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Havre de Grace Youth Sailing Program expects to teach 120 children how to sail this summer

The Havre de Grace Sailing Program continues to grow and this year expects about 100 students to participate in one of six one-week sessions.
The Havre de Grace Sailing Program continues to grow and this year expects about 100 students to participate in one of six one-week sessions. (Courtesy Gordon Black / Baltimore Sun)

When the Havre de Grace Youth Sailing Program held its pilot class in 2016, instruction was provided to five students in four boats.

The program grew exponentially in 2017 and when it returns this year for its third summer, 100 to 120 children are expected to take part in the program through which they will learn to sail, according to Rick Wahl, president of the Youth Sailing Program.

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"All I hear is accolades from parents and kids of how much it meant for them to be able to do something to change their lives," Wahl told members of the Havre de Grace City Council during a meeting in March.

Registration for one of the six 2018 sessions is open at www.hdgyouthsailing.org. Each week-long session, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, is $350.

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"Our program uses the adventure sailing model of bringing kids into water sports. We take pride in introducing kids to the opportunity for a lifelong activity relationship that builds character, independence and self-reliance, physical skills, a sense of co-operation and teamwork and appreciation and respect for our water resource," Wahl said in an email. "And the kids really have fun."

Amy Griffin's sons, Eric, 10, and Luke, 8, took the class last summer.

One of her cousins encouraged the boys to do it.

"It's not something we would have sought out, but it's an exciting opportunity, so I thought let's do it," Griffin, who lives in Bel Air, said.

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The Havre de Grace Sailing Program continues to grow and this year expects about 100 students to participate in one of six one-week sessions.
The Havre de Grace Sailing Program continues to grow and this year expects about 100 students to participate in one of six one-week sessions. (Courtesy Gordon Black / Baltimore Sun)

By the fourth day they were hitching up the boats, putting up the sails, unhooking from the docks and setting sail on their own, she said.

"I was watching my boys, who were hesitant to even try, just sail farther and farther away," Griffin said. "It was such a unique experience. It was good for them to do something they just wouldn't have thought of doing, and learning a totally new skill."

The vision of the organization is to "be a preeminent sailing instructional program on the Upper Chesapeake Bay, serving all interested youth ages 7-18," according to the web site.

The group aims to "develop youth sailors on the Upper Chesapeake Bay using recreational and competitive dinghy sailing as an educational platform to build character and confidence and to teach water/boating safety, boat handling, maritime skills, local nautical history and environmental responsibility," according to the mission statement.

That first group of five students set sail from Heron Harbor in Havre de Grace.

In 2017, four of those first five students returned for another summer, along with 55 other students. They learned with 12 boats and two part-time and two full-time instructors.

The classes have since moved to Hutchins Park, where temporary docks were built with the help of the city's department of public works, Wahl said.

This summer, Wahl said he expects about 100 students throughout the six sessions. There will be four full-time instructors using 22 boats.

The Havre de Grace Sailing Program continues to grow and this year expects about 100 students to participate in one of six one-week sessions.
The Havre de Grace Sailing Program continues to grow and this year expects about 100 students to participate in one of six one-week sessions. (Courtesy Gordon Black / Baltimore Sun)

By early March, 25 students had already registered, including 10 from last summer. By last Wednesday, registration was up to 50 Wahl said.

Students will learn water and boating safety, the basics of sailing, advanced topics in sailing, maritime rules of the road and racing rules when sailing and local nautical history, according to a brochure on the sailing camp.

Students must be between 7 and 18 years old and be able to pass a basic swim test wearing a life jacket.

The Havre de Grace Youth Sailing Program is also seeking donations to its scholarship fund, which was depleted last year, Wahl said.

Scholarships totaling $4,200 were given to students, he said.

"We thought it would be worthwhile to give to kids who wouldn't be able to go sailing," he said. "We want to continue to work in this great thing we do here in Havre de Grace. This is a great place to teach kids how to sail."

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin's son took the class last year and "just had an amazing time," he told Wahl.

Martin said he grew up boating, but on a power boat. He wanted to give his son a different experience.

"Even if we don't have a sailboat, it gives the ids the opportunity to experience something different," Martin said. "We're really thankful to have that."

Wahl said as the organization grows, he'd like to begin working with the middle and high school to develop sailing teams and he's looking for someone to lead those in the school system.

For more information, contact Wahl at hdgyouthsailing@gmail.com.

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