Whether you sincerely want your children to have a fun, social and educational summer experience…or you just want to get rid of them for a bit while school’s out, summer camp is all part of the season. So how do you make the quintessential Sarasota summer camp? Why, put the kiddos on the water, of course.
Morning at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.
Despite growing up here, I never learned to sail, and it’s one of my big regrets—especially remembering as I do all the times I’ve been heading down the Ringling Causeway toward St. Armands and seen the armada of little sailboats making their way around City Island. That, it turns out, is Sarasota Youth Sailing’s summer camp.
Now based out of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, Sarasota Youth Sailing has been around for decades, and their summer sailing camp, frankly, should be requisite for any Sarasota kids. The five-week sessions teach ages five to 18 the principles of sailing—a sport that’s both basic (boat + sail) and infinitely nuanced.
Sarasota Bay is, after all, an ideal sailing destination—calm waters and warm weather year-round mean the area should be as big for sailors as it’s recently become for rowers. And there’s something about sailing that seems so self-sufficient—a way of understanding and working with nature rather than just powering through it.
Although I’ve always feared the corollary to that, which is, if you don’t understand nature or can’t work with it, what’s to keep you from being carried out to…wherever?
But now that I’ve had a chance to ride along in a chase boat during one of the camp’s classes, I’m much more comfortable with the whole idea. “These [sailboats] really don’t go that fast,” says Ross, a camp instructor, from behind the wheel of one of the supervisory motorboats that help corral the campers (and tow them when they fall behind). Plus, when you see an eight-year-old manning his own sail and tiller, well, hopefully you gain some confidence in your own abilities.
Some lagging little sailors get towed to their destination.
The youngest campers go as a group on a single boat to observe the basics of sailing and being on the water. From around eight to 12, the kids go solo in a seven-foot “Opti,” with a single sail, a tiller and a daggerboard (a removable keel to keep the boat from sliding sideways). Older kids can eventually graduate to two-person crafts.
In addition to the basic techniques for sailing and navigating with, across and against the wind, the kids learn safety measures (“The first thing we show them is how to upright a capsized boat,” says Ross) as well as, of course, independence, responsibility and a healthy respect for nature. Sharks, crabs, osprey, manatees, dolphins and more are common sights during camp sessions. It’s peaceful and meditative out there—a state of mind that can’t but help in the development of pre-teens.
SYS has produced number of elite sailors over the years, including one of the top Opti racers currently in the country as well as kids who are sailing for schools like Stanford and UF.
The SYS camp actually draws a lot of kids into sailing who otherwise never would’ve had a chance to experience it. In fact, many families become involved after one child attends the camp and learns what sailing is all about.
Of course, as I’m sure we’ve all noticed, school’s just started, so the time for camp is over. No worries: there’s always next summer. And for kids who’ve already had basic sailing instruction, SYS has year-round programs for a variety of ages and levels. Check out sarasotaysp.com for sailing programs and upcoming regattas.