Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Sailing camp skills last a lifetime
Summer program also teaches youngsters teamwork

Aiden Wilcox learned a life lesson at summer camp.

"We learn how to rig a boat, de-rig a boat, and all the knots to sail ... I plan on sailing the rest of my life," said the second-year sailing camper.

The Key West Community Sailing Center offers four two-week summer programs for students 8 to 17 years old, with the first session ending June 21. Sessions are $300 per student. The next session will be June 24 to July 5, followed by one July 8 to 19 and another July 22 to Aug. 2.

The center has educated and inspired young sailors for 37 years, teaching more than 4,000 kids how to sail.

"What makes you a good teacher is your love of children," sailing instructor Stephanie Watkins said. "I love children and I love sailing, so this is what I am meant to do."

Another counselor, Stephanie Zou, has volunteered at the camp for the past four years.

"They tend to be really timid and tired at first, but in the end they really love it," Zou said. "That is most rewarding."

From fourth-year campers to those stepping into a sailboat for the first time, the skills learned at the Sailing Center last a lifetime.

"We have learned the bowline, figure-eight, square, and cleat knots," camper Brody McCandless said.

"My favorite part is when we learn how to jibe, tack, and scull," added his brother, Cole McCandless.

The camp also teaches teamwork and respect for nature.

"I have been teaching here for five years and it is interesting to watch how they learn, how they connect with the wind and nature, and how they pick up on it and work together," said chief instructor Talis McMullen. "The thing I enjoy the most is their initial reaction, 'Oh, it's learning,' response, but after they capsize the boat, they feel much more comfortable.

"Part of sailing is seeing nature, things like turtles, dolphins, and tarpon. When they do that in the silence of a sailboat, they can truly appreciate it," she added.

McMullen has sailed from Tampa to Key West and aims to "blue-water" sail, meaning on the open ocean. But she'll keep teaching children, she said.

The sailing center, at 705 Palm Ave., at Garrison Bight, offers lessons for people ages 8-80 and is also working on establishing a special needs camp. The club boasts members from all over the world and offers programs on a donation-only basis.


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