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Sail Nauticus Youth Programs: A Lesson for the Adults

by Annabelle Wax, Sail Nauticus Instructor

We always highlight how our youth programs at Sail Nauticus benefit the kids, but I’d like to share with you what it does for our adult instructors. We are lucky enough to have a variety of paid and volunteer staff across many generations and experience levels. This includes those retired, young professionals able to leave work early once a week, college grads undecided in their career, college students, high school students, those between jobs and those of us who have made a career of sorts out of it. Our youth programs are successful because we all honestly enjoy what we do.

Why, you ask, do we enjoy what we do?

For one, our Academy program offers middle school students three or more years with us, so I feel that I truly get to know each of them individually. I watch many of the students build an unshakable trust in their ability to tackle something so foreign to them as sailing is in the beginning. Sailing a 20-foot boat on the busy, industrial Elizabeth River alongside shipping traffic is no easy task. Talk about a confidence builder.

I recall a moment of frustration a couple years ago while sailing with three of our eighth graders. I felt that they were ignoring me and not sailing the boat as best they could. Then it hit me — at least they were sailing the boat successfully on their own. Not only that, they were sailing the boat on their own while talking about music and keeping an eye out for barge traffic. All at the same time. They were demonstrating enough situational awareness that I felt I did not need to be onboard; I don’t know why this came as a surprise to me.

I love that we cultivate and witness first-hand these students gaining lifelong skills such as situational awareness, confidence, communication, teamwork and even leadership in an outdoor setting. Also, I’ve always liked a surprise, and sailing with teens and preteens offers many opportunities for surprises.

Here’s what our instructors gain from our youth programs at Sail Nauticus, straight from the source:

  • “I didn’t realize how one place could create a family, a passion and change the direction of my life within a matter of two years. Even with all of that said, the best part has always been the students. You know when you can let them take the tiller and watch them sail successfully and confidently, that you may have impacted their life too.”
  • “This program has taught me how to adapt to the individual sailor rather than a group of sailors. I have learned how to coach intermediate and beginner sailing as opposed to a race team, which has made a huge impact in my coaching technique.”
  • ”I like the smiles of our students as they see the sails fill, feel the wind, brace themselves as the boat heels, and marvel at the speed of gliding through water. Sharing my passion for sailing provides me with a purpose.”
  • “I enjoy the camaraderie of fellow sailors, the laughter and silliness of the students as well as seeing the smiles when they feel that sense of accomplishment as they increase their sailing skills.”
  • “I like seeing a kid’s accomplished look when they have completed a difficult task, especially one I know they’ve been working hard on for a long time. Also, when the kids would get off the school bus and immediately start telling me about their day and what happened in school!“
  • “There are good days and bad days for everyone, but I know no matter what kind of day I’m having, seeing my students will make me smile. They never fail to distract me from the complicated world we live in, so I’ll always remember the sanctuary ‘Light Blue’ boat becomes when we are together.”
  • “Sail Nauticus has helped me to grow as an instructor and as a person. I have learned to be more patient with others and with myself. Working with the youth has reminded me about what is important in life: sharing time with our friends and our family. Forging new bonds of friendship and camaraderie, and working with others to keep the Ship of Life sailing into the future.”

Sailing with kids is certainly not easy, but somehow our students end up teaching us more about ourselves along the way.