Learning to love the water

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 10:00pm

Sailing certainly isn’t for everyone, and it certainly wasn’t at first for sisters Cally and Chloe Weber.

“I hated it. I just did not like it,” said Chloe, who is 15. Of her sister Cally, she said, “She hated it more than I did.”

“I would throw tantrums,” said Cally, 14.

But then something happened. Chloe went on the annual seventh grade sailing trip that the Block Island School sponsors, and that changed everything. “I decided I liked sailing again,” she said.

“Chloe decided to get really into it, and I went really into it,” said Cally.

Today, according to Block Island Club Manager Alex Donohoe, the two sisters are not only veteran sailors, they are two of the best teachers the club has for its student sailing program.

Donohue, and Waterfront Director Cameron Greenlee, believe that sailing — or any sport, for that matter — can instill a certain kinds of discipline, both physical and mental, and a sense of fair play that other activities do not.

Sports, said Donohue, are “challenging and rewarding. If you persevere enough, you can achieve anything.”

Greenlee admitted that sailing can be daunting. “It has its own vocabulary. It’s like learning a new language.” Unlike basketball or baseball, sailing is not ingrained into the culture from an early age, and it’s a sport that can be financially intimidating. But Greenlee said the Block Island Club is trying to make the sport more accessible.

Greenlee also said that sailing has peculiar American traditions that may turn some people off, as he himself experienced, when youngsters are more or less put in a boat and told to go sail. In Ireland, where Donohue grew up, it was more structured. Both Greenlee and Donohue said they are trying to bring a more hybrid approach to learning how to sail at the Block Island Club, a technique that incorporates discipline while also fostering an atmosphere where the students can learn at their own pace.

Students at the Club can take out small Colgate sailboats for a couple of hours each Sunday (through Columbus Day). Donohue noted that the BIC is “not a yacht club, we don’t have a commodore,” and there is not the intense training a yacht club experience implies.

In fact, Chloe and Cally recently participated in the Western Connecticut Regatta Series, in which they competed against yacht clubs. When asked how they did, Donohue said, “We did okay,” he said. “We were competitive.”

“It was so much fun,” said Cally, but admitted, “Racing is hard. It’s very different from going around and just sailing.”

Chloe, however, said she “liked the competitive side” of the sport, while also saying “it’s fun to go out and play around.”

A combination of the skills the two approaches to the sport — sailing for fun or in competitive situations — provide “skills you can use for life,” said Donohue.

Chloe was an instructor at the Club this year, and Cally was an intern. They plan on sailing for as long as they can.

As for how others can get over their initial intimidation of sailing, Chloe said, “Just do it. Once you start doing it, you’ll love it.”

For more information on the Block Island Club’s sailing program, call (401) 466-5939 or visit blockislandclub.org.