The tiny sailing ship’s mainsail curved full as it harnessed the wind; it’s bow butted spray up and over the swinging jibe and into the skippers smiling face.
Whoops of joy and bellows of laughter mixed with the bemused cries of seabirds.
Once again the waters of Gastineau Channel, dotted with sails of the Juneau Youth Sailing classes, have captured the hearts and passions of some of the capital cities youngest seamen... and women.
Some walk the length of the roughly 14-foot Vanguard 420 Sailing Dinghies almost precariously, some sit leaning port or starboard side, others duck as main sail swings over head, and some even flip their vessel into the chilly wind-torn waters and right it seconds later.
“They are learning the basics of sailing,” lead instructor Stephen Mulvey said. “And just being comfortable out on the water and getting into the water. They just have a great time out here, spending their summer outside.”
Mulvey, originally from New Zealand, has been in Juneau about a year. Lead instructors generally oversea the program for two to three years and typically come up through classes as kids and then work as assistant instructors and take over as lead instructors.
This year’s classes are in there second of eight weeks. The classes are still open to interested sailors and will work the Gastineau waters until the beginning of August.
The Juneau Youth Sailing program started in the late 1990s and operates out of, and with, the generosity of the Juneau Yacht Club and volunteer sailors who graduated from the program.
The introductory, or junior class, is for ages 10 and 11 and involves basic safety and comfort around boats. The first thing youth sailors learn is to wear dry suits for protection from the cold water. Next is tipping and righting sailboats in the harbor, self-rescue and maneuvering the sailboat.
“We always have juniors with instructors,” Mulvey said. “Who are a little bit older (14-16 years old) and they have experience sailing. We put one of the junior instructors on board with each pair of younger kids.”
These instructors have all gone through the JYS program, so as the younger kids learn to sail they have somebody right there who can give them advice, tips, and keep them calm. They are essentially sailing with an older student in the boat who shows them the ropes.
Junior instructor John Connolly (16) is in his fifth year with JYS.
“It is just really fun,” Connolly said. “I think it has something to do with being in the water, with a dry suit of course. And to have control of this little vessel in the wind.”
Paid assistants operate motorized boats and supervise from near the flotilla of sailing crafts.
Assistant instructors Anna Lie-Nielsen (18) and Scoene Smith (17) are “old salts” so to speak, learning the ropes from the junior class and teaching at the end.
“I actually did this class when I was 10,” Lie-Nielsen said. “These kids look just the same, they really love it. A lot of the kids come back year after year.”
Said Smith, “I have done this since that age as well. I did the whole program and junior instructing for two years. It is just really awesome when you are a little kid and you like to play around everywhere... and then there is the ocean.. and you can’t really play in the ocean until your parents suggest to you that you can take sailing classes. Then you are like, whoa, there is a whole other place I can play.”
Added Lie-Nielsen, “They get to have fun, but they are learning a lot of important things at the same time. It is cool when they learn where the wind is coming from right away. And then when they go out on a boat with their parents they have this knowledge to share.”
The Level 1 class, for ages 12-18, covers basic rigging, launching, maneuvering, self-rescue and water safety. Pairs of junior sailors operate their dinghy under supervision of JYS instructors in a motorized safety boat.
“Our junior and level one classes are the most popular,” Mulvey said.
Level 2, for ages 12-18, includes more difficult activities such as windless and rudderless sailing, tips and tricks, and are for the graduates of Level 1 or experienced sailors.
Level 3, for ages 12-18, expands on that difficulty and includes dry-capsizing, synchronization and roll-tacking, and introduction to spinnakers, or racing sails.
There are also adult classes, tailored to specific skill levels and needs and conducted in one-day, all-day intensive courses.
“It is pretty fun,” first year sailor Mason Gallanos (10) said. “I have had some experience sailing but I learned a lot more like how it works.”
Gallanos then explained the art of tacking, swinging the bow and switching the jibe, and putting it in the sheet.
“We play a lot of games too,” Gallanos said. “And there are water guns and you can spray other boats.”
Interested participants should contact www.juneauyouthsailing.org for information on registering, and the different classes for different age groups and abilities.
And, of course, when boats are docked and sails stowed, the dry-suited sailors back flip or dive or jump into the water numerous times.
“The kids have a good time, totally,” Mulvey said. “And we still have room in our classes.”
Then he said to an instructor, “Kate, can you pull Tyler out of the water please.”