This summer Youthlinks students in grades 5 through 12 are learning all the skills needed to sail a boat at Rockland Community Sailing’s youth sailing camp.

A program of the Apprenticeshop, Rockland Community Sailing and Youthlinks six-year partnership began in 2008 as a fall and spring afterschool program and soon evolved into two weeks of full day sailing camp. Fully funded by the Catawamteak Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, Youthlinks’ and Rockland Community Sailing’s collaboration is free of charge for 24 students.

Rockland Community Sailing camp is taught by five full-time instructors: two head instructors: Robin and Devon, and three sailing instructors, Will, Aidan, and Cleo. All have sailed with RCS for years and worked their way up to become instructors. Lifejackets are provided.

Each day follows a similar pattern: morning lessons are spent introducing sailing skills to be practiced in the afternoons, whether that is tacking and jibing, identifying wind patterns and direction, points of sail, or self-rescue. Afternoons are spent in a hands-on manner, testing the skills students just learned in theory; students are taught by doing in sailing school. Swim tests and life jacket use are a standard part of the experience.

Students are first taught the basics of sailing: how to rig and de-rig a sailboat. Younger students and those with little experience sail one person Optimist prams, 8-feet long and rigged with a single sprit rigged sail. Older and more experienced students are paired up to sail larger 420 sloops, which have both a mainsail and a jib and are sailed by two students. On the first day of camp new students take turns being towed by a motorboat to learn the feel of being on a boat, and how to use a rudder to steer without the pressure of manipulating a sail. By the third day, students are able to tack and jibe, and practice self-rescue, meaning students intentionally capsize a boat and right it again in a rather swift motion (with life-vests on and instructors at hand.)

Throughout the week instructors teach lessons from small motorboats following sailors on the water to make sure that everyone is safe, yet allowing students the independence to learn on their own. Instructors also put buoys in the water to test student skills as they maneuver through courses set up as figure eights, ovals, and triangles. Thursday brought a fun day of capture the flag by sail, with Optis and 420s distributed throughout each team. Midweek the entire group divided into 420 crews and sailed to the lighthouse, with experienced students and instructors skippering boats.

Youthlinks Program Manager Sarah Woodman, who accompanied Youthlinks instructors Josie Gates and Kamryn Sanchez for the June week of sailing, expressed what a great experience it was to share the week with Rockland Community Sailing.

“I was incredibly impressed with the skill and natural ease of all instructors. We had some students who were a little nervous to be out on their own, particularly the first day of sailing and the day we practiced self-rescue drills, and I was so happy with the balance instructors reached between encouraging the students to conquer their fears while also being there for them every step of the way. Students learned unbelievably fast and it was wonderful to see their confidence and skill grow, and to see how willing students were to help each other along the way.”

The week had been planned to wrap up with a sailing exhibition for parents to observe, but weather refused to cooperate. Instead, students participated in a sailing Jeopardy led by instructors, displaying their newfound knowledge. Instructors handed out personalized awards for all students recognizing their work and progress over the week, and parents, instructors, and students all gathered for a potluck celebration.

Rockland Community Sailing offers lessons all summer long for students who wish to learn to sail. For more information or to register, please contact Youthlinks: 594-2221 or visit youthlinksonline.org.