By John Zupkus
My most noteworthy Courageous Sailing moment came very early this season during a mini camp in the beginning of June. The Brooklyn Boulders/Courageous Sailing mini camp gave a group of 9 Boston children a chance to branch out and push their limits this summer. Completing these camps would undoubtedly leave each camper with a sense of personal achievement and a new perspective when it came to facing challenges. The first two days of camp were very windy even by my standards. A steady 15 knots with gusts well over 25. In these conditions it makes teaching the fundamentals of sailing a bit more difficult but there was a hunger among the campers to get a chance at the helm and be the one in charge of the boat's dramatic movements. On Wednesday, half way through the 1 week camp, all the campers had become comfortable with steering except my one reluctant and quiet camper Max. Max had been apprehensive about this whole sailing thing since day one and was thrust into some very fear inspiring situations those first couple days. I could tell he was scared so much so that on the second day Max came to camp accompanied by a small raccoon stuffed animal he called Leo to squeeze tightly between his hands when the boat began to heel past his point of comfort. Wednesday brought slightly lower pressure and I deemed it the perfect time for Max to get on the helm and made it my goal to simply build his confidence throughout the day. I guided him through the various maneuvers the other campers had already demonstrated while Max waited patiently yet fearfully the days prior. To my amazement Max made virtually no errors. He steered straight and could tack on a dime. He knew the points of sail and could anticipate a gybe better than any of the other children. By the end of the day I was blown away by how much Max had retained, but one obstacle remained. I knew for the rest of the week it was going to be my job to help Max over come his fears on the water.
Friday morning was our planned trip to George’s Island and the 20 knot breeze had returned once again. We made the trip out in just about and hour on a reach with two instructors per boat. The campers were ecstatic to be leaving the inner harbor and I could see an adventurous spirit growing with in everyone. I glanced over at little Max who was gripping his pet Leo to the point of strangulation as we heeled over under reefed sails and chop broke over the bow. Once moored and the campers were ferried to George’s, we were free to explore the Civil War era fort that occupied the island. We made our way through look out posts and long dark catacombs. Chatter about Civil War ghosts and spirits erupted between the campers and instructors alike. After lunch at 1pm it was time to get back to the boats and return to Courageous Base. By now the wind had picked up even more and we plotted a more direct route home omitting the Long Island bridge and passing Deer Island instead. 20 minutes out in one stretch on water the currents and wind combined to make the journey very choppy. By now the other 2 campers became concerned and this is when I saw my chance to help little Max overcome his fears. I placed him on the windward gunwale and instructed him to call out any gusts he saw indicated by darkening ripples on the water coming towards us and alert the crew. Again and again Max’s delicate voice rang out with a “gust off the port bow, hold on!” This small task occupied him for the next hour and I could tell that it was therapeutic in a way, making Max feel in control of his surroundings. With a renewed sense of confidence we made it to the inner harbor where the water calmed and the breeze lessened. When we passed the airport wharf I asked Max if he’d like to take the tiller for the rest of the journey. Without hesitation Max took the helm and steered us on a perfect course back home using the Bunker Hill Memorial as his waypoint.
This experience exemplifies what Courageous Sailing is all about in my eyes. Never in 100,000 years did Max or any of the other campers think they would have experienced such adventures. I witnessed every single camper that week grow in courage and confidence. Max told me when we reached the dock that he had never done anything that brave in his entire life.