Saturday, August 20, 2011

Appreciating the Ocean (Above and Below) in Stonington

Just across the street from the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club Sailing Foundation (CT), a pair of cannon batteries stand watch over the village green. Relics of the War of 1812, they are an impressive reminder of why you don't want to bet against the people of this town. "It cost the King ten thousand pounds to have a dash at Stonington," wrote American poet Philip Freneau of a failed British naval attack on the harbor. Upon arriving at the Sailing Foundation, it soon became clear that the current generation of residents are no less energetic.

Many junior sailing programs, having reached the level of success of the SHYC Sailing Foundation, would be content to rest on their laurels. With over 500 students passing through its various programs each year, and standout graduates populating the ranks of top high school, collegiate, and olympic teams, SHYC-SF can be justifiably proud of what they've already built.

However, this is no normal program. Continuing with business as usual is simply not an option.

Improvements and planning are underway on almost every aspect of the operation. Their recently-acquired compound, purchased from the Mohegan Indian Tribe, served for decades as the site of a productive lobster fishing business. An expended pier system is in the works, along with two renovated warehouses (Gotta get those old lobster tanks out!) and a refinished office, among other projects. Even though the site came with a significant amount of indoor space (spread between three buildings), SHYC-SF has already swelled to occupy all of it. A wide variety of beginner, intermediate and advanced sailing programs are complimented by a paddleboard and windsurfer rental program, an outdoor adventure program, adult classes, and, perhaps most impressively, a marine biology program with classes for kids aged 4-17.

  Mike Smith, Marine Biology Program Director at Stonington Harbor Yacht Club by US SAILING

At Stonington, they are not satisfied with simply giving kids a quality introduction to the sport of sailing. They are also intent on giving their students a broad and comprehensive appreciation of the ocean environment as a whole. When you see the marine biology program in action, with dozens of kids ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the latest marine creature caught by instructor Mike Smith, it all seems to fit seamlessly with the boating program. Considering how nature-dependant our sport is, it seems especially important to give kids as complete an understanding as possible of their natural surroundings and how human activity can affect them.

If all of this seems remarkably ambitious, that's because it truly is. However, I would not make the mistake of the marauding H.M.S. Terror two centuries ago, whose captain chose to underestimate the sailors of this town. Already an impressive and successful sailing program, SHYC-SF stands to become a leader in marine education in the New England region.


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