By Joe Cooper

I am involved in a variety of “Coop’s Kapers” that bring young men and women together with big boats. Typical of these numerous instant Kapers was a phone call from the owner of Falcon 2000, a 15-year-old, 80-foot maxi, detuned and refitted as a fast, comfy cruising boat, to “bring some of your kids out for a sail.” I duly sent the Bat Signal and showed up with half a dozen of the Prout Sailing Team, whose skill range varies from a single 8-week high school season in 420s up to one young man who is very skilled. Cary, the owner, has his own very methodical safety briefing prior to leaving the mooring. He usually has other folks along too, so we were 10 or 12 in all.

One of my aims with any junior sailor on a big boat is to get him or her comfortable using a winch. My theory is that if a young sailor can use a winch, he or she then has a value and can be given a task and work into the crew, rather than being told to “sit in the stern and don’t get hurt.” Well, “Winches 101” on a maxi with 15-inch drums, one of which turns the opposite of normal, two pedestals with four grinders and line coming at you at perhaps 10 feet per second is, well, not for the feint of heart.

That the young people who sail with me are motivated is exemplified by one young lady’s very fast study on tailing under such conditions. Within five tacks, I could practically let her tail on her own. Another young lady made a similar transformation with steering Falcon. She had the angle of heel and pressure on the wheel down pat in five minutes, and I could shut up rather than talking in her ear endlessly.

The Storm Trysail Foundation just conducted our first Junior Safety-at-Sea Seminar on the west coast, at Newport Beach, CA. By all accounts, it was a huge success. A number of “big boats” were provided, plenty of energetic volunteers, and the large and well-established (1937) Aquatic Center all combined to make the day successful. The Center is a Sea Scout base and offers sailing and rowing, and they already have a youth big boat program on local 30-footers, so was a perfect venue.

Similarly, at the one in Newport RI, 15 high school sailors spent the day getting instruction on several aspects of sailing big boats safely. A highlight for many was the demonstration of hand held flares. Dan O’Connor of Life Raft + Survival Equipment, a specialist in all things maritime and safety and a perennial volunteer, brought his truck of tricks for the lunchtime session. We inflated a life raft in a pool, and discussed the things one needs to know when using such edge-of-the-cliff equipment. Your humble correspondent donned a Spinlock inflatable safety harness and went in the deep end, as it were.

Folks from Spinlock, whose office is in Newport, discussed their equipment, the variations, the sizing and fit: There was me, weighing in at a secure undisclosed size and weight, and a young lady from the Prout Sailing Team at the other end of the Cooper Mass Quotient scale, so in this case one size most certainly does not fit all. I scrambled into the raft with the students. Five high school kids and me in an 8-person raft was not at all the good look. This was my first time in a life raft and I am going to make damn sure it is my last.

The flares demo was fascinating. After a 10-minute introduction by Dan about the different types, uses, variables and safety concerns of marine pyrotechnics, we started lighting them off. Aided by five volunteers and local Storm Trysail Club members, we had five flares going at once, with different kids rotating through the line-up. Initially, some young ladies (14 and 15 years old) were very hesitant to pull the string to ignite the flare: timid is a word that comes to mind.

With coaxing and coaching from the instructors, they got the flares off and burning. By the second flare they were much less stressed and by the third, well, just another day at the office. This confidence was clearly visible in their body language. One parent remarked to me later that her daughter had come home almost a different person…glowing with confidence.

Learning to light flares, use fire extinguishers, pull the correct line, climb into a raft, and drills on MOB procedures are key elements of these seminars. An element not to be ignored, though, is the confidence young sailors develop as they break through the edge of their comfort zone. As an example of this aspect of Junior Safety-at-Sea Seminars – and I submit the following.

During a regatta on Raritan Bay in July, a thunder squall went through with strong gusts, rain and lightning, and the skipper of a J/105 fell overboard. There was aboard this boat a young man, 17, I am told, who jumped into the skipper’s spot and organized the MOB rescue. In taking command, he overruled a couple other crew who were, shall we say, not as collected as was our young man. He executed what was reported as a textbook MOB recovery, getting alongside the skipper in short order. As it turned out, another boat had already picked up the MOB, so our lads did not need to actually fish the skipper out of the water.

And in a fantastic example of the karma factor: The skipper had been offering his 105 to the Junior SAS Seminar for some time and the young man had actually drilled in MOB procedures on that very boat with that very skipper aboard.

Joe CooperAustralian 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,, when not paying attention to his wife, teenage son, dog, two cats and several, mainly small, boats.

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