BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There are few places Rahel Samantrai loves to be more than on the water. Rain or shine, windy or calm, she likes to take to the waves of Lake Monroe in a small, two-person sailboat.
She knows how to manipulate the sails and the rudder to steer with only the wind, and she can rattle off all the names of the parts of her vessel: the boom, the jib, the till, the lines.
Rahel, it should be mentioned, is 11.
But her young age doesn’t keep her from being the captain of a vessel. During the summer, Rahel and dozens like her — some even younger —can be found skipping across the lake waters, sails billowing in a strong breeze.
Thanks to the Lake Monroe Sailing Association’s Youth Sailing Camp, many of the campers are well on their way to being certified sailors, the first step in what sometimes becomes a lifelong love of the sport.
On a recent Monday, camp director Walt Johnson watched from his motorboat as campers learned about “capsizing” — what happens when your boat tips over.
Not far from the boat ramp, sailboats floated on their sides or upside-down in the water. Clad in lifejackets, campers bobbed in the waves as they tried to put the boats right-side up and get them into sailing condition again.
“This breeze is a little steep for beginners,” Johnson said. Nevertheless, a few of the two- or three-person teams managed to flip their boats and raise their sails. They were racing across the lake within minutes.
“Capsizing” — the term that describes when a boat turns over, and the campers’ shorthand for flipping it upright again — is one of first things campers learn to do. That morning had been devoted to learning about safety on the water, but the afternoon put the lessons in practice. Johnson ferried more experienced campers out to the capsized vessels in his “chase boat.” When the boats were upright, Johnson carried a few first-timers to each boat, so each vessel carried a mixed crew of newcomers and experienced campers.
It’s an important lesson for campers to learn, Johnson said. If something goes wrong out on the water, sailors often have no one to rely on but themselves. Sails rip, boats tip and lines break, and you have to be prepared — not only for your own safety, but for the safety of your crewmates.
“When that happens, normally the first-time campers get scared,” said Cole Smith, 13, who has been coming to the camp since he was eight years old. “But it gets easier, and they (the instructors) teach you how to capsize and recover, because you have to make sure everyone’s OK.”
Other lessons throughout the week include learning to steer using the wind, how to properly trim a sail and how to care for a vessel both on and off the water. But the best way to learn how to sail is simply to do it and do it often, said Ellie Calkins, the camp’s associate director.
“Sailing isn’t difficult; it’s just practice,” Calkins said. “When they get those basic things down, they’re good to go. .It really impresses me how quickly they pick it up.”
The wind picked up as the day went on, gusting to about 15 miles per hour and kicking up waves nearly five feet tall. While instructors manned the boats filled with younger campers, Johnson piloted the chase boat around the lake to check on other sailors. Two boats’ sails ripped in the wind, and both had to be towed back to shore.
Rahel Samantrai and her partner were well into the middle of the lake before a gust of wind toppled their boat over, and the waves proved too strong for the two small girls to pull the vessel upright. Instead, they waited next to the hull until Johnson came to tow them in.
“That was definitely a learning experience for me,” said Rahel, laughing and undaunted.
Now, Rahel can go sailing only during camp or on her family’s boat, when her parents and brother feel like spending a day at the lake. But she is working to earn her U.S. Sailing small boat certification. That permit will allow her not only to rent a small sailboat from the marina on her own, but also to rent a sailboat from any participating marina throughout the country.
Beyond Lake Monroe, campers could take to the waves of Lake Michigan or any of the other Great Lakes, the rocky coasts of New England or the barrier islands of the southeast coast. With her small boat certification, Calkins was able to go sailing on Lake Michigan as well as along the coast of Florida. It’s a different, independent way to see new places and go exploring, and even take their families sailing, she said. It makes the world more open to them.
“Just to be able to do that is so confidence-boosting and eye-opening,” Calkins said.
Calkins and the other instructors evaluate campers based on standards and curriculum issued by U.S. Sailing. In order to become certified, campers must demonstrate expertise in sailing upwind, comfort and knowledge of a sailboat’s rigging and proficiency in maneuvers, as well as a thorough knowledge of safety and knots. Kids in the Youth Sailing Camp program usually work for three to four years to earn their certification. Instructors track students’ progress with a bracelet system similar to the belts in karate.
Calkins said the camp certifies six to seven campers every summer. When Johnson first took over the sailing camp 10 years ago, the sailing association saw around 60-70 children register each summer. This year, nearly 250 campers registered, with most weeks booked to capacity.
A small boat certification also makes it easier for campers to pursue higher goals. Many of the campers want to press on to become camp interns and junior counselors, just as Calkins and the other instructors did. Most of them came through the camp themselves. Calkins, now 19, has been sailing with the association since she first joined the camp at 10 years old.
Becoming an instructor one day is certainly Rahel’s ambition.
“It’s always been a goal for me, because I’ve looked up to so many of the people here,” she said. With her green bracelet, she is just two levels shy of her small boat certification. When she is older, she thinks being able to teach other kids about the sport she loves will be a fun job during high school or college.
But that is years ahead. In the meantime, Rahel and the rest of each year’s campers have long, breezy summer days to look forward to, steering into spray and sun as they learn to sail their ships.
Source: The (Bloomington) Times-Herald, http://bit.ly/2uSvgYM
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Herald Times.