Thursday, January 10, 2013

Opti Sailing Lessons

One of the things that sometimes nags at me in the back of my mind when I think about raising our children in a relatively remote area is the idea that they won’t have enough opportunities to excel in a specific field like they would if we were located in a sizable US city. What if she’s meant to be the world’s greatest harpist, or ice skater? Who would train her?? I guess it’s because I grew up in a city with ample opportunities for sports and the arts, and I was fortunate enough to be supported to follow my interests that I worry about these things. Maybe every parent suspects her son or daughter could be destined for greatness—if only given the chance. I don’t know. I do recognize that I think my children are exceptional, and just knowing that I think that way helps me curb some of my, um, enthusiasm (a little, anyway). Hey, I love them, and I think you would like them, too.

But the good news is that I’ve started to look at things a little differently the last few days. For one thing, I think it’s more important to excel at being a human being above all else. To do that, you need happy parents who talk with you and listen to you and set reasonable boundaries. By spending a lot of time together, I feel like we’re able to help guide them in this way. This is the hope, anyway, and our live-aboard lifestyle gives us the proximity to be extremely involved in their personal development if we so choose.

The other thing is that those little Romanian girls are awesome gymnasts, not because Romanian girls are naturally better than other country’s girls at the sport of gymnastics but because the culture perhaps focuses a bit more on it than in other places, and they have serious coaches to support it. More surfers come from Hawaii, and more skiers come from Vermont. That’s just the way it goes, because the environment naturally lends itself to those types of activities. If you think about it, environment can add a lot of fuel to addiction, crime, academic success, anything really.  

So here we are in the Caribbean with a little girl who is interested in everything. Violin, soccer, ballet, art, swimming, languages, you name it, and she wants to be involved. Well at age 5, you’re crazy to try it all at once, as much as you may be tempted to. Finances and time aside, you don’t want the kid to burn out on things too quickly.

So back to the “natural environment” thing, swimming lessons make sense. Olympic swimmer? Probably not. Confident swimmer who has fun swimming with other kids and feels safe around safe water situations? Yes, oh yes! That’s our goal, and we’re pretty much there with Halina. Lessons are mainly for stroke development and time hanging with other kids. And it never really occurred to me much until recently, but sailing without Mom and Dad makes sense, too. We happened to meet this awesome woman who runs a new sailing school in Red Hook and organizes the brand new Montessori sailing team, so we talked to her, and despite Halina only weighing about 35 pounds, we all agreed she might do well with a couple private lessons to see if she would be a good fit for group lessons with the other kids after school.

We live on a sailboat and we actually go sailing all the time, so it makes sense that she should develop an understanding of the fundamentals of what it is we’re doing out on the water all day. And we don’t want her to feel like it’s a mandatory family activity she’s tagging along for. We want her to have her own sailing identity and appreciation for the sport. Having the instruction come from someone else is usually a good idea when teaching a loved one something that is near and dear to your heart. My husband brilliantly set me up with a nice, cute sailing instructor when I was starting out on purpose. Hey, motivation to please and not look like an idiot can sometimes go a long way when you’re trying to learn something! And I wasn’t about to argue with him or cry when I got frustrated. I don’t think there’s educational research to back this up, but just trust me on this one.

Anyway, Halina jumped up and down 500 times when we set the date for her first lesson. Her instructor was to be this nice 8th grade boy named Scott, the sailing school operator’s son.  He just got back from an international Opti competition in Florida where he ranked 23rd out of 250 sailors. Another friend’s seven year-old son had had a lesson with him and really liked it, so he came recommended. I had talked extensively with his mom, and she and I are on the same page in terms of education philosophy. She said that because Halina weighs so little and is only five, Scott would be in the boat with her the first lesson or so. Next, he would probably hang off the back (these are little Opti’s), and if she did alright by herself, she could join group lessons when they start later in January. Perfect! I’ll wait at least a couple days to push for Sailing Team membership and checking into the minimum age for national racing.

Wait! There, I did it. I AM one of those moms. And my husband is one of those dads, I have to say. Did I see a tear come to his eye when she hopped into the BVI-sponsored Opti named “Shrimp” and take off towards Vessup Beach? Did we not both about explode with delight when Scott said he’d never had a student catch on so quickly—or how about when Halina told us her favorite part of the lesson was “changing sides” (tacking,  honey, tacking!)? While I didn’t get into sailing til I started dating my husband some 12 years ago, he went to sailing camp with all the other local kids, so he grew up with it in his bones. I guess there’s something about seeing your kid do well with something that’s near and dear to you--especially when they really enjoy it, too. Halina had a ball out there. She listened, she looked comfortable, she had fun, she learned, and she felt like she accomplished something great. With all those good feelings running around, it’s easy to forget that there’s no harp instructor on the island.     


  1. Teresa, I love this blog! I'm bummed that I didn't find it sooner. Growing up in Annapolis, I spent my summers at sailing camp -- as many Annapolitan children do. I absolutely loved it. I tried my hand at racing, but I didn't really take to it (plus, I was terrible at it). All I needed was a sunny day, a good breeze, and I was in heaven. It's marvelous that your family can experience that every day. I'll try not to be too jealous.

    1. Hello Tragic Traveler, thanks for reading my blog! My husband also grew up at sailing camps in Annapolis. Whenever we're anchored near the Navel Academy, we love to watch the kids going for it, having a blast. The same can be said for kids in the Virgin Islands. Though I recently started sailing on little 420's, it's really for fun, not to race. If you're still in the Annapolis or Chesapeake Bay area, I encourage you to give it another go with a less competitive group so that you can experience that slice of "heaven" again. There's nothing like it!

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