SYRACUSE – Another turn of the calendar offers yet another chance for a generation to experience what their parents and grandparents have enjoyed for decades.
The sailors at the Wawasee Yacht Club have long since upheld a tradition of family among its mission to grow the sport. One of the newer delegations within the club is the Junior Sail Program, which again has taken over the club in July. And the kids are loving it.
The program has been around for years, but only for about half a decade in its present form. Program organizer Jeff Schmahl, lead instructor Jeff Herdrich and assistant Ben Herdrich have put together another great run of events for the up-and-coming sailors to tackle, which includes classroom instruction, “Tiller Time” and games.
The class is a week long with four weeks of classes scheduled beginning right after the Fourth holiday. All of the classes were sold out, and according to Ben Herdrich, several kids were turned away simply because there weren’t enough vessels for the demand. There are over 20 campers in the beginner morning sessions and 13-15 in the advanced afternoon sessions per week.
“We hate to turn anyone down, but we just don’t have enough boats for the number of people that wanted to join,” Ben Herdrich said. “Maybe that’s a good thing, though, because the interest is strong. We have a great turnout and the kids are having a blast.”
While Schmahl handles the booking and overall jurisdiction of the program, the Herdrichs, along with several junior instructors, are hands-on with the campers each week. All of the junior instructors are graduates of the Junior Sail Program, and each one has an intimate connection to giving back.
“Our biggest thing is to point out that nothing should scare them,” said junior instructor John Call. “The worst thing that can happen they may get wet. But you’re on a lake, you probably will already be wet!”
Added fellow junior instructor CJ Szeplaki, “This is one of the sports that always changes, you really don’t have a day that is the same. The wind is never the same, and so that makes you have to adjust every time out. It’s hard to teach that to someone who doesn’t understand it, but that challenge is fun to me.”
An average week with the program has the campers working on basics the first couple days. From terminology to knot typing, how to judge wind to instructions on what to do if a vessel capsizes, there is a lot of prep and care that goes into “Tiller Time”, which gets the campers in the boats and learning how to navigate Wawasee’s vast waters.
The end of the week is generally spent exclusively in the water, whether in the smaller boats working to get to a beach or water slide, or riding in the monster A-Scow or E-Scows, which really raise eye brows among the newer sailors.
“We just want to make this fun for them,” Jeff Herdrich said between offerings to junior sailors in one-man Open Bics during a practice race. “For me, getting them on the water is the most important thing. It’s them versus Mother Nature. Go out and hammer it, try to figure this sport out. I learned by doing it growing up, and I feel that is the best way to teach the kids sailing.”