Fall sailing program a bonus for local kids

Thu, 10/29/2020 - 5:30pm
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With after-school activities and programs reduced to a minimum this year due to safety measures for Covid-19, the Block Island Club decided to open up an after-school sailing program. The program began in late September, and the BIC invited students in grades two through five to learn how to sail. An average of 12 students attended each week in an environment of social distancing in the open air and water.

Alex Donohoe, the Manager and Sailing Director of the BIC, described to The Block Island Times how the after-school sailing program came together at the club.

“This is not the first after-school sailing program that has been done. The Block Island Maritime Institute ran one a few years ago in conjunction with the BIC, which helped to drive up local involvement in sailing. After that phased out, we started doing a Sunday sailing program for the kids in our larger 26-foot boats, which has been going on since 2017,” said Donohoe.

Donohoe noted that the program saw experienced students, and students who had never sailed. Either way, the students quickly learned the basics of sailing.

“Some were beginners, and some had experience, but for the most part, it was their first time getting into a small boat or getting in with a friend… Their enthusiasm and capability has been unbelievable. We’ve had some kids who have never sailed before and are pretty comfortable now and loving it out there,” said Donohoe.

Students in the afterschool program had the opportunity to sail in Optimist boats — Optis — which are small, single-handed sailing dinghies.

“They are small boats. My issue with them is that they are single-handed boats, and you have to put a young kid in there by themselves… We are in the process of selling them and replacing them with Topaz boats. We were fortunate enough to purchase two of those this year, which is a great help. We can then put two kids in — a complete beginner with an advanced sailor,” said Donohoe.

Donohoe added that when the weather didn’t allow the kids to sail, the BIC would teach basic skills.

“When it’s too windy to sail, we get the kids to do land drills, tie knots — make it adaptable as possible,” said Donohoe.

When asked if the sailing program posed any concerns or violations of health and safety rules, Donohoe stated there were not, due to the social distancing that the boats provide.

“We were lucky to run our programs at full capacity, and it gave us an idea for what is needed and required. Because the kids are sailing in one person or two person boats, the social distance is built in. Also, the kids are all in school together and play sports,” added Donohoe.

While the sailing program ended in late October, Donohoe said he wanted to continue it.

“Block Island is really an incredible place to sail, and to give [the students] the opportunity to take advantage of that is important. We are hoping to get programs running on either side of the summer — April, May, September and October,” said Donohoe. “As long as the kids are willing to sail, we are willing to do that. In the spring, we are hoping to get the middle and high school students involved with larger boats. The biggest thing about this is to give the kids an opportunity to sail. There aren’t many schools and facilities able to do this. It’s awesome to have that for the kids.”