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Child’s Play

By Joe Cooper

Despite this year being a bit remarkable, with Newport Harbor iced in, by mid-March all was clear. So, the Prout School team did not have to trade the 420s for DN iceboats. This is good news because we moved to Sail Newport this spring. After several years of watching the high school sailing population around Aquidneck Island/Newport Harbor growing, it was obvious that this was where the local high school sailing action was.

A couple of years ago, the Middletown education administration formally approved the establishment of a sailing team at Middletown High School. I say formally because the Middletown kids had been sailing informally with the Rodgers High School kids, except in regattas, for a couple of years before that.

I attended the board meeting one spring day after sailing. There were perhaps a dozen sailors from both high schools, some still rather, er, damp from sailing, with wet hiking boots and hair. Sailing kids and adults were the only audience. Brad Read addressed the board with his usual passion and eloquence on the matter of kids, sailing, life lessons and the long list of reasons why there ought to be a Middletown sailing team. The kids, of course, cheered upon the application’s approval.

In addition to Middletown and Rodgers, Portsmouth High School assembled a team around the same time. The team from St. Georges sails from Ida Lewis Yacht Club, and there are almost always boats from Salve Regina University sailing out of Sail Newport, too. On any given weekday afternoon from March to late May, one can gaze out across Newport Harbor and see upwards of 35 to 40 dinghies, with two kids practicing or team racing in each, and usually a few more kids waiting for a go.

The Prout Team continues to hover around 25 or 26 sailors, and as noted in earlier columns 18 are girls including six flat-out novices. That they apparently like sailing is evidence by the fact that a) they keep coming back and b) when I offered the opportunity to come and watch a match, three of the novice girls came with no prospect of sailing. I could not help but notice that all three were Asian. Dongfeng Race Team 2025…?

The Prout “days” are Monday and Friday, and Portsmouth sails the three mid-week days. As is the case with a 4-year team cycle, the PHS team is smaller this year so their coaches and I have agreed that I’ll bring some Prout kids on the PHS days to fill out the roster. When PHS has an away match, Prout comes in. Thus, some Prout Sailors get to sail four afternoons a week.

The Rodgers coach, Kate Wilson, recently had the idea of Rodgers (and shortly thereafter Middletown) hosting a weekly regatta on Fridays out of Newport Yacht Club as a way for the teams to sail together. It started with four schools. The following week there were seven. As I write this, on Friday morning, there will be nine schools (including four from the surrounding area) and 18 boats this evening. The idea is to get kids out in boats, sailing and having fun and it’s a low-key affair, if such a phrase can describe a gathering of nine high school sailing teams with coaches, over 100 sailors and half a dozen support boats.

At the beginning of each season, I circulate the ‘Cooper-Gram’ to new parents telling them what to expect, most of the time. Included in this one-pager is the advice that unlike other “outside sports,” sailing does not stop for rain, snow, cold, no wind, or lots of wind (We just do talk chalks). It matters not if our field is wet – it’s rarely muddy, except at low tide – and doesn’t need to be mown and otherwise tended to except we do not throw trash into it and we bring reusable water bottles.

One thing I’m going to have to add is fog. Last Friday was reasonably foggy, but we could see Bowens Wharf from Newport Yacht Club so off we went. There was no wind at first, and it was cold, dank and raw, but then the breeze filled in from the SW to about 18 knots. Undaunted, races went off, rotations (organized by Kate) were conducted, the kids getting a little lesson in seamanship (“Do not try to land on the windward side of the dock.”) in the process. Only one team capsized, and that as a result of a foul, and the kids were still laughing, joshing and smiling after about three hours of this.

Newport YC is ideal for this sort of sailing, because the matches take place right off the club’s south parking lot and south-facing glass wall. The leeward mark is perhaps 20 yards off the club’s bulkhead. After sailing, the club donates burgers and hot dogs that are sold, the proceeds going to the club’s junior program scholarship fund that provides no-cost sailing lessons for kids who qualify.

My south-facing office window looks across Easton’s Pond. At the moment it is overcast, dank, probably raw and with a light southerly barely rippling the surface of the now ice-free pond. I can see the dyke wall at the south end, a mile away. Time to go to Sail Newport and bring the RIB and six boats over to Newport YC. This small task, done with another volunteer adult coach is, well, child’s play.

Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the US after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, teenage son, dog, two cats and several, mainly small, boats.


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