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Fatty with daughter Roma and granddaughter Soku.
Fatty with daughter Roma and granddaughter Soku.

The Sick Side of Teaching Kids to Sail

The problem with teaching kids to sail—is that you’re supposed to know how. I’m not sure I do. Oh, yeah, I know how to drift downwind long enough to circumnavigate a time or two—but that’s easy-peasy. I also know if the wind is forward of the beam—I should crank up my diesel. But, that’s about it.

Luckily, I’m currently teaching fairly naive kids in fairly crowded waters. Yesterday we capsized (and righted the boat) and ran aground (and learned what to do with the centerboard and kick up rudder) and were involved in a collision.

“Damn, Fatty,” said one of the parents, “You really make it exciting for the kids!”

“Well,” I said modestly, “I do go the extra mile!”

“…teaching them not to panic by intentionally capsizing in front of that car carrier—wow! Brilliant!”

“What car carrier,” I thought to myself.  I hate parents with better eyesight than mine.

Which brings us to the subject of the collision. The collision wasn’t my fault—not at all. And, even though the boat was totally destroyed, I was able to use the entire “Mayday! Mayday!” incident as a teachable moment.

“We,” I intoned piously to my students, “were on starboard. The dock, however, was on port!”

Right-of-way rules are right-of-way rules, eh?

What good are running-aground drills if you don’t shear off the centerboard, rip off the rudder gudgeons, and hole the boat? And doing this deep water is boring. Amid sharp coral is better. Among sea urchins is best. If large waves are curling like Hawaii Five-Oh, all the better!

Now, the sad fact is that most youth sailing groups are conservative. That’s a given: the club I’m currently working with wants me to bring back the students alive. I, personally, don’t find that reasonable. Sure, some of them need to survive or the sailing program would run out of PFDs. And, I can even see where some namby-pamby parents might think the majority of them should survive. But how can you keep those little tykes’ attention if you can’t drown at least one per lesson?

“Parents are touchy,” screamed the head of the all-volunteer sailing club. “Humor them!”

“Don’t be silly,” I screamed back. “I’m a comedian. I know about humor, for gosh sakes. And I’m no fool, either. I know the entire planet is overpopulated with bilge rats…”

“That’s not the issue,” yelled the Hilter-type fellow, totally out of control now. “Mothers tend to want their own child, not just any child!”

“Well, maybe the local mothers should be a little less attached and more accepting, okay!” I demanded in my best, most righteous tone.

With some parents—no matter how nice and reasonable you try to be—they respond with outraged disbelief.

Many of my fellow instructors refused to take the kids on the beach cats. Me—why not! ZOOM!!! I particularly love kids hiking ‘on the wire’ and my being able to wrap them as tight as a tether ball around the mast if they misbehave—which they invariably do!

Everything I’ve learned at sadism, I’ve learned with a tiller in my hand. And the same is true for most sailors. What is the advantage of being skipper if the crew doesn’t suffer? And suffer. And suffer some more!

Of course, pitch-poling in a beach cat with a dozen spoiled brats aboard during a 35-knot white squall while doing a full-standing jibe—now that’s fun! It’s almost impossible for me to get bothered by their silly I’ve-got-a-broken-bone whining. I just dunk my head under.

Blessed silence.

…see, adults ARE smarter than children!

We have a lot of chase boats. Each has a label. I often drive good ole Launch #11—because all I have to do is give one more kid prop rash—and it will be Launch #12! (What the hell did you think those numbers referred to?)

Some sailing programs attempt to—after a full day of sail training—match up their junior sailors with their parents by last name or blood type or banking affiliation or hair type or language spoken or skin tone or gang tattoos. Others realize the inherent non-PC aspects of such stereotyping, and just force the next available sailor-kid into the next available SUV.

Of course, the sailing club I’m volunteering with often purchases marine gear in large quantities. I want them to procure truly heavy-duty wearables for the kids that will stand up to repeated use, daily abuse, and then some. Thus, when I found they were bidding on lightweight PFDs, I was outraged. Why not use good old-fashion ‘sand-filled’ life jackets. Those will make a strong swimmer outta ya! Talk about a training tool! YEAH!  If you survive a capsize with one of those suckers pulling you down—you’re like, Michael Phelps material!

And, as a bonus, sand-filled life jackets help while hiking out. Just ask any cheater Laser sailor with a six pack! (Abdominal, not alkie.)

As a sailing coach, I get a whistle—and a license to blow it. This is extremely useful if a Donzi full of semi-naked mothers speeds by and needs some close-up and personal lecturing about No Wake Zones.

Actually, I prefer coaching Optis (because some of the Laser sailors are old enough to hit back.

Basically, I try to keep it fun. If the fleet of kids is heading back to clubhouse after a long hot day of sail training on the water and we happen to sail into a patch of Portuguese man-o-war—well, “Man overboard drill!” I sing out.

Ditto great whites. Once again, I got some dirty looks from parents when I showed them the GoPro shots of their child’s final moments. However, I defended the whole video thingie by saying, disdainfully, “Animals will be animals—am I right?”

Of course, when you come right down to it, it is all about character building. If you hit the mark and you think an on-the-water empire might have observed you—you do your three-sixty turn. That’s fair and sportsmanlike. If you think he didn’t see you—then who are you to stick his nose in the sad fact he’d can’t see worth a darn! Do you want to sail or do you want screw with authority? What are you—some sort of trouble-maker? It’s best just to gloss over the volunteer race officials error and rank stupidity—and to scoop up the trophy you don’t deserve… rather than rock the boat.

….nobody likes a boat rocker!

See how sportsmanship works?

Sometimes I teach the advance “race” course as well—and try to give them as much adult insight as possible to carry into the protest room with them. For instance, I tell the rich kids to make sure the race officials know how much their daddy is worth. And, I advise any ‘ethnic minority’ youngster to point out to the same officials that accusations of racism splatter everyone.

I mean—just because we’re competing against each other doesn’t mean everyone can’t come in first, right?

Oh, yes! Yacht racing, even at the Opti level, is a far more sophisticated and important sport than it used to be. We’ve had to ban a number of parents—for biting!

Yes, Opti Dads make Little League Dads appear to be effeminate nonviolent snobs who don’t have the foggiest on how to effectively wield a fish gaff in a gang fight.

Ah, the simple joys of sailing!

Bio note: Cap’n Fatty often volunteers to teach sailing—but seldom lasts long. 

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