hoisted, the boys sit down and begin to practice tying knots with some of the loose ropes. When Bouchard sees Nick Brothers complete a bowlin, one of the more complicated but particularly useful knots for securing things on boats, she pumps her fist.

Bouchard, a junior chemistry and microbiology student at Wesleyan University, said sailing was, like many sports, historically male-dominated. But she said the sport actually has an advantage for women – it doesn’t require excessive physical strength.

“The great thing about sailing is that there are no physical limits,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard said she would like to see more girls in the program. Their only female participant was in the regatta that day, leaving them with an all-male crew.

Bouchard said the day’s itinerary will be a discussion of litter and how long it takes for it to decompose. She brought samples of things you might find in the ocean – a plastic fork, glass bottles, a biodegradable plastic bag…and the now ubiquitous surgical mask.

After that, they could practice “man overboard” exercises. If they are good, she says, she will leave their being the man overboard is hot. They could use a swim. Finally, she brought two books of murder mysteries. She selected all those related to the boat.

Boat owner Robert Shook helps the teenagers hoist the sails and steer the boat. He shows them how to operate the engine throttle. They need it today — the wind is calm.

Shook makes a living working as a captain on a private yacht, doing boat maintenance and traveling back and forth between the East Coast and different Caribbean islands. New York to Bermuda takes four days, he said. Bermuda in the US Virgin Islands, Sept.

Boats in Niantic Bay. (CT Examiner)

Shook has been sailing since the age of seven and he credits the sport for requiring “mental toughness”.

“These children are only eight years old and they go out alone,” he said. “Most of the tenacity and determination I got from it.”

He added that programs like this show children opportunities they might not have thought of for careers in government or the private sector that require nautical skills – careers that have long been closed and accessible. only to the privileged. Shook called it an “old boys’ club”.

Other potential careers include driving tankers or working in commercial shipping.

“All the little tugs…they all need captains,” he said, adding that these jobs offer good benefits and free time.

There is also the historical link with exploration. Woodruff said she marveled at Polynesian explorers who went out into huge bodies of water with no land in sight and had to navigate.

“People have been sailing for centuries,” Woodruff said, adding that it gave them “that sense of self-sufficiency and exploration.”

Moana, the Polynesian protagonist of the 2016 Disney film of the same name, and who is taught to navigate by the god Maui, is referenced by both Woodruff and Bouchard during the day. Back on the boat, Bouchard threatens to put on her kid-friendly sailing playlist, which she says includes a medley of Kermit the Frog, the AWOLNATION song “Sail” and background music by Spongebob Squarepants. It included bits of Moana, she said, but she deleted them.

“It started to get excessive with the kids,” she admitted.

As the teenagers begged her not to put the playlist on, the boat moved towards the race course. Shook helped lead the small sailboats competing in the regatta, sparking heated discussion over who would be guilty of a lawsuit if the boats collided.

They maneuvered the Effie without incident through the surrounded competitors. Along the race course, horns begin to sound, calling on the fleet of tiny boats with nearly identical sails to line up behind a red buoy, vying for the best position.

But Effie’s crew goes off on their own, heading for the horizon.

Ryan H. Bowman