With more than 133 students so far this summer and one week left, Chris Krane, the director of the youth sailing school at the Edgewood Yacht Club, said this is one of the most-attended years in all his time at the club.
He’s happy with the turnout this year, but he said there was never really any “sophisticated marketing approach” to getting kids in – it was mostly word-of-mouth as well as the familial bonds that many of the same campers have formed over the years.
Those campers begin when they’re eight years old, he said, and learn how to sail all across the bay, from the Providence River down to Newport. From ages 8-13 they’re still in the school learning the ins and outs of the water sport. Once they turn 13, Krane said that some of them choose to stay with the school as junior counselors – a title they receive after a straw-hat induction-like ceremony.
Krane said that those junior counselors then go on to become senior counselors, who are all “academically strong” college students who are U.S. certified sailing instructors. He gets to watch the kids grow and develop as people as well, he said.
“Almost all of them learned to sail here,” he said. “It’s cradle to the grave.”
Although the staff teach the young sailors and go out with them as they learn to sail on the bay, Krane also said those older kids learn to maintain the bigger boats. On Friday, two engineering students from URI and the University of Vermont were repairing boats by the shed set up near the clubhouse.
Krane said that he thinks kids of all ages like sailing so much because it can be soothing to them.
“I’ve recently learned that the motion and the noise of sailing is very soothing to kids who lack communication skills or who have developmental challenges,” he said.
He said it also helps young people develop their critical thinking while out on the boats.
“It’s not a basketball gym out there,” he said. “You can’t turn on the lights and it’s 72 degrees. But our kids, that’s what they like about it. The instructors have to adapt, dealing with tides, winds, currents. All these challenges that the kids are exposed to help their decision-making ability.”
The weather is something they have to deal with, but Krane said rain really isn’t much of a problem because the boats can “handle water.” But when there’s thunder and lightning, he said they try to build in STEM curriculum that they teach to the kids back in the safety of the clubhouse. Sometimes, though, he said that devolves into more fun activities like limbo.
Krane said that club has recently partnered with the Center for Individualized Training and Education (CITE) school in Providence, which works with disadvantaged youth and is geared towards occupational therapy. The connection came through the CITE school’s founder, Bill Anderson, who is a member at the club.
He said the partnership provides a great challenge for those kids to do something that’s totally foreign to them and work with new people to resolve whatever may be going on in their lives. He also said it provides an opportunity for his instructors to “grow as human beings” in a positive way.
The club does not seek to make a profit, but Krane said there are a variety of expenses that they need to cover and the weekly fee ends up being around $300 a week, which he said is similar to other sailing schools around the area (he said there are a number of them all up and down the bay).
He said the yacht club’s board has a scholarship program to pay for sailors who can’t afford camp – this year they gave around $3,000 – and they also do fundraisers periodically to get new equipment for their boats. He said a recent $6,000 campaign provided new sails for the Rhodes 19 sailboats used by the older kids.
The Rhodes 19s are one of four types of boats they have at the school, Krane said. There are the Optimists, which are the small, one-passenger sailboats used for beginners. Then there’s the 420 dinghies, which are two-passenger boats used by the older sailors. There are also the Sunfish sailboats as well.
The instructors monitor the sailors on their own motorboats – Krane said he tries to have around a 7-1 ratio of kids to staff. He said there are close to 40 boats at their disposal, and “on a good day” there would be around 65 kids out at a time. The everyday maintenance falls on the shoulders of the students, so they can learn how to do that, he said, while the bigger projects, like re-packing wheel bearings and putting new trailer parts on, go to the staff.
“The kids sand and paint the bottoms of boats, perform basic maintenance,” Krane said. “Life stuff. They’ve learned it’s important to keep it clean.”
The sailors hail from all over, Krane said, whether it be kids from New York visiting family for a week or one student whose father is a pilot for Air Emirates. He also said there’s a lot of locals who ride their bikes down to camp from around the Edgewood area.
On Friday, the last day of that session of school, the instructors mapped out a trail for them to blaze around the bay, starting with the abandoned Port Edgewood marina and going across to where a sunken barge, which they called the “stinky barge” because of the smell, was located.
Krane said there’s also an element of competition for the sailors if they want it – the younger kids have done regattas (a type of sailing race) in Newport while the older staff have done two-person regattas in Barrington this summer.
Next week is the last week of school for the summer, and Krane said he’s happy with how this season has gone so far. He said many of the same kids have come week after week and formed a sort of family at the school. Some of those kids may even go through the “straw hat” ceremony and become staff next summer as they continue their sailing passion at the Edgewood Yacht Club.