Sailing Forward

Instructor Maggie Flanigan teaches campers the ropes during their first day on the Chesapeake Bay. (provided)

Instructor Maggie Flanigan teaches campers the ropes during their first day on the Chesapeake Bay. (provided)

The scene couldn’t be more picturesque: placid waters hugging a sandy shore and several small JY-15 sailboats bobbing along on a sea that expands far into the distance. A mere miles from Baltimore City, a secluded haven of sorts on the Chesapeake Bay proves to be the perfect place for young sailors at an Orthodox girls sailing camp to hone their skills.

At the Baltimore County Sailing Center at Rocky Ridge Point, these campers have the chance to learn how rig and de-rig a boat, steady the tiller (the part that steers the boat) and adjust the sails, all while avoiding getting hit by the boom, the pole along the foot of the sail. This group is one of many that BCSC hosts throughout the summer, but during the last week of August, the site exclusively accommodates the Orthodox camp.

There’s something about sailing that seems to inspire enthusiasm and confidence in even the most inexperienced novice, say organizers. You don’t have to be good at sports to gain competence at sailing or even be the most popular at school. Many of the young participants in this year’s program expressed a zeal for sailing their very first day on the water.

“It’s in the water and it’s fun — why not?” a couple of young campers pointed out.

But it’s more than just fun. In their own private world, these campers have the opportunity to master something uniquely their own. Sailing
promotes natural cooperation, mindful participation and a strong sense of personal responsibility. No one wants her boat to be the one that tips over.

“Based on my experience with teenagers, I would say that those who have a hobby or something they are good at are more likely to be satisfied and happy,” said Rabbi Aaron Tendler, a local educator who founded the sailing program three years ago. “It can be music, art, sailing or something like it, but they need to have these opportunities.”

At the camp, there is an unusual mixture of feelings: on the one hand, mounting excitement at the prospect of manning a boat; but on the other, an anchoring serenity born from the ebb and flow of the water. Especially for young sailors, sailing seems tied to atmosphere as much as it is to skill.

Campers from the 2013 Orthodox girls sailing camp pose at the Baltimore County Sailing Center. (provided)

Campers from the 2013 Orthodox girls sailing camp pose at the Baltimore County Sailing Center. (provided)

The camp has grown to offer a one-week program for both boys and girls. This year, the boys’ camp drew 14 while the girls’ camp, which ended Aug. 29, accommodated 11. The program’s success underscores the need for more programs like it, said Tendler.

While campers and their parents continue to give Tendler positive feedback, the BCSC staff is equally enthusiastic about the program. With this smaller and more attentive group, an instructor can get through the sailing curriculum at a quicker pace and offer more one-on-one attention. The program also gives the staff an opportunity to interact with members of the Orthodox community.

“My staff really looks forward to having this camp because of the chance to get insights into this community,” said Eileen Fahrmeier, the BCSC director. Her experience has already taught her a lot: “At the boys’ camp, we fish yarmulkes out of the water while in the girls division, they have to learn how to get on the boats in skirts.”

Fahrmeier, who once designed a T-shirt with the logo, “Sailing — the original video game,” understands its appeal.  On the water, sailors develop a natural spatial awareness and accountability for the direct outcome of their choices. Children who love sailing theory are often motivated to pursue an education in science or math.

And ultimately, it may just be the isolation of the site that allows kids to find themselves on the water, giving them room to experiment and learn. As long as thunderstorms or strong winds don’t interfere, sailing will continue to provide that opportunity to explore deeper waters.

“My job is to serve the people who want to know how to sail and to enable them to do so,” said Fahrmeier. “We can’t give these kids the keys to the car, but we can give them the tiller on the boat.”

Hanni R. Werner is a local freelance writer.

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