by Rick Bannerot, WindCheck
Some sailors are born in it. Others come in by accident, and then there are those who have stepped up from dinghies into the world of “big boat” sailing. The first part of this series, Driving Interest & Success in Junior Big Boat Sailing, covered many notable junior big boat victories that made headlines in the sailing world, including Young American, who won the Vineyard Race in 2013, and High Noon , who won the 2016 Newport Bermuda Race and Dreamcatcher’s win at the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race.
Exhilarating stuff, to say the least, but certainly not the be-all and end-all when it comes to making junior big boat sailing something that is not only fun but functionally educational; Building confidence, improving decision making and encouraging more lifelong sailors.
A frequently mentioned goal is to encourage more young people to “go to sea”. In addition, regardless of the different avenues available, young men and women should develop a sense of pride and identify themselves as ‘seafarers’, not just as teenagers but eventually as adults.
In conversation with Peter Becker (Founder of Young American Sailing Academy and Young American Foundation in Rye, NY) about his experiences with juniors on big boats, he keeps coming back to the concept young sailors “get salty” in order to be effective problem solving techniques, learning and applying sailing skills appropriately and developing confidence.
Becker strives to realize the rather daunting idea of teaching teenagers the transition from sailing a large boat into a teaching/learning process that breaks down the roles and responsibilities of the entire crew so that they can all eventually sail the boat as a team.
From one side of Long Island Sound’s successful Junior Big Boat sailing program, we cruise to Oyster Bay, NY where highly accomplished sailor Dawn Riley is the General Manager of Oakcliff Sailing. She envisioned and successfully brought to life what we see today through grit, determination, sweat capital, savvy, fundraising, business acumen and no small amount of well-deserved confidence.
Listening to Dawn as she became a big boat sailor at a young age, it’s easy to understand that she grew up in a large boating family, literally learning on her father’s knee aboard their 36-foot Great Lakes cutter and then a “racy” C&C 35, around Michigan. Dawn cut her bluewater teeth at 13, sailed with her family from Detroit to the Caribbean and back, and got her captain’s license at 15.
Oh, then there were some of those other “offshore stints” like the Whitbread Round the World race at the tender age of 26 on Maiden, as documented in the excellent film of the same name. Dawn was appointed skipper of Heineken Whitbread in ’93-’94 before she turned 30, which is recounted in her first book, Taking the Helm. – Whole story