Dane Wells has just crossed the Pacific for his first time on the 500-foot-long ship Golden Bear as a first-year California Maritime Academy (CMA) student.
Wells’ experience as a kid attending summer sailing camp at Sailing Education Adventures (SEA) has opened doors for him that he would never have anticipated as an eight-year-old learning how to sail off Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael. Now 20, he’s having the time of his life, transitioning to life at sea with ease and taking on seemingly demanding tasks in his stride.
“It has been lots of fun and driving the ship is surprisingly easy,” Wells, from San Rafael, commented.
The next wave of kids to come through the program, including junior counselors Gus Gossett (14), an eighth grader at Marin Montessori School, and Krystof Bruel (13), a seventh grader at Marin Waldorf, are hoping to follow a similar path.
“Sailing clicked with me, I got really interested in it and the mechanics like learning about wind direction,” Gossett said. “I immediately thought, ‘This is my thing’.”
Assuming Wells stays with his intended major at CMA he will graduate with a third mate unlimited license, a CSU degree in marine transportation, and lots of opportunities. His development as a sailor through SEA’s program landed him as a junior counselor (JC) when he was 14 and taught him a lot about responsibility.
“The older counselors taught me to be responsible and proactive in managing people,” he said. “It really developed my leadership skills, especially dealing with children in a difficult environment like being on the water.”
Wells wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for college and SEA was a big influence on his decision to attend CMA. Being on boats on the Bay was something he always enjoyed, and working at other jobs made him realize how much he enjoyed working on the water and how much he missed sailing.
“It just seemed wrong not to be sailing!” Wells smiled.
SEA’s counselor program which draws from the pool of kids who have attended SEA sail camps for several years has been key to the longevity and success of SEA’s community sailing program.
“SEA summer campers tend to return year after year, many starting off in the Mini camps at age 8, then moving into Basic/Intermediate camp at 10, and continuing to return,” Meghan Hartnett, Sailing Education Adventures Youth Program Director, said. “At age 14 we look to those campers who have
returned to camp multiple times and therefore are excellent sailors when we’re searching for Junior Counselor candidates. They are recommended if they show a high level of sailing ability but also maturity and responsibility.”
Being a JC is more than just a fun way to go sailing during the summer and spend time in the safety boats with the other counselors, Hartnett added.
SEA counselors rely on JCs to carry out classroom lessons like teaching wind direction and skills like tacking boats one on one with students, and help campers rig their boats and clean up at the end of the day. JCs also help uncertain or scared campers feel like they are safe and in good hands.
“We rely on JCs to enforce the safety rules for campers and to set a good example of proper behavior for the campers; it’s a unique position where you can still have fun with the campers and have a good amount of time to sail,” Hartnett noted.
Gossett and Bruel are excited to be selected as JCs for this season’s SEA camps which get underway on June 19. Gossett did his first SEA camp when he was seven and quickly fell in love with sailing. He’s quickly adapted to the responsibilities that come with being a JC.
“I’m kind of a mature person by nature but I was interested that there was a leadership opportunity as a JC,” Gossett commented. “I’ve always been good at teaching, but I have had to learn more how to interact with younger kids in the camps and instruct from a safety boat, and how to share something that I know with people who may not understand something the way that I do.”
Bruel has been sailing with SEA since he was 8 and will spend most of the summer, Monday through Friday, as a JC, usually helping 15-20 kids per session.
“I will teach the new kids how to sail – I’ll jump on their boat and show them how to do something and stay with them until they know what to do then I let them do their own thing,” Bruel said. “I also do a lot of the chores, like cleaning up the boats after camp and putting them back on the dock.”
Bruel has enjoyed learning how to teach sailing as well as how to drive a safety boat.
“It’s really fun, the people are very nice and always supportive although strict sometimes with the safety drills!” he smiled. “We know to always go instantly to a boat that capsizes – we’re always watching out for the kids.”
The JC is an unpaid position and typically after two summers as a JC, kids are considered for promotion to paid staff positions which are staff counselor, assistant head counselor and head counselor. Training
is mandatory for all counselors each year and as they move up, they in turn lead the training.
“Gus and Krystof were selected as JCs because they both are excellent sailors and also showed a willingness to help the other campers,” Hartnett said. “They helped out at our Fall and Spring Sailing events during the school year for campers to continue sailing. They also have come and sailed during the SEA member Open Sails and have always shown themselves to be self-sufficient yet personable and willing to go above and beyond to help others.”
SEA has been a community sailing program since 1976, initially as part of the Oceanic Society, then as its own non-profit in 1990. Its primary funding comes from program fees and secondary funding comes from the California Division of Boating and Waterways, which funds equipment, scholarships, and instructor training. Some 160 kids participate annually in a variety of SEA programs organized from its “clubhouse” – the trawler, Descalza, in Loch Lomond Marina. Kids sail RS Zests and Laser Picos in the Basic/Intermediate camps, and Catalina 16.5 keel sloops are sailed in the Mini camp. SEA offers Adult Small Boat Beginning Sailing in the Catalinas, a Keelboat Dockside class, and Adult Intermediate Keelboat class in the Santana 22. https://www.sfsailing.org/