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On Watch - Alison Lew

Alison LewAs a former Chair and current Treasurer of the Junior Sailing program at Pequot Yacht Club in Southport, CT, Alison Lew is an active volunteer with one of the strongest youth sailing programs in the country.

“I grew up outside of Boston in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts and always loved being on the water,” says Alison, who lives in Southport. “My dad always had powerboats, and we’d go to Lake Winnipesaukee in the summers. My first time on a sailboat was at summer camp on Cape Cod, and when I was in high school there was a program called Community Sailing on the Charles River. I took the MTA into the city for lessons, but that was it until I was an adult.”

“My friend Nancy Corbett was running Pequot’s Ideal 18 program. Nancy is a great sailor, and she asked if I was interested in being part of the program. Pequot has a Special Activity Membership in which you can try the club for two seasons to see if it’s a good fit, and I signed up. The club had an amazing instructor named Henry Lane, and for me he was life changing. Henry was a phenomenal teacher. He taught everything from boat maintenance to boat handling and the physics of sailing, and made something that always felt very abstract easy to understand. What I really liked about the Ideal 18 program was that classes were on weekday mornings, so it tended to be mostly women. As a newcomer it was a very comfortable environment, and there was a lot of support from the other women, many of whom are now very involved in racing. I decided that I loved the club, and applied for full membership.”

“I started helping with registration for the Junior Program, and enrolled my older daughter, Sarah, who was 9. She sailed for five years, and then decided it wasn’t the right sport for her. My 16-year-old son Hobi started in an Opti when he was 9. This will be his third summer racing 420s with Julia Reynolds, and they’ve won the Junior Sailing Association of Long Island Sound’s Clinton Bell Trophy and Thomas Fowler Trophy for two years in a row. They’re a great team! My youngest, Annie, started when she was 8. She’s now 13, and races in events around the Sound.”

“Unlike a lot of clubs on the Sound, Pequot does not have a Sailing Director, so there’s a direct chain of command between the Junior Program Chair and the instructors. That creates a culture of trust and gives instructors an opportunity to lead. We have nine instructors each season, and last year we had a big boat instructor. Some members kindly loan their big boats to the juniors, and they go out on weeknights with a coach on each boat. They also race against other clubs in the Dorade, Beach Point Overnight, and Black Rock Yacht Club’s Junior Big Boat Regatta.”

“Another great thing about Pequot is the Junior Yacht Club. The flag officers – Junior Commodore, Junior Vice Commodore, Junior Secretary and Junior Treasurer – are elected at the end of the summer by their peers. They take part in Senior Commissioning, and they organize and run Junior Commissioning the night before. They serve as role models during the summer, and organize the awards dinner. You don’t have to be a member for your child to sail here. Roughly half the children that sailed here last year were not junior members, although it’s often a path to membership. Parents see what a great club it is, and we’ve gotten a lot of members through the junior program.”

“We’ve always had an Emergency Action Plan, and at the beginning of each season we do a safety drill on the water with first responders. The instructors have tool kits with cable cutters on their boats, we do a swim check for every sailor and we discuss safety frequently – PFDs are always on, even on the dock. On the first day of class, Opti sailors are towed out for capsizing drills so that they discover that it’s not scary and learn how to handle it.”

“We host two junior regattas every year. The Opti Rumble is the first race of the season in this area, and sometimes it’s the first regatta for some children who have decided to start racing. We run a very safe regatta, and we try to make it fun and educational. Last year we had open protest hearings, with all sailors invited to go and listen. It’s a way for young sailors to learn that the protest experience is not about winning – it’s about good sportsmanship.”

“Pequot has a Junior Mentor program, which is open to sailors 14 and up. That group typically sails in the afternoon, so they come in the morning to help the younger sailors rig, and if a child is scared they’ll go out in a Opti with them. They’ll go out on the water and help the coaches, and if it’s a no wind day they’ll help teach skills on land. It’s a great way for kids to learn leadership, they become better sailors, and as a group they become close friends.”

“The juniors produce their own newsletter, the Junior Pilot. When I was Chair we were looking for ways to get our junior flag officers more involved, so we let them take charge of the Junior Pilot. They come up with ideas for articles, and they do the writing and editing. It became their Pilot, and it’s more interesting for young sailors to read articles written by their peers.”

“At Pequot it’s a love of the sport that brings everyone together, and being an active volunteer gives you a much stronger tie to the club. I’m lucky to have expanded my horizons by volunteering, and being part of this program is a huge part of my life. As a parent, what junior sailing has done for my children makes my heart explode with joy. If you volunteer for something, you never know where it’s going to take you.”


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