Annapolis sailing program teaches kids how to stay afloat on water, and in life

One of the first lessons kids at Brendan’s Sailing camp learn is what to do if your boat capsizes.

“It’s important for us to show the kids what to do if they fall in the water,” said Diane Sullivan, a trainer for the program for children with learning differences. “They see that it’s shallow and we also show them exactly what do to bring the sailboat back to upright.”

James P. Moldoon started the program nearly 40 years ago after seeing his son, who was dyslexic, struggling in school but able to operate a sailboat perfectly. He thought that learning to sail might also help other kids navigate life and build social skills, teamwork and leadership.

“The first time we saw the success it really made us want to help some of these kids,” said Moldoon. “The system kind of steps on them even though it doesn’t want to. So we just want to help and make more people aware.”

That son, Jim Muldoon Jr., became a successful sailor at a young age on Muldoon’s racing yacht, the Donnybrook.

Named after the Irish monk, St. Brendan the Navigator, the two-week program offers instruction and team building. The campers get to showcase their newly learned nautical skills during the program’s annual Parents’ Sail at Annapolis Sailing School.

This year’s Parents’ Sail took place Friday afternoon on choppy water.

“I think the sense of confidence that comes with learning a new skill, especially when it ends with taking a parent out on their own, is immeasurable,” said Bethesda’s Natalya Bah. whose son Mamadou Bah, 11, is participating in the camp for the first time. “I’m thrilled to have him get the chance to meet and interact with kids he wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Julie Castro decided to stay on shore as her two sons, Owen, 18 and Eli, 12, sailed the course.

“It’s been great for them,” said Castro, of Gaithersburg. “Neither of my boys get excited about a lot of stuff so just the fact that they have been into this as much as they are is a testament to the program.”

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Owen, who will attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the fall, has already started talking about pursuing sailing through school and coming back to camp next year as an instructor, Castro said.

“This has gone from being something to do for a couple weeks to being a thing for him, and I’m so grateful,” Castro said.

Each year the program accepts up to 20 kids between ages 11 and 18 for the day camp in Annapolis. Teens aged 14 to 18 can participate in the overnight camp that takes place in July for two separate six-day sessions at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The St. Mary’s program offers sailing instruction and also incorporates the concepts of paddle sports and powerboating as well.

Moldoon, a member of the Boating Safety Hall of Fame, says while continuing to fund the program can sometimes be difficult, he gets great pleasure from what it has accomplished. And he is adamant that no child be turned down because they can’t afford it.

“I never had any long term plans for this program,” Moldoon said reflecting back to when he started it in 1986. “I was running a couple other businesses at the time. I just knew that every year I would have two, three, four sets of parents coming up to me to say you’ve changed my kid’s whole life, so that was the best pay back then.”

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