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Youth Sailing - For the Price of a Soccer Ball

(July 7, 2005) Each June signifies the beginning of junior sailing programs around the country. This year, my nine year old would need his own Naples Sabot, and the ‘hand-me-down’ boat from his uncle required a lot of work. With four weeks to go, I moved the project to the top of the ‘to do’ list, and naively forged on.

photo by Susan Bailey

After idling for 20+ years, the only remaining parts of value on the boat were the mast and pintles. Everything else was gone, rotten, or worn out. Soon began the patching, painting, buffing, varnishing, and purchasing of $900 worth of parts. Through it all, over forty hours were committed to getting this sabot back in racing shape.

The boat looks great now, and I am told that it should be as fast today as it was for the previous generation. Of course, there is no guarantee that my son will become a devoted sailor, but the sacrifice and expense that went into the project was required for him to have a competent boat.

The effort needed for a youth to become a sailor is immense when compared to other sports. I could not help but think of those parents who look to soccer as a great sport for their child, and for the price of a soccer ball, they easily overcame the cost and commitment that had consumed me during the month leading into this summer’s junior sailing program.

A couple years ago, Sunsail Yacht Charters held a writing competition, wherein twelve year old Optimist sailor Michael Marshall won his division with the submission below:

“The Freedom of Sailing”
As a kid, my life is very controlled. At home I always have to do chores before going anywhere. Empty the dishwasher, vacuum the floor, weed the garden, make my bed ­ the list goes on and on. Things are even worse at school. There every minute of the day is planned for me. Teachers are always telling me when it is time to read a book, write a paper, or do some math. They even tell me when I can talk, eat lunch, or go to the bathroom. At school I have no freedom at all.

Things are very different when I am sailing by myself in my own boat. I can sail wherever the wind takes me. I can race around the harbor and under the Newport Bridge. I can zip off to Potter’s Cove, explore Rose Island, or even sail in circles if I want to. I can stay out as long as I wish. I can launch at 8 o’clock in the morning and sail until the setting sun is reflecting off the sides of boats bobbing in the mooring field. I can also make my boat go as fast as I want. I can heel until the rail is touching the water. I can hike out until my head is almost dragging in the waves and I am hanging on by only my toes. I love to get up onto a plane and zoom along with a rooster tail splashing out behind me. I love to feel the wind blowing in my face and the sensation of flying across the water as if my boat had magically sprouted wings. On my boat I am in control of everything I do. I am the king of my own little world. That is why I love to sail! – Michael Marshall

Clearly, Michael got t-boned by the magic of sailing. For the price of a soccer ball, my life could have been a lot simpler. However, at least this way, I will give my son the chance to discover a game without boundaries, and the freedom from being a kid. - Craig Leweck

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