A New Model for Youth Sail Training
A New Model for Youth Sail Training
by Alex Agnew, Boston Station, Gulf of Maine Post Ben Heselton-Clements Tom McClellan Tori Willauer, Boston Station, Gulf of Maine Post
The pilot program Cruising for Teens, a new model of youth sail training developed by the CCA’s Gulf of Maine Post in partnership with The Apprenticeshop and Tall Ships Maine, set sail in July 2018 from Rockland, Maine. The program focuses on teenage sailors who have not yet had the opportunity to experience cruising and links them with CCA members aboard their sailboats. The seamanship curriculum is based on current sail-training practices used for big groups on tall ships. The smaller vessel and group size bring a more personalized experience to the students and offer opportunities for CCA members to educate and recruit the next generation of sailors. The ultimate goal is to inspire young adults to begin a lifelong connection to all things sailing.
Cruising for Teens ran for one week out of The Apprenticeshop, which is known for traditional boatbuilding and a program that teaches sailing to over 400 youth every season, starting at six years old. Tori Willauer, co-author of this article and until recently The Apprenticeshop’s sailing director, observed that “when our students became teenagers, their interest in sailing waned. I wanted to show them how much more there is out there in the world of sailing and help them connect to all of the possibilities. For me, it was obvious: the CCA has tremendously experienced sailors who want to pass on their knowledge, and we had the kids who were looking for a new experience. All we needed to do was to connect them.”
The captain was Commodore Brad Willauer (BOS/GMP) aboard his J-46, Breezing Up. The crew consisted of four local teenage boys and two instructors (and co-authors), Thomas McClellan, 17, and Ben Heselton-Clements, 24.
The structure of the program consisted of basic gunkholing along the Maine coast, with the students crewing on Breezing Up while studying charts, plotting positions, and learning basic seamanship. Every afternoon, the students anchored in a new secluded cove and went ashore.
“This trip mattered because getting everyone out there is a very special thing,” McClellan said. “We have access to the most incredible coastline in the world. Allowing our youth to get out on the water is essential to their personal growth. Experience like that expands their horizons to have a greater picture of the natural world around them. The time spent on and in between these islands is magical. Having the opportunity to share that with those boys was something I am so grateful for.”
Heselton-Clements added, “The program is exciting for students who get to learn the basic seamanship and teamwork that can be transferred to any vessel, but they also learn the idiosyncrasies of their captain’s boat, in this case a J-46, and understand the passion mariners feel for specific vessel models, ideally becoming aficionados themselves.”
In one memorable moment, the students were invited aboard Gust Stringos’s (BOS/GMP) Bluebird, a Morris Justine 36, while anchored in an isolated cove near Buckle Island. “These students … had a fascination with different boats’ designs already, so comparing the two boats was an enriching part of the experience,” Heselton-Clements observed.
“After we anchored, [Stringos] rowed over asking for help going aloft,” Brad Willauer added. “We all went over and cranked him to his masthead so he could fly his CCA burgee! This made a great part of the experience for the kids.”
The cruising lifestyle is fundamentally different from the tall-ship lifestyle, especially in the cruiser’s ability to spend the night in secluded locations that are impossible for larger ships to reach. “That trademark quiet beauty of the cruising life was a memorable gift for students,” Heselton-Clements said. “On this summer’s program, we anchored in silent coves near uninhabited islands and woke up at sunrise to hike the beaches and explore.”
As a deckhand educator on a schooner, Heselton- Clements has found that teaching the history of tall ships is often neglected, and students therefore fail to appreciate the history of the boat they are sailing on, through no fault of their own. “One of the benefits of small programs is that there is
simply more time to teach everything you want to teach with less time spent disciplining,” he said. “If that sounds like an obvious advantage to teaching a small group versus a big group, good. I think it’s an obvious advantage too. All the advantages of working with a small group are amplified tenfold on a boat, and the result is a better program for the captain, the deckhand educators, and the students.”
Origins of the Program In the fall of 2017, a group of CCA members, including co-authors Tori Willauer and Alex Agnew, Peter Chandler (BOS/GMP), Peter Stoops (BOS/GMP), Doug and Dale Bruce (BOS/GMP), Frank Cassidy (BOS/GMP), Willy Ritch (BOS/GMP), and Ed Tarlov (BOS), agreed to take kids sailing and provide the spark needed to get the pilot program going. Tori Willauer, then at The Apprenticeshop, performed the key role of hosting the program, hiring instructors, and recruiting the students.
“It was a great experience,” Brad Willauer said. “It was fun to be with young people on a boat. That’s the fun, sharing the mystery of how sailing works and making it safe … I did it because we gave the kids a chance to see what it was like to be on a boat bigger than a 420. All of the kids enjoyed it. They were ebullient in front of their parents. They learned that you can operate in the fog, how to sail a large boat, how to tack, how to put the sails up and down, how to cook and clean and live in community aboard a small boat.”
Willauer said he’d do it again. “Our sport needs young people,” he pointed out. “The kids don’t have the big-boat experience. There would have been more weeks, but we couldn’t find students. It was challenging to enroll students because many kids and parents had no experience with sailing and did not see why this could be a compelling experience. Many believe that sailing and access to the water is an exclusive opportunity. We worked hard to break down these barriers, educating parents and students about the amazing life-changing experiences that happen while cruising for a week in Maine. After the program, one student said he was shocked that he was allowed to take the helm, make decisions, and hold responsibility for the group. The sense of purpose and responsibility builds confidence and curiosity.”
“I got frustrated seeing the decline in sailing participation, the decline in used boat prices, and the decline in new sailboat sales,” Agnew said. “And I thought CCA members would enjoy doing something to bring the next generation into the sport. Because CCA members are good sailors and nice people and don’t need to be paid to participate in the program, a lot of barriers to cruising under sail were removed by this program.”
Student Cabot Adams, 13, of Appleton, Maine, said, “It was really exciting to learn sailing on a much larger boat than the 420s we learned on at The Apprenticeshop. I really liked the experience of sailing on a 24,000-pound boat, and taking the helm felt awesome!” Cabot’s parents, Claire and Tom
Adams, added: “We cannot make sailors learn but we can provide the right conditions for them to learn. The Cruising for Teens Program … was a wonderful, engaging opportunity for teenagers to learn sailing with an experienced captain on a 46-foot boat. Captain Willauer’s straightforward, good-tempered style and instruction method ended up being dinner table conversation for many weeks after the sailing ended. He made an outsized impression on our 13-year-old son, Cabot, who learned good seamanship, navigation by the stars, chart reading, journaling in the ship’s log, provisioning food for the week, and teamwork. The Cruising for Teens program is something we are looking forward to for the next few summers (until college).”
James Phyfe (BOS/NBP), head of the Boston Station membership committee, has agreed to take kids sailing next summer on his Contessa 35, Andara. “I obviously am a huge supporter of the idea, given the apparent decline we are seeing in young cruising sailors. I’d love to see it take off. This type of thing is what sparked my lifelong passion for cruising and voyaging. I can remember gunkholing around during CCA cruises as a kid, and I loved every minute of it. If we have the opportunity to create that passion in others today, we should take it.”
Willauer pointed to other CCA member-driven programs involved in introducing youth to cruising, ocean sailing, and ocean racing. Peter Becker (NYS) organized the loan of High Noon, a Tripp 41, by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation to the Young American Junior Big Boat Sailing Team at the American Yacht Club in Rye, New York, to participate in the 2016 Newport Bermuda Race. Under the leadership of Bart Dunbar (BOS/BUZ), the Rhode Island-based tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry serves as the largest civilian sailing school vessel in the United States, and the first oceangoing full-rigged ship to be built in the U.S. in over 100 years. Ocean Passages offers sailing education on board the Harvey Gamage, a 131- foot gaff-rigged schooner owned by Phineas Sprague (BOS/ GMP) and restored at his boatyard, Portland Yacht Services. The Harvey Gamage took more than 80 teenagers sailing on one-week voyages during the spring and summer of 2018, and hopes to increase that number in 2019.
The program will continue in 2019 in collaboration with The Apprenticeshop, and possibly with other clubs. The Apprenticeshop will provide instructors, and volunteer CCA members need only show up with a boat. Tori Willauer has agreed to continue to drive enrollment in the program, including taking applicants from other youth organizations. The Apprenticeshop intends to offer separate girls’ and boys’ programs in 2019, and students can sign up online at apprenticeshop.org. The 2019 tuition will be approximately $650 for the week. Financial aid is available through The Apprenticeshop, and any fundraising for the program will go through The Apprenticeshop as well.
CCA members who are interested in participating as skippers should contact Tori Willauer at email@example.com. Program schedules are designed around member boat schedules, so knowing these sooner will help with recruitment and secure enrollment.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS Alex Agnew is publisher of Ocean Navigator and Professional Mariner magazines. He is president of Tall Ships Maine, the lead organization for Tall Ships Maine 2020, the upcoming celebration of Maine’s state bicentennial. Tall Ships Maine sends teens on fiveday trips on sail-training ships, including the Harvey Gamage and Oliver Hazard Perry.
Thomas McClellan, also a Cruising for Teens instructor, sailed with The Apprenticeshop for 10 years, starting when he was a boy. He is a U.S. Sailing Level Two instructor and grew up sailing on the 35-foot schooner Simplicity, designed by William Hand, with his parents, including a passage to the Caribbean when he was only four. Thomas is passionate about passing on his love of sailing to anyone he comes in contact with. He just hiked the Appalachian Trail, and is currently teaching skiing at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He would love to get work on boats and do some offshore passages.
Ben Heselton-Clements, a Cruising for Teens instructor, crossed the Pacific on Argo, a 112-foot two-masted staysail schooner, in 2017. In 2018, just prior to his work on Breezing Up, he sailed for two months as a deckhand, teacher, and writing instructor on the 131-foot schooner Harvey Gamage, where he encouraged students to write about their experiences. He left the Gamage for a week to participate in the trip on Breezing Up.
Tori Willauer was until recently the sailing director at The Apprenticeshop, a position she held for five years. She recently sailed 4,000 nautical miles with her husband, Tony Fitch (BOS/ GMP), and three kids. Her passion is all things sailing, and she continues to volunteer for The Apprenticeshop sailing programs while working for Brimstone Consulting Group in Camden, Maine.