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You’re never too young to learn big boat safety

2009 December 14

The Storm Trysail Club teaches junior safety at sea classes

If adults attend Safety at Sea seminars, why shouldn't junior sailors? This was the question several members of Storm Trysail Club asked each other 12 years ago. We had grown up on Long Island Sound where, for the past 50 years, the end-of-season junior highlight had been the Beach Point Overnight Race, a chance for the juniors to race big boats. I had just finished preparing the juniors from my hometown Larchmont Yacht Club, the headquarters of Storm Trysail, for this race. While I was off on family vacation, these kids participated in the race, and at twilight, lost a female crewmember overboard. From the training they had received, they executed a perfect man overboard recovery and had her back on board in minutes.

This event prompted our Junior Sailing Association of Long Island Sound to require such training for all juniors and their instructors for future big boat events. Storm Trysail and Larchmont Yacht Club then began a collaboration that has resulted in Junior Safety Seminars for the past 11 years, with more than 2,200 attendees. Storm Trysail Club's members in Marblehead, Newport, Perth Amboy and Annapolis have initiated additional seminars over the ensuing years, training another 1,000 juniors.

These seminars are a compressed onshore version of the very successful adult seminars, but actually offer expanded on-the-water practice. We only get to have the kids for one day, and therefore balance the classroom with the onboard time. There have been classroom sessions, but we are now trending toward a larger number of shorter hands-on demonstrations.

For example, at Perth Amboy this past summer, we lit flares, inflated a raft, capsized and righted the raft, set storm jibs and trysails, wore safety harnesses and walked the jackline. On the water we did our normal man overboard drills both up wind and down wind with spinnaker.

In recent years, with the assistance of Ralf Steitz, the staff of Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy and Adam Loory of UK Halsey, we have produced film footage of "How to Set Storm Sails" and "Man Overboard Recovery" with a real victim wearing a survival suit. These films have been a huge success in the morning sessions and move the kids rapidly up the learning curve. It was pretty impressive watching a trained swimmer jump overboard from an Express 37 surfing downwind in 25 knots of breeze, and then witnessing a round-up, douse and recovery-not a textbook one, but very visual with a lot to learn from. The trained Kings Point crew demo was much better, but they had practiced before filming.

This season's Beach Point Race witnessed a 70-knot squall that had the junior sailors, instructors and owners scrambling to reduce sail. It wasn't pretty, but there were no man overboards, the juniors wore their PFDs, harnesses and tethers, and learned from the experience. In 2010, we will emphasize anticipation and rapid response to such situations.

These seminars would not be possible without owners who provide their boats and personal time to take out the juniors. We also depend on scores of volunteer coaches, many from the Storm Trysail Club, and our host clubs who kindly lend their staff and facilities. Storm Trysail Club's Marcy Trenholme is instrumental in pulling together the logistics, and our sponsors are led by the Jamie Boeckel Foundation dedicated to advancing junior sailing in big boats, in memory of Jamie who was lost overboard during a Block Island Race.

For the Storm Trysail Club, our Junior Safety Seminars are the first step in attracting young sailors into big boats. Our other huge event is the Intercollegiate Offshore Championship chaired by Adam Loory. This year we expect between 35 and 40 college teams-300 kids-to race aboard borrowed big boats including J/105s, Express 37s, J/122s, J/44s and more. If you are interested in volunteering to help any of these events, please contact Marcy at Storm Trysail Club (stormtry@aol.com).

Top 10 Tips
What young sailors should know as they transition to big boat racing

As a new crew, walk around the boat checking out halyards, winches, sheet leads, jammers, reefing gear and, most important, safety equipment like man overboard gear, radio and fire extinguishers.
Wear a PFD and whistle; carry a sheath knife or folding knife.
  1. If racing offshore, bring a harness and tether or inflatable PFD-harness and strobe unless the owner supplies these.
  2. Keep your eyes and ears open-listen and pay attention. Sit down if not doing anything. Ask questions and learn.
  3. If steering, give clear, loud commands such as: "Ready about" or "Prepare to jibe." Things take time on a big boat.
  4. Keep a lee lookout behind the jib or under the asymmetric spinnaker.
  5. Do not tack until the handle is out of the winch and the sheet uncleated. Plan ahead and keep a lookout. (If ducking a starboard tacker, uncleat the mainsheet ahead of time.)
  6. Anticipate situations: starboard-port crossings, spinnaker takedowns, squalls.
  7. Drink water and eat snacks-don't dehydrate.
  8. Be safe, sail fast, make friends and have fun!