Spring 1986 // Volume 24 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW4

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Youth Sailing Program


Chad P. Dawson
Tourism Small Business Team Leader
Sea Grant Extension Specialist
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Sherry P. Boyce
County Extension Agent, 4-H
Agricultural Extension Service
University of Minnesota-Duluth

The Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Superior have a rich maritime history and marine orientation toward commercial shipping and recreational boating. However, youth in these coastal communities are given few opportunities to experience these waterbased activities. In 1984, Extension brought together community leaders to look at the possibility of a youth sailing program. These individuals formed the Twin Ports Youth Sailing Association to provide a hands-on boatbuilding and sailing experience for local youth.

With the organizational skills of 4-H, an entire network of agencies and individuals were brought together to focus on the problem. Support, cooperation, donations, funding, and volunteer efforts came from a wide variety of sources: Duluth Parks and Recreation, Minnesota Sea Grant Extension, Duluth Keel Club, and various civic groups, interested individuals, and local businesses.

A high performance eight-foot sailing dinghy (Wave Buster 8) was designed by a local professional boatbuilder for the association. It included many unique features tailored toward creating a successful 4-H oriented program of boatbuilding, sailing instruction, friendly competition, and individual development. These features included: a low cost wood/fiberglass boat kit, construction methods appropriate for those building at home and youth participation, a stable high-performance trainer designed to stimulate increased sailing skills, a boat built to the scale that 8-16 year olds could sail singlehandedly, a simple rigging system, built-in flotation for self-rescue, and self-bailing characteristics to facilitate a quick return to the challenges of learning to sail.

Within the first 2 years of the project, 9 boats were built by volunteer groups and 90 students attended 2-week training sessions. Reactions to the boatbuilding and sailing program were enthusiastic, with more individuals expressing interest in the program and other communities requesting information on how to develop a similar program. The youth involved in the 1984-85 program have directly demonstrated knowledge, skills, attitude, and aspiration changes that highlight how the 4-H philosophy and organization can effectively reach new audiences with a network of private and public sector support and involvement.

The lesson learned from this project is the importance of developing Extension programs for waterbased activities and educational experiences. Many communities on lakes and rivers throughout the nation have unique opportunities for such programs provided the Extension staff can be encouraged to risk innovative applications of traditional Extension organizational methods and goals.