For most Courageous students, their first day of step 4 is their first time in a dinghy, a transition from a stabile Rhodes 19 to a more responsive 420. This transition isn’t easy. The rounded lines of 420 belie how uncomfortable it is to sail—you’re guaranteed to sit on a cleat and bump your shin on the traveler bar. Even worse, you have to actually move your weight around. However, students adapt well and get used to the new features. Bruises and capsizes are, after all, just the flipside of a boat that’s exhilarating to sail.

Earlier this summer, one student was uneasy about the transition into a 420. He was afraid of the harbor water and the shadowy creatures that swim in it; he was also afraid of boats that heel over. For him, a 420 was understandably scary. A 420 will not only heel, but also capsize at some point, dumping the sailors into the water. You can’t prevent either from happening, just reduce their likelihood. Since the breeze was building, I sailed with the student for the first half hour to ease his anxiety.

The wind continued to build throughout the morning, streaming in over the Zakim and Charlestown bridges and crashing back down to sea level in splashes of catspaws that sped across the Basin.  The student skippered smoothly. At least until a puff would hit us, then he’d fully luff his sail, saying “I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all.” He also didn’t like the mandatory capsize, or that the wind was just as brisk in the afternoon. By the end of his first day, I doubted he’d want to sail again.

Yet, he came back. He continued to come back, and he continued to improve. Over the next week, Alexis and I watched him begin to roll tack, start closer to the line, and sail upwind efficiently. He even kept his sails in through puffs, hiking out instead of luffing his mainsail.

One afternoon of racing particularly stands out. The student and his crew were our two smallest students. This didn’t stop them from keeping their boat flat in the moderate breeze. In fact, they won a few races. As they glided through the finish line, well in the lead, the student grinned from ear to ear and gave a thumbs up to the coach-boat.

I’m sure he’ll come back next summer.

By: Ben Geffken


For this past summer, and the previous three, I worked in the Swim Sail Science (SSS) program at Courageous. In Swim Sail Science, we work with third and fourth graders from three schools: the Harvard Kent, Orchard Gardens, and the Warren Prescott. Their time in our youth program was split between school, swimming lessons, and sailing which meant, as a sailing instructor, I only got to teach the students for 2 hours every other day. The kids we have are ridiculously amazing and fun to teach; they are so smart and creative and overflowing with positive energy that it's hard not to feel like a kid when you're around them.b2ap3_thumbnail_angelina_20150827-180834_1.jpg

During this summer I had the pleasure of working with a student named Angelina. Angelina is the perfect example of an SSS student, she is energetic, smart, curious and talkative and is a pleasure to be around. Angelina had never been on a sailboat prior to this summer but was soon in love with it and at the end of the first week told my fellow instructor, Hannah, that she wants to be an instructor when she grows up. Over the next 5 weeks, she learned how to rig a boat, raise sails, adjust them, she learned how to steer a boat, and she also learned how to be a crew. She became a great beginner sailor.

On our second to last day at camp, parents and family members were invited to come to Courageous and sail with their children to see what they learned over the summer. While walking with Angelina, she told me that she was upset because she didn't have any family that could come to see what she'd learned but when I told her that she could still go sailing with her sailing instructors, she was over the moon with excitement. "You guys are like my family too" she said, grabbing my hand to pull me onto the pier.

I've always felt like Courageous was my home away from home because I've sailed here for the past 11 years but to hear Angelina, who 5 weeks ago was a nervous newcomer that had never stepped on a sail boat before, say that she felt at home on a boat with her sailing instructors was so heartwarming and made me tear up. She is the perfect example of why this program is important and necessary and why I feel so fortunate to work where I do with the kids that I do. Courageous is a place where kids like Angelina and I can push outside of our comfort zone by sailing on a bustling harbor while also giving us a community that we can call home.

By: Caroline Ward