A 420 model sailboat on Lake Lanier

Youth from Eagle Ranch experienced sailing on several kinds of boats, including this 2-person 420 model.

In late June, young people from Eagle Ranch had a chance to learn to sail. In a partnership with America’s Boating Club Atlanta and the UYC Maritime Foundation, five boys and girls got their first tastes of on-the-water recreation.

“This pilot program was about the highest amount of learning you can get when it comes to teamwork, self-reliance and self-confidence,” said John Cunnings, Eagle Ranch boys program director. “It has made such a difference to these students to be able to have this kind of experience that goes beyond what we provide at Eagle Ranch.”

The Eagle Ranch Pilot program was the brainchild of several members of University Yacht Club, including Past Commodores Rick Smith and Ken Odum, who is also a long-time member of America’s Boating Club Atlanta. It was sponsored under the auspices of the UYC Maritime Foundation and hosted by University Yacht Club.

“The relationship between UYC and Eagle Ranch is long-standing and supportive,” said Smith. “But we wanted to build an even stronger relationship beyond our support and donations through our Bulloch Chapel program. It was another way to solidify our connections with Eagle Ranch and get to know the staff and students better. We are so blessed with our facilities, boats, coaches and Junior Sailing Program – we’ve been trying for a long time to share these blessings with Eagle Ranch and we’re all happy it finally came to fruition.”

Student on sailboat learning to distribute his wait to make the boat go.

When the water and wind are still, sailors can use weight distribution to make the boat go.

An outgrowth of the UYC Maritime Foundation’s Summer Junior Sailing Program, the Eagle Ranch course combined off-water classroom sessions via Zoom and three days of hands-on training.

“America’s Boating Club Atlanta took the lead on the classroom boating skills portion to teach the basics of boating safety and sailing,” said Odum, executive officer of America’s Boating Club Atlanta. “With the help of our education officer Margaret Sherrod, and input from UYC’s junior program director Susan Reddaway, we customized the curriculum into manageable sessions for the students.”

The classroom training took place in the late spring in preparation for the June practical on-the-water training. Students earned boating safety certificates when they completed the classroom lessons in twice-weekly sessions.

The Eagle Ranch on-the-water session became the third of three weeks for the UYC Junior Sailing Program, which this year had nearly 50 students participate in two weeks. For the third week, five students from two homes at Eagle Ranch spent three days at University Yacht Club.

“They learned how to rig the boats, tie knots used in sailing, and then worked as teams to sail,” Reddaway said. “Our coaches who have also come up through the program over the past 12 years took special interest in helping bridge the gap between the classroom learning and what it’s like to actually sail.”

Student trying to right a sailboat in the water.

One of the first lessons a new sailor learns is how to right a boat that has tipped over.

Students were paired on boats with each mastering boat steering, points of sail and how to right a boat when it tips over.

“These are all essential parts of being comfortable and confident on the water,’ Reddaway said. “We talked about teamwork, communication and sportsmanship and it was so rewarding to see the transformations as they progressed through the program.”

Several house parents and staff took part as well, observing from shore and from a safety patrol boat.

“From being a bit timid about the experience in the beginning to embracing the adventure, our boys and girls not only learned how to sail, they became more confident about their decision-making capabilities and learning how to work together,” Cunnings said. “Words can’t begin to describe how much impact this program had on our boys and girls. We hope that it will be the beginning of an annual program, thanks to the generosity of the UYC Maritime Foundation and America’s Boating Club.

Students on land with sailboat getting ready to launch boat into lake.

Teamwork is important so each sailor does her part to get the boat ready to launch.

“And best of all, it’s just been great fun for all of us who were involved,” Cunnings said. “It was an unforgettable experience.”

Photos: Courtesy of Rick Smith