Youth sailing club offers new thrills

Posted: Friday, June 18, 2010

For young people in the community, Juneau Youth Sailing provides an opportunity to get out on the water and experience what it is like to take the helm of a sailboat in the waters of Southeast Alaska.

The organization, managed entirely by volunteers, was started to teach young people the basics of sailing as well as boat safety and mechanics.

JYS President Carl Brodersen said when youth are given the chance to take control of a sailboat, it is usually a brand new experience.

"When a 13-year-old takes the helm of one of our sailboats, it's usually the largest craft they've ever had the opportunity to command, and that's a very powerful experience," he said. "And even for the older students, the experience is a profound one because you can't just push a pedal and make your boat go. It requires complete knowledge of the vessel, your surroundings and the mechanics of sailing."

He said JYS is all about empowering the young population here in town and giving them the opportunity to take advantage of what this city has to offer, when it comes to outdoor activities.

As far as the teachers go, most of them are former students who have "risen through the ranks," Brodersen said.

"It's a delightfully full circle when that happens. (It) makes you want to start humming the theme from 'The Lion King,'" he joked.

Brodersen, a former student himself, said all student demographics present unique challenges to instructors. He said the group of instructors he has in place are well-qualified and great at teaching children.

"JY Sailing instructors are trained and certified by U.S. Sailing, one of the national bodies that regulates such activities," Brodersen said. "And the special mechanics of teaching youth are thoroughly covered."

But he said he's found there to be a natural, reoccurring phenomenon when teaching youth how to sail which can make it more difficult to instruct properly.

"The water is so cold we have to wear drysuits - full-body, liquid protection that's impervious to water," he said. "We've found over the years that the thrill of being able to fall in the water without fear or peril from hypothermia is such a novelty that it's sometimes hard to keep students in their boats."

But Brodersen said, all joking aside, the team of instructors have been great. Those involved include Hans and Anna Lie-Nielsen, David Mendivil and soon-to-be instructor Juneauite Becca Buckler.

Standard youth classes last a half day and are for ages 13-18. The sessions run for two weeks at a time, and are currently underway. Brodersen said the classes, which will run through August, are divided into three experience levels depending on ability. He said Level I sailors can sign up with absolutely no sailing knowledge, while Level II is for those considered to be intermediates. Level III instruction will cover technique and racing, Brodersen said.

"We encourage students to take the same level more than once, as there's new material each time," he said. "I took Level II at least four times and loved each one."

He said there is also a week-long, half-day Juniors class for students ages 10-11. These classes feature pairs of students who are accompanied by an experienced Junior instructor - usually an older student who has shown responsibility, an affinity for instruction and doesn't mind getting out on the water for free.

Finally, he said, there are two classes for adults to learn to sail in an intense weekend course.

Brodersen said once a year they have one regatta, the Commodores' Cup.

"It's a headliner event on our calendar," he said. "The Commodores' Cup is named in honor of the commodores of the Juneau Yacht Club which, as often as it can, allows us to use its waterfront facilities, a kindness for which we are unendingly grateful."

"We'd be up a mighty creek without a sail if not for the Yacht Club," he said.

The Commodores' Cup is open to students who have completed Level II, and after that, any qualified adults, said Broderson. And, in an effort to get more people out on the water, he said his group has been cooperating with Southeast Alaska Sailing.

"SEAS people have helped round out our regatta roster to maximize the number of people the kids have to race against, and we provide information to interested parents on how to get themselves and their kids onto bigger boats," he said. "Both the Yacht Club and SEAS are excellent resources for those opportunities."

For more information on Juneau Youth Sailing, visit where you can also find contact information.

• Contact reporter Matt Tynan at

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