TEEN SAILING EXPEDITIONS – NOT A PARTY AT SEA
Hundreds of summer opportunities exist for teens to break from the rigor of the school year and explore a passion. There are programs for language, community service, campus study, adventure/wilderness trips, sports specialties, and the arts, just to name a few. When a parent hears about the option of a sailing expedition, their first reaction is “that kind of money for my teen to live on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean? I don’t think so!” They are surprised to learn that the experience is much more substantive and can have a transformative effect on their burgeoning teen.
Most sailing programs operate in the British Virgin, Leeward and Windward Islands. The weather couldn’t be better – sunny and around 85 degrees each day – with constant cooling winds. But even these most ideal sailing conditions provide a backdrop for intensive learning opportunities. While some kids have experience sailing aboard small boats, most have never been on – much less skippered – a 50 foot boat. With heavy emphasis on instruction, the students become their own independent crew and learn how to handle almost any situation. Of course, there are always 2-3 experienced staff members to guide, instruct, and supervise this new teen crew!
So what is a sailing expedition anyway? It is a small group (usually around 8-10 teens of similar age) living on a boat, sailing from point to point, and usually participating in scuba diving and water sports. It seems like a simplistic formula, but lessons learned on board a boat can be as meaningful as those learned at school. Think leadership, teamwork, problem-solving and decision-making. Check – all there. These skills are put to test every day aboard a sailing adventure, as each participant rotates through a series of onboard jobs each requiring a different skill. The participants are responsible for everything from navigating to cooking to cleaning to maintaining an organized boat. Through rigorous navigation exercises and communal living, teens return home from this experience with new leadership skills, confidence, and the important ability to compromise.
On shore, the groups participate in a variety of activities, including exploring the islands, scuba diving, snorkeling, and other water sports. Some sailing programs offer community service hours gained through ecological projects, such as turtle tagging, maintaining coral reefs, or monitoring coastal areas to prevent erosion. Other programs offer people-to-people service like youth outreach or teaching island children to swim. Some programs specialize in the marine sciences, offering “floating classrooms” that teach scientific specialties in areas such as coral reef evolution or sea life. All of the expeditions offer scuba diving experience for those who wish to receive certification or advanced certification.
Tamar Fernandez, St. Louis mother, said, “My son, Louis, went on more extensive sailing programs each summer for three consecutive years during high school. I couldn’t get him off the computer, until he spent his first summer on a boat. He was hooked!”
Parents might consider whether a fleet experience or a single boat experience would better suit their teen. The fleet option gives the kids a small and large group experience – the small boat experience for sailing, eating, and living and the larger onshore group experience for water sports and social activities. Moreover, some instructors believe that fleet sailing better teaches some skills, like right-of-way rules and racing tactics.
The single boat model allows for an extended period of smaller group bonding. Without the social pressures sometimes found in larger groups, these small groups can liberate teens and allow them to really be themselves. The boats operate as self-sufficient units and, therefore, keep their dive equipment on board. Some instructors believe that this arrangement allows for increased flexibility and spontaneity.
Teens develop leadership as they take their turn as Captain of the day, confidence as they read the maps and knot the lines, and stretch their limits as they negotiate life in confined quarters or learn to dive. Like the more well-known adventure trips on land, these well-run experiential adventure programs at sea put a significant emphasis on personal growth, teamwork, leadership and initiative. Sailing adventures give teens the hard skills that can help them “navigate” through their year-round “land” reality.
St. Louis “Camp Lady” Jenny Wolkowitz is the Midwest area consultant for Tips on Trips and Camps, the oldest camp referral business in the country. In her earlier years, she was a day camper, an overnight camper, a counselor, a teen tour participant and a teen tour leader. She studied abroad in college and has traveled extensively throughout the world. She serves on the boards of many St. Louis community organizations. She is married and has three wonderfully unique daughters. She can be reached at 314.432.8642 or jenny@TipsonTripaandCamps.com