Youths learning on the water

Sailing classes offer students a chance to develop their sea legs, test fondness for sport

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

Fun, safety and training are the watchwords of sailing classes offered for the fourth summer in a row by the Juneau Youth Sailing Foundation.

"Fun always comes first," said Sam Skaggs, one of five trustees responsible for running the foundation. "We have taught over 250 people how to sail in the last three years. It's all about building self-esteem and having fun. Parents tell me that their kids learn how to be comfortable and safe on the water."

Kids wear dry suits and floatation devices while they are aboard the Club 420-style boats, about 13 feet long and made by Vanguard. The boats can hoist both a jib and a mainsail.

"They rarely tip over, but, if they do, it's not dangerous. They are easily righted by the students," Skaggs added. The foundation has 10 boats so it can hold classes of up to 20 students.

This year the club has use of a private dock at Norway Point, and is building its own dock.

"We are trying to get out of the city harbors so we have more space and easy access to run north up Gastineau Channel toward (the hatchery)," Skaggs said.

The full-time, paid instructor this summer is Phil Hebner from the Ballard area of Seattle.

"I've been racing for 25 years with my Dad in Ranger 20s, and our names are on some Ranger trophies," Hebner said.

He is assisted in each sailing class by four volunteer instructors, who are adults or students working their way up in the program, Skaggs said.

"I like sailing because I like getting on the water," said Alek Carson, 12, as he readied his craft last week for an afternoon of practice. "I don't know much about it, but I want to learn more. I think it could be more of a sport later."

"I just wanted to see what it was like to be out in the channel in smaller boats," said Kelly Dore, 13, who has sailed with her father on a 40-footer.

"I always liked sailing and seeing boats out in the water and wanted to do it," said Tess Cannon, 12.

Her classmate, Sara Cohen, 12, joked, "I thought it would be fun to swim in the channel."

The Juneau Youth Sailing Foundation is sponsored by the Juneau Yacht Club and the Juneau Sailing Club, which merged this year. The Foundation has remained a separate entity in order to maintain its nonprofit tax status.

Kids sailing classes are for 10- and 11-year-olds. These classes meet for a week, half days, either 8 a.m. to noon or 1 to 5 p.m. Fee for a week is $100.

Junior sailing classes are geared to kids 12 to 18. They meet 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and cost $205.

Adult classes are held on weekends. Fee is $150, which includes a session from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, and sessions Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a break for lunch. "Occasionally we apply for grants for capital improvements, but we try to pay our own way with fees," Skaggs said.

"Our ultimate goal is to have some small keel boats," he said.

Classes began June 11 and will run through Aug. 10. Sailing is an interesting way to conquer the usual routine of walks to the cruise ship dock and trips to the library and the mall. As Katelyn Thomson, 13, put it, "I wanted to try something new because I don't usually do anything in the summer."

To be accepted into a class, applicants must be able to swim. A swim check is conducted the first day of each class.

"You don't need to swim a long distance, but you can't be afraid of the water," Skaggs said.

Classes are based on skill levels in the U.S. Sailing "Red Book." That means that graduates of the classes will be qualified to participate in collegiate sailing programs or even try out to sail in the Olympics, Skaggs said.

Junior classes are full for June, but the Sailing Foundation keeps a wait list and will notify potential students of drop-outs. For details, call 789-3546 or browse their Web site at The Web site includes application forms.

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