By: Mark Zagol, Sailing Program Director New England Science and Sailing
As I sit at my desk on this sunny, windy day I look out the window and can’t wait to get back on the water. Of course, it is still winter in New England and all the boats are tucked away. This, however, hasn’t stopped the kids from coming down and they are actually starting to feel the same way that I do. They miss being on the water. Our staff works hard to expose kids of all ages to the ocean and what life is like sailing on the ocean or exploring under the surface. When US Sailing developed the Reach curriculum, with specific lesson plans, we could only embrace what they had to offer, as it expanded on our core mission here at New England Science and Sailing. We have developed a wonderful partnership with the seventh grade New London Youth Leadership Program, out of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School. This past fall we were able to introduce five modules of the Reach program to those students and will continue this partnership in the spring.
One of the Reach modules that we piloted for US Sailing was Module 3 “Sail Shape and Area”, “What Shape are Sails and Why?” Our program was designed to run through a Module with 30 students over a 90 minute period of time. To some, 90 minutes seems like a long time. But for us, where we wanted to make sure we had enough time to get all the kids out on the water, we felt crunched for time. In order to accomplish this, we split the group into 2 sections: a classroom group and an on-the water group and the students would rotate half-way throughout the program to complete the whole module. During the classroom portion, the teacher would spark the students’ interest in sails, sail shape and design, as well as perform the practical part measuring the sails. At the same time, three teachers were down on the docks introducing the students to the boats, rigging and even getting the students on the water for a sail. The boats we used for this were our Opti trainers and Club 420s. Right away students noticed the difference in the size of the boats and on their own were able to establish that one would go faster or be more “scary” than the other. We also had different sails for our Opti Trainers: the traditional Opti cut and a reduced area design, so that the kids had two different sized sails in the presumably slower and more stable boats to compare and apply the classroom experience with sail shape and area, to the practical on the water sailing situation. The majority of the students we were teaching were truly beginners to sailing and to the ocean in general, so simply getting kids to sit in the boats was a challenge. Our objective was to use the visuals of different boats and different size sails to really emphasize the idea that sail area makes a difference.
In Module 3, students are given simple equations and are able to see them actualized through real life applications. Though they may not fully understand the theory and complexities of sail shape and area, however they do see the value in understanding that the size and shape of a sail directly relates to its functionality. The other benefit of this module is the simple freedom that a student feels being on the water, sailing on the ocean, and how that experience opens up an entirely different world in their young imaginations. Each time students arrive at NESS they fall in love with sailing and our marine environment. Sooner or later, they all explain how much they want to get back out on the water just like the rest of us. This is a true mark of success for an educator and a sailor.
Mark Zagol, Sailing Program Director
New England Science and Sailing (NESS)