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Keiki learn more than sailing in Lahaina Yacht Club program

By Staff | Nov 11, 2010

Lahaina Yacht Club is looking to expand its junior sailing program. Photo by Mike Sowers.

LAHAINA — Lahaina Yacht Club (LYC) has a mission: “to get people involved in water sports,” explained Mike Sowers.

Sowers is the club’s treasurer, and his goals are lofty indeed.

“We actually throw a lot of money at water activities with no expectation of whether we’re going to break even,” he said.

“It’s part of our program, and that’s what we want to do,” the money man explained.

In less than a decade, LYC’s fleet of small boats has expanded from a handful to almost two dozen.

The club, located in the center of town at 835 Front St., has four lasers, a Lido 14 and an Olson 30.

“For our juniors, we’re using seven sabots, and we have eight Open Bics,” LYC Fleet Captain Curtis Robb added.

For club Commodore Brian Blundell, it’s all about “educating people in the ways of the ocean and sailing — feeling comfortable with the water.”

Toward this end, the nonprofit has developed a junior sailing program, with outreach to youth ages nine to 14.

The yachting organization offers 2 one-week summer sessions open to 30 students.

It has also opened its doors to other groups.

“We’ve done this before with Seabury Hall. They have a break in February, and they come down for four days. We’ll do a little sailing week for them. With the Boy Scouts, we did a sailing merit badge for some of the troops on Maui — the Kula kids and our local boys here. The Lahaina Tennis club — we had them come down,” the volunteer fleet captain recalled.

For five weeks this fall, Sacred Hearts School eighth-graders have taken advantage of the opportunity one day a week.

On Thursdays, the club deck is full of enthusiastic sailors learning the basics from knot-tying to nomenclature.

“We get them in the water the very first day. It’s just been our experience that they learn by doing, and it’s that immediate feedback. Getting them hands-on is incredibly important, because they themselves go from petrified to the feeling that they have conquered it,” Robb said.

He considers the volunteer time he spends with the island youth well worth it.

“The skills that they learn on these little boats are the same skills that they are using when they see these big boats sail by. It is the same skill set that would allow them to get in a suitably equipped boat and sail into the horizon. It gives them the idea that they can achieve goals given a master skill set,” he said.

The lesson is universal.

With constant changes in the wind, its direction and strength, the young sailors are learning how to respond to forces beyond their control.

“Everything we’ve learned so far, it all relates to everything we learn in school. To know about how to sail using the wind, it involves science and the degrees that you have to sail towards — math, too. Since we attend a Catholic school, it relates to religion, because we all have to work together and believe in each other; because, if not, then we won’t do as well,” an astute Miyana Wagner observed.

With a circumnavigation of the Pacific in her log, Sacred Hearts language arts teacher Mary Anna Waldrop has firsthand sailing experience to share with her students.

“When I was 14 years old, I heard about Robin Lee Graham sailing around the world when he was 16 on the Dove, and I wanted to do that. I know that at the age of 14, the passions are very life forming. If I can get these kids passionate about something, it’s likely that they will be doing that to change the world for a better place,” she said.

“How does sailing change the world to be a better place? It’s all about community. It’s all about teamwork — helping each other to do things together, paying attention, following directions and being aware of your surroundings and your environment.”

The Sacred Hearts sailing experience extends beyond the Lahaina reef.

“Considering that we are living in an area that was discovered by Polynesians — the whole reason we’re here is because the Polynesians came before us without any instruments, relying completely on the ancient ways of navigation — I want the kids to experience that as much as they can. Hopefully we’re going to be able to make a trip for our eighth grade retreat, culminating in what they learned about sailing. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll be on the Makali’i and sail on that or one of the other ancient Hawaiian vessels,” she said.

In addition, the language arts teacher has expanded the lesson to the Greek myths.

“We also have a huge project in the spring on Ulysses, and it was all about him sailing and trying to get home. They’re going to encounter many challenges as they go on through life,” she acknowledged.

Commodore Blundell and the LYC Board of Governors consider the junior program an important part of the club mission and is supporting its growth.

“We’d like to hire an instructor for the summer months and be able to provide a junior program for eight weeks instead of two,” the fleet captain said.

The treasurer’s eyes are just as big.

“Our goal is, if we can put a group of maybe five or six kids together that are competitive, we will devote the time and money, and we’ll fly ’em to Oahu …. and we’ll start to regatta against those clubs over there,” Sowers said.

“Those guys are serious. They’ve got real junior teams, and so we’d love to do something like that — and the club will pay for it.”

“All the kids here are now junior members. It’s part of the program. They can come and use the boats whenever they want,” Sowers added.

The junior program fee is $100, including $20 for a LYC annual junior membership and lunches.

Kaile Stockham has participated in the junior program for the past three years.

“The first summer, I did it both weeks. The second summer, I was in the program for one week. This past summer, I helped during the beginners’ week. I just really love sailing, and I hope to sail for the rest of my life,” she said.

The 13-year-old is appreciative of Lahaina Yacht Club.

“I’m thankful that they all volunteer their time to teach us how to sail. They make it fun. They just work with us and help us to be our best sailors,” she said.