For the first time on Thursday, one group of local children sailed the high seas — or rather, the waters at Tuttle Creek Lake.
The children, ages 8 to 12, attended a free sailing camp as a part of the Blue Valley Youth Sailing Foundation. They learned to hoist their boats’ masts, steer their way across the waters and overturn capsized boats — one of the first items of business at camp to abate the fear of getting wet.
“We just dump them in the water their first night, and they’re never afraid of it anymore,” said Henry Otto, camp instructor and commodore for the sailing foundation.
The kids always wear lifejackets, are supervised by their parents and have to know how to swim. Otto said he and previous sailing instructors over the years learned that it was necessary to teach campers how to capsize boats and flip them back over so the kids can spend the rest of camp focusing on sailing.
On Thursday evening, Otto gave the young sailors — Kathy, Gracie and Eli Lindhart, Will Addair, Sam Margolies and Blaise Rastofer — instruction. It was their first opportunity to sail on the lake after learning technique and boat assembly earlier in the week.
“We’re going to put each one of you in a boat, and you’ve got a nice, steady, soft breeze out there, and it should be really nice sailing,” Otto said. “You should be able to sail wherever you want to sail as long as you don’t go straight out from here,” he said, pointing to a set of buoys.
After the briefing, it was time to hit the boat ramp for sailboat assembly.
Using small boats, most of which Otto built, the children prepared to set sail by hoisting masts, sliding on sails and tying triple knots to prevent the sail from sliding off the horizontal boom.
“We do a slight supervision, but we do not do it for them,” Otto said. “The reason: We like to have them know their equipment.”
At sailing camp, there’s a bit of tough love from the adult sailors.
The adults are generally members of the Blue Valley Yacht Club, which donates time, money and equipment for the camp.
Jennifer Martin, who was helping the young sailors with her father, Bob Mullen, said her dad encouraged the campers to get over their fears while they learned to capsize the boats and pull themselves back up.
Martin brought Gracie Linhardt, 8, who didn’t want to fall in the water, but once Linhardt set sail, she didn’t look back.
“I could tell she was gonna back out, and my dad, in typical way like he used to do to me when I was a kid, said, ‘Ah, there’ll be none of that,’” Martin said.
“The little one didn’t want to do it,” Mullen said. “I basically pushed her far enough to the dock where she finally stepped in, and she tipped it over, and it was so much fun she wanted to do it and we couldn’t get her out of the water.”
Parents and grandparents of the campers watched from the dock or went out on the water in motor boats to keep the kids from bumping each other, tipping over, or hitting other boats.
David Margolies watched his son Sam, 12, from the dock, later going out on the water.
Margolies grew up on the East Coast, his own father a sailor. He said his son seemed to love his first experience with sailing.
“It was really fun, and the wind was really good,” Sam said. “It got a little strong at the end though,” Sam said. He said his favorite part was tipping the boats.
His dad seemed to be impressed by that as well.
“They took them out and said, ‘OK, you’re going to get over this fear right now,’ and the kids were in it and they just pulled them over, got in the water and then they got the boats back up,” David Margolies said.
After a first session sailing, Otto took the sailors back so they could discuss what they were doing best and what they needed to work on.
Kathy, 10, and Gracie, 8, both said they needed to work on docking, or turning properly to the dock to get off the water.
“What problem did you have with docking?” Otto asked Gracie. “How can we help you do better?”
“I did the docking head-first,” she said. She apparently made the turn into the dock too soon.
“Well, that’s alright, other people made their turns so soon that the adult nearly fell in the lake trying to grab the boats,” Otto said.