Now that winter weather has set in the Highlands sailing is a distant memory for most except for those who were provided an unforgettable experience on the water with the Haliburton County Youth Sailing Association.
Started this past summer the association was a collaborative effort and offered youth and young adults an introduction to sailing empowering them to succeed.
Robin Carmount who is credited with the idea of the sailing association said the debut year was amazing. “We had a really good summer in light of it being our first summer. We pretty much met or exceeded every goal that we had set out for ourselves” he said.
The goals included to be on the water by July to have upwards of five participants (21 signed up and 10 sailed) money in the bank and a fleet of 13 boats at their disposal.
When asked about his favourite part of the year: “I’ve got to say for myself is just to see the look on these [kids’ faces] when they show up and when they get to go sailing” he said. “Just because they just love it.”
He remembers the joy and sense of achievement when he took two youth at the end of the season on his sailboat.
“The look on their face when you see them sailing. You know steering it on their own tying knots and all that. One of the tests I had to do for them the one day before we went sailing was tie a bowline … they just loved it” he said.
There will be a concerted effort to improve using the feedback from participants and volunteers he said.
Carmount said none of this would have been possible without the support from the community whether it was volunteers individuals or businesses.
The Red Umbrella Inn provided their location on Twelve Mile Lake as a base of operations for the association. The help also came from donations from various sources including clothing by CoHo Apparel a fridge from Haliburton Home Hardware and money from Boshkung Lake Property Owners’ Association.
Jacqueline Smith who is the aunt of the Haywood girls Kaylee 10 and Madelin 9 said the girls enjoyed their time over several sailing sessions during the summer. It was never an issue to get them motivated to go she said.
“They would get ready themselves because they knew Saturday or Thursday or whatever was sail day” she said.
The girls are expected to return next year because of how much they enjoyed being on the water and learning from volunteers. Smith said through this experience the girls developed leadership and social skills relating to adults they didn’t know.
Sailing as an activity wasn’t really on the radar before this opportunity came up. And yet it makes perfect sense with the area.
“How many kids do you know that they actually get to learn to sail. It’s really cool. We live up in this country and don’t realize the stuff that is right in our own backyard that is super amazing” she said.
Smith acknowledges the girls were apprehensive after doing online research into sailing. “But then they came to realize it is actually pretty cool and they’re in charge and there is no motor and they were able to understand the energy that the wind had. The instructors were really good at explaining how the sail went and what was the force of energy that got the boat to go. It was pretty cool” she said.
The girls were so impressed by the program and the people behind it that they made thank you cards for the instructors including a thank you letter for the organization.
This programming isn’t anything without its volunteers. Haliburton resident Cara Oleksuik was one of those volunteers. She grew up on the water sailing with her father and was able to share her joy with one participant.
She worked directly with the participants teaching or just spending time with them. Whether it was sailing fishing swimming or just sharing time she said it was incredible.
On one day high winds created a scenario where it was overly challenging to have a student in the boat and manage to get out of the bay Oleksuik said. Her participant rode in the patrol boat and followed her out from shore before she decided to dive right in – figuratively and literally.
“She jumped in the water (with supervision and we knew that she was going to do that) and swam over to the boat and helped me right it and got in with me. I was just astounded that she just basically really took a leap of faith right? There was just no other way to describe it. It was just incredible” she said.
The programming’s fluid nature worked well for volunteers and participants as it adapted to the weather the participants’ desires and any other unforeseen changes.
“You wouldn’t think we would have a lot of time to talk on the water because you’re busy sailing and instructing and teaching but she said she gained a lot of confidence just from that one day. She said the hardest part was just showing up but she came back and loved it” Oleksuik said.
“They just loved being there. They showed up and they wanted to be there and they never wanted to go at the end of the session” she said.
The volunteer experience isn’t without challenge whether it was teaching the unpredictable weather or who would show up. However there was great reward. So much so that Oleksuik is ready to return and help out again next year. She encourages others to join her in volunteering which was relatively easy with an open and adaptive schedule.
Carmount said people can help in a variety of areas such as on the water operating the patrol boat sailing in instructing or on land helping with transportation.
“We need more people. We need more help. They don’t need to be superstar sailors” he said. “If they have some sailing experience [it helps] …You don’t really need a lot. You just want to work with youth.”
All volunteer sailing instructors were trained or approved by sailing lead instructor Tom Oliver.
Haliburton’s Cathy McMullen grandmother of participants Sheldon Weatherbee-McMullen 14 and Sirena Weatherbee-McMullen 12 said the experience was unforgettable even after only two sessions. She remembers in August there was one overly windy day for a learning session when they didn’t sail and only fished off the dock. “They really enjoyed it. The people were very good very supportive and helpful with them too” she said.
McMullen said she appreciated how sailing supplanted the children’s use of electronics.
She said youth were treated well. “You didn’t have to worry about them. They … had a good time and [were]well taken care of” she said.
McMullen liked how well organized everything was the thoroughness and the knowledge possessed by the instructors. She’s looking forward to next year so the children can learn more about sailing.
Earlier in the school year Carmount was at J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School and saw Sirena and said hi. Sirena didn’t recognize him in uniform.
“That means something to the kids too. To be recognized and … appreciated and that kind of thing too” McMullen said.
Oliver led the volunteer instructors and said this year couldn’t have gone any better and that it went “beyond expectations.”
The response from the young participants their guardians and parents were all positive.
Although the instruction was based in large part on the CANSail curriculum it did not include the grading and achievement levels.
The main objective was to ensure a positive atmosphere for participants rather than an environment where there could be pressure or stress.
“If a child learned a thing or two and leaves with a smile on their face then we did our job” Oliver said.
He said the purchase of the boats and the storage this winter has all been handled by one generous resident who wishes to remain anonymous. This makes everything much easier and he said it sets them apart from other larger sailing clubs south of here.
He said other sailing instructors from outside the Highlands can’t believe this concept hasn’t started elsewhere. He is excited by the potential growth of the idea and how it could be the genesis for programming to help youth all over the province and country. With the winter to plan and to prepare for the upcoming sailing season he sees greater strides for the sailing association and expects next season to start much earlier with so much already done.
There are plenty of people deserving of credit for this endeavour he said which everyone involved would like to see continue.
“Everybody should be proud of themselves” he said.
More information and opportunities for donations can be performed at mindoverwater.org.