“As the son of a son of a sailor, I went out on the sea for adventure . . .”

- Jimmy Buffett

 

The cockpit of a sailboat is a beehive of activity. The boom swinging back and forth. Sailors switching sides on the boat to keep it from capsizing and spilling everyone into the water. Being constantly at the mercy of the ever-shifting winds and tides. It can be an intimidating place even for experienced sailors. For teenagers learning how to sail it can be overwhelming.

Tacking, jibing and heeling are words most of the teen sailors participating in the Sail Academy at Mulberry Cove June 20-24 had not heard before. Many of them had never been on a boat before. 

They were 43 Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets participating in the Sail Academy, a nationwide program that teaches the basics of sailing. The cadets were from Area 12, which consists of high schools across North Florida and Georgia. Some came from as far away as Atlanta.

“In the beginning they were scared to handle the boat,” said Berley Rodabaugh, Sail Academy instructor.

“After two days, they were all wanting to take control.”

The course began with classroom instruction, introducing the students to the nomenclature of the boat, as well as knot-tying and points of sail.

Before long, the students were on the water. First, getting instruction while the boats were tied up at the dock where they were shown parts of the boat and how to rig and hoist the sails.

Then it was time to head out into the cove, where the students put into practice what they learned under the supervision of an instructor.

During the weeklong course, the cadets manned eight 19-foot long Flying Scot sailboats. Each boat had four to five cadets and an instructor. The Mulberry Cove marina aboard Naval Air Station Jacksonville supplied the sailboats, as well as the safety equipment and four motorboats to act as safety boats to monitor the students.

“It is great for the kids,” said Keili Arce, assistant manager for the marina.

“It’s an experience that creates other opportunities for the them, because it strengthens their ability to work on a team.” 

Teamwork is a concept emphasized by the 14 instructors during the course.

“They are using teamwork because they can’t sail these boats by themselves,” Rodabaugh said.

“They need everyone to pitch in. That’s what I really enjoy about this camp.”

Cadets who pass the course earn a Skipper B qualification, which not only allows them to operate small, centerboard sailboats at any marina, it is also a required certification for Navy and Marine Corps officers. 

Not all NJROTC cadets plan on entering the military, but Leah Gaddis does. The 17-year-old junior at First Coast High School has wanted to join the Marines ever since she visited Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina. She has also wanted to take part in the Sail Academy for more than a year.

“I wanted to do this since my freshman year, but there weren’t any spots open for our school,” said Gaddis, who participated in the program this year.

“I really wanted to have this experience on my checklist that I can sail a boat. I hope to open my mind to other parts of the Navy, more than the general knowledge that I already know.” 

Gaddis, and the other cadets, stayed in the Bachelor Officers Quarters aboard NAS Jacksonville while taking the course. 

The Sail Academy is a program specifically for NJROTC cadets, but Mulberry Cove Marina offers sailing lessons that are open to everyone wanting to learn how to sail.

The monthly classes are offered March through October and last for two full weekends. The cost for the class is $150 per person. For more information on sailing lessons and other activities at the marina, call 542-3260.

The Sail Academy is basically a program that teaches teens how to sail, but the lessons go beyond the water. 

“The course gets them trained on how to be proficient sailors,” said instructor Matt Masi. “The focus of the program is also to teach students leadership, discipline, attention to detail and to be good citizens.”