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Whidbey students learn it’s all about smooth sailing, thanks to yacht club

Haley McConnaughey, 10, maneuvers her sailboat called “The Sass” to the middle of Lone Lake during last week’s youth sailing class, presented by the South Whidbey Yacht Club and the South Whidbey parks district. The next class begins Monday. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Haley McConnaughey, 10, maneuvers her sailboat called “The Sass” to the middle of Lone Lake during last week’s youth sailing class, presented by the South Whidbey Yacht Club and the South Whidbey parks district. The next class begins Monday.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LONE LAKE — They spent the afternoon beneath a full sail and a gentle sun, amid gentle waves not much larger than coffee-cup ripples.

In other words, thanks mom.

A gung-ho group of nearly a dozen 10- to 13-year-olds took to Lone Lake last week as part of the youth sailing class presented by the South Whidbey Yacht Club and the South Whidbey Parks and Rec District.

Their reason for becoming Whidbey’s next generation of sailors was simple, some said. It was mom’s idea.

“I live right across from the beach. So my mom decided I should learn how to sail,” said Haley McConnaughley, 10.

Her mother learned on the same kind of boat: a simple, one-sail vessel known as an El Toro.

Blake Deilke, 11, wasn’t new to sailing. He’d been out about a dozen times or so before, with his grandfather in Buzzards Bay, in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts.

He found a familiar way to the week-long class, as well.

“My mom saw it in the paper,” he said.

Still, Blake was excited to be out on the water, the skipper of his own craft.

“I’ll do OK. I might capsize. But I can swim,” he said.

Of course, tipping over is always a possibility in the world of wind and waves. So the sailing class, which will start anew with fresh students on Monday, kicked off with a swim test and safety classes in the morning at Honeymoon Bay Clubhouse before the young sailors ventured out on Lone Lake.

Don McArthur, a South Whidbey Yacht Club member and one of the instructors, said it was important to get the kids out onto the water during their first day of sailing school.

“They need to get the feel of the tiller, what happens when you pull a sheet line,” McArthur explained.

He looked across as the students slowly put the north shore of Lone Lake behind them.

“Which is why wind like this is good for a first day,” he continued. “They really can’t get in trouble. They’ll be able to operate their boats to see how things work, without the prospect of ending up in the drink.”

Not that that’s a completely bad thing, save for the algal bloom in Lone Lake. McArthur recalled the two new sailors who tipped over the week before, when the group gave a class to the grandchildren of yacht club members.

“That’s actually good. All the kids saw what happened and knew that they can come out of it OK,” he said.

As the students made their way back and forth across the placid water of Lone Lake, members of the yacht club followed closely behind in three chase boats. Instructor Bob Rodgers called out constant encouragement and advice.

“Slow down now, don’t go too fast,” Rodgers said.

Don’t worry too much about tipping over, he added.

“If you’re skiing and you’re not falling, you’re not pushing yourself,” he said.

After about an hour on the water, the sailors reluctantly returned to shore.

“Everyone seemed to do OK,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t see anybody go, ‘Oh, I’m scared, I’m about to fall in!’

“Everyone was like, ‘Let’s get going here!’”

Students sail every day during the five-day class, which wrapped up with a graduation ceremony on Friday.

Haley said the biggest thing for her first day on the water was learning how to steer her El Toro with a finicky wind.

“If the wind isn’t blowing, then you can’t turn at all. And when the wind was blowing, it was different how much you could turn.”

“It wasn’t like being in a motorboat where you had to keep an eye out for rocks and things,” added Elizabeth Ballard, 12.

The students picked up other lessons about sailing, too.

“I liked that there weren’t motors that stink,” said Alexandra Kurtz, 10.

The next class — for students ages 10 through 16 — starts July 19. For more information on the course, visit http://www.swparks.org.

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