CASTINE — It isn’t often that a bunch of teenage river sailors gets a chance to learn what big-boat sailing is all about, but last Wednesday 11 youthful sailors from the Lawrence Community Boating Program in Massachusetts spent a day learning the ropes aboard three serious cruising sailboats on Penobscot Bay.
The occasion was the annual Junior Safety-at-Sea program sponsored by the Storm Trysail Foundation and hosted by Maine Maritime Academy. The academy provided classroom space and staff for instruction and three local sailors made their boats available to provide the young sailors with the hands-on experience of sailing big boats on big water.
The young sailors were all participants in the Community Boating Program in Lawrence, a gritty former mill town, where their experience has been limited to sailing dinghies and 16-foot Cape Cod Mercury sloops on the Merrimack River.
For many of the kids, the trip to Castine was their first expedition outside the city or state, program Waterfront Director David Morton said Tuesday. No surprise: it was an eye-opening experience.
The kids spent the morning in the classroom, learning about safety techniques such as reefing (reducing sail) in heavy weather and using safety equipment such as emergency flares, harnesses and tethers from MMA graduate Cam Brien and Bob Scott, owner of the classic Sparkman & Stephens-designed NY32 that, just days later, won the Maine Retired Skippers Race. Next, the group moved onto the waterfront where Falcon and two other big boats, Gregg Knighton’s 38-foot sloop Finali, a 38.3-foot S&S sloop built in 1949 and Velera, a Tartan 37 sailed by Ray Durkee, a former Castine harbormaster, awaited them.
The boats were not mere static displays.
A few of the young sailors were hoisted up Falcon’s mast in the bosun chair to get a look at things from aloft. Some of the young mariners boarded Finali to learn how to reef a real sail on a real boat. Others learned about rigging jacklines and tethers aboard Velera.
Then everybody — 11 students and four program instructors — went sailing on Penobscot Bay. After that, Scott said, the plan was for the young mariners to “convene” at the Castine Yacht Club to meet other junior sailors who had spent the day racing small boats in Smiths Cove.
“We were out four hours, maybe five from dock to dock,” Morton said. “It was very different from the river sailing, dinghy sailing we do here. The kids loved it. They couldn’t stop talking about it.”
The Junior Safety-at-Sea program is a one-day introduction to big boat sailing for teenage junior sailors who have sailing experience in small boats. Established by the Storm Trysail Foundation (STF) in partnership with US Sailing, competitive sailing’s national governing body, the junior program was inspired by the safety programs now required for participants in most organized ocean races.
According to the foundation, “Junior Safety-at-Sea stresses fun, hands-on practice, communication, teamwork and the anticipation of trouble before it happens.”
For more than two decades the seminars have provided sailors ages 12 to 20 the opportunity to experience the excitement of big boat sailing while simultaneously providing them safety training. To date, the program has trained more than 4,000 youth and will be held at eight sites nationally this year.