(L to R) Maximilian Schmelzer, David Tusinski and Michael Dereszkiewicz didn’t know each other before the session, said instructor Keely Troup, but “now they’re like thieves.” Photo by Rachel Lukas.
Sail Training Foundation students can expect one thing with certainty on the first day of class: the boat will capsize.
“On day one,” said instructor Keely Troup, “we have to do both a swim test and a capsize test before we can let them out on the water.”
Troup has been sailing since the age of 7 and teaching since the age of 15, making this his fourth year. Now co-director of the program, she and the other instructors – all aged 19 or younger – teach all classes at the school.
While explaining the capsizing exercise, she said the first week of the two-week course has more activities like this as the children get to know the boats. The second week is looser and the instructors are more concerned with getting students out on the water as much as possible.
Barring a storm or wind speeds over 35 miles per hour, the best place to learn is on the water, Troup said, so instructors try to keep teaching on land to a maximum. 25 minutes each day. Especially with the class aimed at older, more experienced students, getting them on the water as soon as possible keeps them more engaged and focused.
Linnea Kennerhed, a 12-year-old student who has been sailing for five years, said it was the best part of sailing.
“I love being on the water,” she said.
The Sail Training Foundation offers three courses, all taught by Troup and the other instructors. The two daily classes each have 18 students: one with younger children on individual boats and a second with two to three students per boat. The third course, for adults, meets once a week in the evening and is limited to 14 people.
But trying to register for one of these is a scramble in the spring when registration opens. The waiting lists for each session — there are four daily sessions and one adult session each summer — are always long, Troup said.
But the students seem to think it’s definitely worth it. When I asked one participant, Fritz Kremer, what his favorite part was, all he said was “sailing,” with one of the widest smiles I’ve ever seen.
Many children and parents, Troup said, treat classes like summer camp or daycare and attend multiple sessions. While I was there, one of the students looked genuinely discouraged when she told Troup she couldn’t come back the following week.
The relationship between children and instructors is exceptionally close. Boat assignments in older grades are hotly contested, Troup said, and some of the Door County students have even changed schools to be in the same as their sailor friends.
The whole time I joined an afternoon class, the boats crept up to the rescue boat I was on with Troup to ask to change boats, ask what time it was ( his constant response was “game time”) or to borrow sunscreen. One of the students who race in competition, Olive Goettelman, takes morning and afternoon classes and spends more than eight hours with Troup each day.
“She’s a better runner just because she’s on the water so much,” Troup said. “Actually, she just won our regatta the other day.”
Being on the water is the key, Troup has said over and over, because there’s no better way to learn.
Some of the sailors are siblings or cousins who spend a few weeks or the summer with their grandparents in Door County. She said they often see these grandparents sitting on their porches across the canal, watching their grandchildren’s adventures.
“We’ve had issues in the past when we had capsize drills and people were calling 911 because they thought we were capsizing,” Troup said. “Usually it’s the grandparents [who are] worried about their own children.
They all take it in stride, though, she says. The Coast Guard knows about the sailing school, as do most people at the marina.
“It’s a real community here,” she says.