Summer Spotlight: WYC Jr. Sailing Program

SYRACUSE – Good things come to those who wait.

After a week’s worth of tying knots, avoiding the boom, judging wind and “arrrrgh”-ing like a pirate, the sailors-in-training in the Junior Sail Program at the Wawasee Yacht Club (WYC) finally got a real treat late Friday morning. In what looked like a windless bust turned into a ride of their lives for the 20-plus junior sailors.

The big treat for the junior sailors Friday was a trip out on the monstrous A-Scow, which is a whopping 38 feet long and could house most if not all of the campers. The group was divided up among the junior instructors on the A-Scow, an E-Scow (28 feet long) and a Lightning (19 feet long). A very light breeze allowed for a launch outward on the mighty Wawasee waters, but as the groups tried to tack and find any wind on the water, the gentle breeze just wasn’t cutting it.

As program leader Jeff Herdrich made the call to bring in the three vessels into a sandbar on the western edge of Wawasee for a swim break, the decision was made to tow the A-Scow and E-Scow back to the WYC harbor. As the riled up and soaking campers piled onto the two vessels and program assistant Steve Miller began towing from the WYC committee boat, out of nowhere came a huge burst of wind from the east. And it was persistent.

So the two vessels were cut loose from the tow, and the eyes of the youth were now as big as they had been all week. The A-Scow cut through the Wawasee water like a hot knife through butter, with the E-Scow humming right behind. After what had looked like a glorified ride to the sand bar, the thrill of the sail had come full circle.

“I’m really glad that wind picked up right there at the end, the kids loved it,” Herdrich said. “We just try to make it fun for the kids. I knew this stuff would go right over their heads when you talk knots and angles and wind. But “Tiller Time” is what really shows them what sailing is all about. The more time they are on the water, the better they will get. If we can get them out there for 12 hours or more, we really feel like they will learn something new.”

The Wawasee Yacht Club has hosted the Junior Sail Program for close to 20 years, dating back to 1991. The program is geared toward teaching young people sailing and seamanship in a safe, fun and structured environment that promotes sportsmanship, self-discipline, self-reliance, and a respect for nature and fellow boaters. The goal is to develop in each child an appreciation for, and a love of sailing; and confidence in his or her abilities.

The week-long camp is broken up into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session is for the beginners which numbered to 21 this week at an average about 20 8-10 year-old campers per the four weeks. The afternoon advanced sessions have 10-15 year-old campers that are numbering right at 12 per week.

Rick Lemberg Jr., current Commodore for the WYC, is a program graduate. All of the junior instructors, including current E-Scow No. 151 skipper Robbie Queisser, are graduates of the program. And program director Jeff Schmahl has put all of his kids through the program, with his oldest son, Michael, working through the sailing ranks with the adult sailors at WYC.

“Our junior sailors come from a variety of backgrounds, and they keep coming back,” Schmahl said. “Some live here year around, or are summertime residents of the area.

“This year we have an unusually large group of first-year participants, which I consider a tribute to the reputation of our people and our program.”

Added Queisser, “I feel like the kids start to get it when they aren’t scared of sailing. When they aren’t afraid of capsizing or a boom hitting them. That’s when they start getting what’s going on.”

While Friday’s treat ride on the A-Scow was capped with, as one camper yelled, “A glorious Dilly Bar!”, upon return to the clubhouse, the week actually had plenty of work involved in the program.

“Tiller Time”, as Herdrich refers to, is actual sailing concept in learning how to maneuver the Opti and Bic mini sailboats the club uses in its programs. Monday is spent in the clubhouse, going over terminology, the construction of boats, learning to tie knots, and safety procedures and measures on the water and in the sailboats. Tuesday through Thursday are then taken to the water for “Tiller Time”, where the campers get the real experience of sailing. Herdrich likes to use Friday as a chance to ride the A-Scow and E-Scow, but it could morph into a variety of fun activities for the campers.

Wednesday was an eventful day, and one of real-life learning, as the mid-afternoon storms forced instructors and sailors to react not just to changing weather conditions on the water, but about water safety involving weather. Thursday was highlighted by 12-15 mile-per-hour winds, which had several wide-eyed junior sailors really buckling down on the early-week homework studies.

The camp is in its first of four weeks, and while the advanced camps are booked full according to Herdrich, space could be made for the beginners. For more information on the WYC Jr. Sail Program, visit the website.

The video features the A-Scow (foreground) and E-Scow (background) cruising through Lake Wawasee after the wind picked up late Friday morning. Video and photos are by Mike Deak.

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