The Princess Regent, our 4 year old granddaughter, just wound up a week at the lake with Peggy and me. It was a wonderful time. Activities were varied and ranged from Peggy and Her Highness doing chick things like icing cupcakes and going to the Llano City Park playground, to helping me clean up a tree (I used the chainsaw, she dragged the cuttings off into a pile), to fishin’, to my favorite recreational activity… sailing.
Her Royal Highness(HRH) had been on our Catalina 22 a couple of years ago and sorta vaguely seemed to remember it, but even with a crisp Technicolor HD recall, that is like sailing the house from the front porch. The C22 is a ponderous thing when compared to sailing one of our Sunfish, much less her Dad’s elderly Laser that graces our yard. So on her first day here I started to prepare her, mentally, to enjoy sailing.
We have a life-jacket rule, which has followed us through several lake community homes, vacation joints, yacht clubs, and family outings. Children under 12 are not allowed anywhere in the direction of, much less near to, water not squirting out of a hose… unless they wear a properly secured and fitted life jacket appropriate to their age. Every year I read of families losing children to drowning due to a split second of distraction and some accident. We have had guests who thought it was just too much hassle to convince their little darlings to wear the jacket and have asked them to leave if the kids appeared to be in charge of safety. Her Texanic Magesty is well familiar with this rule, understands that she does not have a say in the matter and is very well adjusted about it (note to others… your kids and grandkids will be this way too, if they understand that YOU are in charge and that they will not get to have all that fun if they resist, in the smallest way, your wisdom regarding ALWAYS having a jacket on children.) A good side benefit is that, knowing what the life jacket is there for, kids will quickly learn to use it and be a more comfortable as they learn to be around boats and the water.
Having raised two sons and introduced them to sailing at age 3 or so, I know a bit about getting kids into the sport. But little girls are different. “They are not just soft boys”, as Sid Nolte, an old friend from my TI days once explained (he had two of each, so I figure he knows a lot about the subject). With this in mind I took a step-by-step approach to getting our granddaughter morphed into a raving, giggling, squealing little sailing nut.
Even with her dad trying to make it fun, she was not too sure about it.
Her Highness peers over the edge of the slide, not too sure she wants to risk this!
Her Highness spent 2 days doing non-sailing water activities, to build up her confidence, before we introduced the Sunfish to her world. She was pretty timid about sliding down the slide from the inflatable trampoline which Peggy had (wisely) insisted we get, but after an hour or so she was comfortable going down it feet first. She would not, however jump off it into the water, nor go down the slide facing the water or head-first. We did not push that but used each splash down the slide into the water to get her to remember to not inhale water and to roll over onto her back and get stable as soon as she hit the water.
Pointers from the old guy.
Down the slide she goes, landing with a splash!
After a couple of 1-2 hours sessions she was getting to where she knew how to move about, even in a dog paddle position, with the life jacket on.
The next step was to get her to the point that she could struggle her way from shore to where we moor our powerboat in about 3 feet of water about 30 yards off-shore, then with just a little help, get started up the ladder and up onto the boat. We did that 4 or 5 times over a day and a half, with lots of other splashing and wading and some of the water slide activity mixed in, as well as using the event of having made it to the boat and on it, to go fishing or to motor out to the Catalina to tie up to it and go aboard to “check on things”. The tie-up to the larger boat involved discussions about not getting hands, feet, legs, arms or other body parts between the two boats as they might get mashed. We also, after a couple of these “out to the Catalina” adventures, tried climbing down the ladder on the power boat and floating around, checking the waterline on the Catalina all the way around. By then she was getting very comfortable with being safe with her life jacket even in very deep water and with always keeping a hand on one of the boats or a line off one of them.
Now it was time to introduce the fun. So I asked if she would like to go sailing with me on my racing Sunfish (it has a special sail and some extra strings for adjusting the sail that are not on recreational Sunfish… and I polish and fondle its bottom several times a year.) She knows I race that boat and that it is sorta a big deal, so she was onto that invitation in a heartbeat. Thank goodness she does not know how poorly I sail these days!
We got the daggerboard and rudder… racing “blades” made of some sort of plastic, not the wooden ones seen on recreational ‘fish, and carried them out to the boat which was on its beach dolly in the yard. The sail was already with the boat, bent to the spars in a long skinny bag which protects the sail from the the sun. We worked together on getting the spars and sails out of the bag and ready to put on the boat, then stepped the mast and since the wind was fairly light and blowing more or less from the lake, we raised the sail and secured it. All through this I showed her every part and explained what it does. A Sunfish does not have a lot of parts, so this was within the attention span of a 4-year-old.
With the boat rigged and ready to launch I stopped for a minute and explained that we would go out and sail, that I would sail some of the time and that if she wanted, I would show her how to steer the boat, but that I would need her help pulling the rope which pulls the sail in or lets it out. Then I told her that we would also do a practice capsize and explained what that meant. She looked a little anxious about the capsize so we discussed the dreadful consequences of a capsize … you get to go swimming! Then she was actually grinning about the prospect.
Her Magesty has already boarded, now time to get the human ballast aboard!
Ready to sheet the main and get sailin'!
We rolled the boat down to the water and floated it off the dolly in about 2 feet of water. I then asked HRH to please hold the rope on the front of the boat while I took the dolly back on shore. Again there was some apprehension, but she took the rope gingerly in one hand. I asked that she use both hands and hold on tight since this was my racing boat. I then turned, nervously myself, and took the dolly ashore without looking back, then came back doing my best to look comfortable. No problem. She had a good grip and hung on and stood her ground even as a small puff came through and pulled harder on that rope.
Thanking her for holding on, I asked that she continue while I mounted the rudder, dropped the daggerbboard into its slot and attached its safety cord. She was fine with all that. Then we got her aboard and I told her to hang on while Granddad the Walrus climbed over the side and into the boat with her. She had already figured out which rope pulled the sail in and asked if she should pull it in… this was getting very cool!
We sailed out beyond our Catalina 22 to get the feel of the boat
She immediately "got it" about getting her head down as we came about. Not a single knot on her head the whole time!
We sailed out and around the Catalina, then back in and around the power boat (while Grandmother took some pictures) then back out near the Catalina. I asked if she was ready to practice capsizing. She nodded but said nothing, so I grinned broadly and recounted for her how her Dad and Uncle Russell used to take the Laser out, when they were not a lot older than she is and capsize it over and over, even though they were too little to right it, unless they worked together on it (a rare moment when Grandmother and I knew they would not be fighting like brothers do.) I described Uncle Russell struggling up onto the bottom of the boat then helping her dad climb up with him where they would stand together on the bottom and hang off the daggerboard until the boat started rolling back up onto one side,. then they would BOTH climb onto the dagger board and sit straddling it, as far out on it as they could get, sometimes farther than they could get, kersplash, until they got the boat to come back upright. By this point Her Highness was giggling at the image of her 6’+ Dad doing that with her also 6’+ Uncle Russell on a little bitty boat. I don’t think she is able to picture her dad as being her size, ever. Sigh… time passes so quickly.
The first capsize - after lots of building up to it being a chance to swim.
With the boat righted and Granddad back on board, HRH gets lifted aboard in a fit of giggling
She then said “Lets capsize, Granddad!” I took a minute to explain, again, what I would be doing, what I wanted her to do, and what to do, other than freak, if she got uncomfortable about what was going on. And then we did it. We were easily 150 yards offshore and Peggy told me she could hear the giggling and shrieking clearly. As this was HRH’s first capsize, I had her swim with me around to the other side of the boat, hold onto the bow of the boat as I climbed up onto the bottom (it had “turtled”… was completely upside down by then) grabbed the daggerboard and gently rolled the boat upright. I then had her come down the side of the boat to where I was and hold onto the edge of the boat. I climbed onboard then reached over and helped her climb up and over the side. She immediately said,”let’s do it again!” and I knew that there was a newly confident young sailor-in-the-making with me.
We capsized the boat several more times. I showed her a way that she could stay on the deck side of the boat… and if I got around to the daggerboard quickly and kept the boat from turning completely upside down… she could hold onto the rim of the cockpit as I rolled the boat up. That would just pull her up and into the boat as it came upright. Long sentence but a great technique for a kid to learn. It gives them confidence that they have some control over not being “left” in the water when the boat gets righted.
At this point she asked if I would show her how to steer the boat. Glowing with grandfatherly pride, I did and she did fine with it. She even learned how to tell that the sail needed trimmed in a bit more, though she was not as quick to understand how to tell when it was too tight. We have many years for her to master that, and the many other nuances that make sailing a never-ending learning experience.
HRH climbs aboard after jumping off, me circling back and stopping the boat beside her
A high-five to celebrate a successful recovery of a crewchick overboard!
The next day I was thinking maybe we would put the jet ski in, as she has always enjoyed riding on it, but she asked if we could sail the sunfish some more, before I could even ask. So we did and on that day we added “man overboard drills” to our repetoire of fun stuff to do on a little sailboat. I would tell her when to slide off into the water then shout “man over-board!” and come about, then go past her and turn back up into the wind and coast to a stop right by her and help her get started back onto the boat. After the 3rd or 4th time she took to jumping off, rolling off, rolling off backwards, … you name it, she did it.
Her Royal Highness sails us in and drops me off to hold the boat for her
The next day HRH’s Dad came back to spend part of a day then escort Her Ladyship home. Early that morning he was asked if she could take him sailing. They rigged the boat, went out and she stunned her Dad with her comfort with the water and the boat in her lifejacket. As they sailed along, with him steering (her request) she suddenly shouted “Man Overboard” and rolled backwards off the boat. Luckily I had warned him and he is an excellent, if somewhat rusty, sailor. He knew what his part of a “man overboard drill” should be and I beamed in pride at both of them as he executed his part with precision … as if it had been only yesterday that he and Russell practiced this drill over and over… and they both, son and granddaughter, laughed and giggled as they shared a love of the water and sailing.
This is pretty cool stuff.
HRH holds the boat (get that smile!) while I get it ready to pull out of the water
Tomorrow… cycling! Maybe a ride out to Castell for a BBQ Sandwich and a beer! I will let you know how it goes.