Although you may feel wrapped in winter’s grip, it’s already time to start planning summer camps and activities for kids. Maybe we’re biased, but we think every kid who grows up near the Chesapeake ought to learn to sail, and one of the best ways for kids to try sailing is in a summer camp. On the surface sailing camps teach tacking, gybing, and points of sail. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that the most important skills kids learn at camp are life skills, such as self confidence, teamwork, and problem solving.
“For us, sailing is a means by which to attract kids to a place where they can experience fun, friends, and faith,” says Andy Thornton, director of West River United Methodist Camp in West River, MD. Thornton points out that there is a wide variety in the kinds of summer programs that teach kids to sail.
He says, “If the family’s primary goal is to build sailing skills, then a day program at a sailing school or club might be appropriate. At a residential camp like ours there is an entirely different feeling, because the goal is to teach more than sailing. Camps such as ours strive to create a feeling of acceptance and belonging, while building lifelong friendships. And in our case, we teach faith, too.”
Thornton continues, “At West River UM camp, we made the intentional decision to teach primarily on bigger boats instead of dinghies in an effort to foster a sense of community, and for safety reasons as well. We have several small boats, but the majority of our fleet is comprised of 24-foot Rainbows, which allow multiple campers and an instructor to sail together.
As a residential camp, we offer several options when it comes to how much time a camper spends on the water. It can be six hours every day, part of each day, or just occasionally. And for our veteran sailing campers, we offer a five-day, big boat overnight experience to explore the Bay.”
- How many days or weeks of our summer will we devote to this activity?
- What is my budget?
- What hours and times fit our family's schedule?
- Does our family need before or after care?
- What distance is reasonable for transportation purposes?
Like West River UM, many of the local residential camps are operated by faith-based organizations, such as Camp Wabanna in Mayo, MD, and Chistchurch School camp in Virginia. The YMCA also has several fantastic waterfront camps that offer sailing, tubing, and other waterfront fun. YMCA Camp Tockwogh, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, even offers special watersports sessions for kids who want to be on the water all day, everyday.
If you’re looking for a day program, community sailing organizations, such as Planet Hope on Herring Bay in Southern Maryland, DC Sail on the Potomac, the Downtown Sailing Center in Baltimore, and Sail Nauticus in Norfolk teach kids of all skill levels. Most offer full or half day programs that run for one or more weeks.
Another place to find a good summer sailing program is a private sailing or yacht club. Most, like Rock Hall YC and Severn Sailing Association, welcome non-member kids into their summer programs and are a good place to find intermediate and advanced skill courses. Still another option is a sailing school, such as Kidship in Annapolis, which runs a tried and true program all summer.
Ask your child if they want:
- Day camp or sleep-away camp?
- Half-day or full-day program?
- Traditional camp or a sailing-only program?
- Introduction to sailing or intermediate skill-building?
- The flexibility to sail multiple kids of boats, or the option to master one-design dinghy, keelboat, or schooner?
- A focus on recreation or on building technical skills, such as race starts and roll tacks?
Beyond the typical learn-to-sail experience, kids looking for some high adventure may enjoy a multi-day experience on a schooner. DC Sail on the Potomac and Sultana Projects on the Eastern Shore both offer multiple day schooner camps and other waterfront opportunities. For teens who feel it’s time to “graduate” out of a dinghy into a “big boat,” consider a keelboat course, such as the ones offered at Annapolis YC, J/World Sailing School in Annapolis, or The Sailing Academy in Tracys Landing.
To select the best camp for your child, first determine what you and your child most hope to gain from the experience: friends, skills, a sense of independence, or a combination thereof. Armed with that information, you’ll be able to narrow down the list of appropriate camps. Then, visit the camps’ websites, attend spring open houses, and ask camp staff to answer any questions you have.
You may find lists of schools and community sailing programs by region at startsailingnow.com.