Schwatka Lake half full with Optimist Sailing Club

A member of the Optimist Sailing Club of Vancouver, says that sailing could blossom in the Yukon — the territory just needs a little wind in…

A member of the Optimist Sailing Club of Vancouver, says that sailing could blossom in the Yukon — the territory just needs a little wind in its sails.

“Our goal is to expand sailing around the province of BC and now into the Yukon,” said Rob Douglas, one of the sailing coaches and one of the organizers of the camp.

“It was done by putting together a trailer that we could (use to) transport the equipment to smaller clubs and communities that haven’t had a chance to offer sailing programs to kids.”

After a successful first season last year, the club, which travels to communities in Western Canada to introduce sailing to youngsters, decided to add Whitehorse to the list of 18 locations it is visiting this year.

“We’re really excited to have them up here,” said Krista Mroz, leisure program co-ordinator with Whitehorse’s parks and recreation department. “It’s a great opportunity for local Yukon kids, an opportunity that most would never have.

“This was a trial project for us to see what interest would be like, if this kind of program is wanted by the public up here,” said Mroz. “Who knows where it’ll go in the future … maybe a local sailing club will develop out of this.”

Twenty-six kids, between seven and 14, are attending the camp that runs from Monday to Friday at Schwatka Lake. As half the kids learn the ways of the sailboats, the other half spends time in four-person kayaks, and after lunch they switch.

“We pair younger kids with older kids so that the older kids can help the younger kids learn,” said Mroz. “It’s also for a safety factor; we’ve got older kids looking out for younger kids.”

The camp is directed towards youngsters because, according to Douglas, if a child does not attempt a sport by the age of 12, there’s a 90 per cent chance that he or she will never give it a shot.

“We bring it to kids that young so we can get them into sailing and show them how much fun the water can be,” said Douglas. “And we teach them things the right way early on.

“They learn how to control the sail, how to test the sail in order to go fast.

“(They learn) how to steer the boats … They learn how to capsize and … bring their boats back up.”

The club reaches far beyond instruction in sailing fundamentals, and does what it can to help future sailors obtain vessels of their own.

“The idea is that we buy the boats, absorb the initial cost, and within a year to two years we’re selling off the boats,” said Douglas. “That’s 16 boats going into the province, into the Yukon each year. We’re hoping that within 10 years the Yukon will have enough boats to start their own program.

“And we sell them off at half-price basically,” he added.

In other communities, the camp was usually limited to 20 students, however the response in Whitehorse was beyond expectations, with eventually nine applicants being placed on a waiting list.

The price of the camp was $250 and the proceeds went to the BC Sailing Federation.

Next week, the club will head to Williams Lake, BC, for the final camp of the season.

“I really like sailing — it’s fun,” said Sam Fleming, 7, one of the students in the camp. “The kayaks are not as fun because I always get my bum wet when I sit down in them.

“My favourite part (of sailing) is steering at the back,” he said.

“I’ve never sailed before but I learned how to sail when you have a headwind,” said Sage Verrier-Siska, 12, another student of the wind and water.

“Today I tried being solo for a bit on the lake … most people have to have two people (in the boat) and it was really fun.”

The club gets its name from the Optimist boats it uses. These boats are one- or two-person vessels that were designed in the late 1940s.

They are about 2.25 metres long and are not much more than a tub and a mast. Although they can hardly be compared to the yachts in the American Cup, the petit vessels are the most common boat in the world and are raced internationally.

In fact, Canada’s national Optimist championships are taking place this week in Halifax.

More information can be found at the club’s website