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Would-be young sailors learn more than seamanship

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By MELODY JAMESON
mj@observernews.net

   APOLLO BEACH – They arrive in swim suits, clutching water bottles and lunch bags, their safety gear slung over shoulders. They range in age from seven to 17, may be natural waterbugs or dedicated landlubbers, might be looking forward to the new experience….or not.

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Practicing all-important capsizing recovery, Jayne Millman (back to camera), certified U.S. Sailing Association instructor, coaches one of her youngest students, nine-year-old Taylor Robinson, during the first day of a week-long youth sailing program offered by the Tampa Sailing Squadron at its Apollo Beach facility on Tampa Bay.
   They leave a week later, knowing knots, reciting the critical parts of a boat, grasping the rudiments of guiding a vessel powered only by wind…and, often, with a new sense of self, an irreplaceable confidence born of conquering a frontier.
   This is the story of the Tampa Sailing Squadron’s 10-year-old youth sailing school now getting underway here for the summer season at the TSS quarters on Tampa Bay. The first of eight week-long training sessions opened this week with the maximum number of students – 12 – and most of them in this first class of the feminine persuasion.
   There wasn’t much little girl squealing or teen-age angst on display, though, as their teacher, 22-year-old USF student Jayne Millman, dedicated sailor, sail boat owner and certified U.S. Sailing Association instructor, introduced them to the subject. Nor was there resistance as they cracked their new book, “Learn Sailing Right!,” published by the U.S. Sailing Association.
   Before the week was over, Millman said, they would work their way through the multiple chapters, from rigging to returning shipshape, from trimming sails to terminology, following diagrams and putting in practice what they learned under the shade house next to the lagoon.     After their lunch break, they took to the water, ready to experience their first onboard lesson – recovery from a capsize. One by one, flotation devices secured, sun screen amply applied, each scrambled into an eight-foot TSS pram with a single masted sail, listened carefully as Millman and her aides towed boat plus student to the center of the small inner harbor, explaining the process. The little vessel would tip onto one side, sliding the novice sailor into the drink where, grasping the boom, she would disconnect the sheet and, with help, right the boat, climb back aboard and begin bailing the seawater taken on. Eagerly, without complaint and without fail, the tiniest grade schooler to the tallest adolescent performed perfectly, as instructed.
  
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Almost as important at staying afloat is knowing how to tie a variety of knots, when and how to use which configuration. Sailing teacher Jayne Millman (right) inspects the work of seven of her young students as they practice at the tying board. At the end of their first day, youngsters were tying knots with their eyes closed, guiding ropes into shape with fingers alone.
A little review, another round with knots and the first six-hour day was over. Many lingered, chatting, comparing notes, asking questions, as parents arrived to transport young sailors-to-be home.
They come from across east and south Hillsborough, a few are sons and daughters of sailing parents, some have never set foot on a boat, for many sailing will be more avocation than vocation, Millman said, but all will take something useful away at the end of the week – in addition to their certificates of achievement.
   As their time together unfolds, she will teach them basic rules of navigation and safety positions, how to rescue a man overboard and how to sail backwards, the principles of tacking and jibbing. But most importantly, she added, she wants them to enjoy themselves as they learn; get a taste of the wind in sails, salt spray off the bow and the thrill of doing what once was not even dreamed of.
   Millman, who soon will earn a degree in international studies and dreams of taking her 29-foot sloop to distant foreign ports, speaks affectionately about the young man from a farming family in East Hillsborough who had neither knowledge of nor interest in boats when he arrived for a week-long course. Then he went out on the water, and was transformed, she said, “he had found his element and couldn’t get enough!” Then, too, occasionally, there are students who will take the course repeatedly simply because they revel in the environment, she said.
  
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In the safety of the small inner harbor at the sailing squadron’s headquarters in Apollo Beach, veteran sailor and instructor Jayne Millman (hand on mast) encourages a young sailing program student as the small TSS pram capsizes. Assistant John Siger waits in case rescue is required as the youngster learns how to handle a vessel capsized and taking on water. It was the first lesson of the first day on the water.
There are no specific pre-requisites imposed on students in the youth sailing program, Millman noted, and swimming competence is not a particular issue, “but a student with a real fear of the water is not likely to enjoy or learn in the weeklong course.” Each day, though, youngsters participating do need their life jackets, closed-toe shoes, whistles, water, sun screen and lunch. The cost for the week is $250 per student, with a reduced rate applied when two or more students in the same class are from the same family. The maximum number of students that can be accommodated during the summer-long program is 96, Millman said, and 65 slots currently are filled.
   The growing annual popularity of the introductory sailing program also has prompted TSS sponsorship of another aspect of youth oriented sailing. Summer-long training on Saturdays for youngsters with basic sailing skills who are interested in racing under sail now is taking shape, Millman said. The nominal per-student cost each Saturday has been set at $10.
   The objective, she indicated, will be much the same. “We want them to develop confidence in themselves; in their ability to take care of themselves and their boats.”
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson
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