Young sailors learn boat skills, independence

In a state with a vast number of navigable waterways, it’s not uncommon for Louisiana residents to own a flatboat, a powerboat or a pirogue.

Somewhere in that mix is the local sailing community, which isn’t large, but has a storied history in the Bayou State nonetheless.

In the spirit of continuing that tradition and attracting young sailors, Slidell-based Tammany Yacht Club is holding the final session of its annual Summer Sailing Camp. The camp is part of the TYC Juniors Program, and it was the third such session this summer at the club just off Lake Pontchartrain.

The final two-week camp attracted 17 children between the ages of 7 and 15. Most have been active in the Juniors Program for several years, while a handful were new to the sport.

Camp instructor Paul Barnes, who is the TYC sailing director, said the camp has a specific aim.

“We’re trying to develop a love of sailing in a new generation of sailors,” he said. “We’re trying to build a love of the sport, but loyalty to the home yacht club. And (we want to teach) technical proficiency, too. We want to take young sailors and turn them into racers — lifelong sailors.”

The most recent summer camp session showed that Barnes and company are on track to meet their mission. The youngsters eagerly barreled out of an hourlong teaching session one recent morning and began rigging their crafts along the wharf that sits behind the yacht club on Marina Drive. Their fleet consisted of Optimists, which look like small bathtubs and are reserved for the youngest sailors; 14-foot Lasers, which are Olympic-class boats; and a Flying Scot, a three-sail boat.

Within a matter of moments, the children had donned life jackets and readied their boats for action as they untied from the moorings and set sail into a wide canal leading to the lake. Barnes monitored the scene from a nearby powerboat. They would sail well into the afternoon.

Gabe Palermo, 11, has been to the camp before, but enjoyed it enough to try it again this summer.

“It’s fun to sail with all these people,” the young Slidell resident said. “They’re nice and supporting and helpful.”

Earlier that day, Palermo said he had been learning how planes fly and how physics pertains to sailing. It was a camp mate who offered an explanation on how Bernoulli’s Principle works — heady stuff for grade-schoolers.

“The wind has to go faster on one side of the sail than on the other side because the faster side has to go a longer distance to meet at the end of the sail,” said 9-year old Caleb Keister, of Slidell.

Said Barnes: “These kids are really good at getting things conceptually. I spent 10 minutes on Bernoulli’s Principle and they get it. Even those who are new to the camp are excelling.”

Barnes pointed to Joe Polk, 13, as an example. Polk, who hails from Pearl River, said his family has a 25 Johnson flatboat it uses for tubing, but he enjoys sailing more.

“It’s more fun than a boat with a motor,” Polk said. “There are more things to work on, think about. You have to make sure the sail is trimmed in or eased out. You have to watch out for the tails and make sure you’re in the right path of the wind.”

Barnes is from the sailing hotbed of Chicago, and has another long-term goal for teaching area youth to sail.

“I’ve been talking to the guys at Southern, Pontchartrain and New Orleans (yacht clubs) about trying to increase the age of the instructors and (have) the kids step up the ability to be competitive at the high school age,” he said. “My long-term goal is to promote high school racing which would go into college racing. Then, when they get out of college, there’s a lot of sailing to do. It’s a pretty good scene.”

Until then, however, he’ll take pride in the life skills sailing provides to boys and girls.

“It fosters independence really well,” he said. “The kids at 7 years old are sailing boats by themselves. There’s no one out there to fix the problems for them. We’re nearby on power boats, but they deal with things themselves as they happen. That teaches them to gain goals on their own.”