Editor’s note: The inaugural Oakcliff Sailing/Sail Black Rock/WindCheck Youth Essay Contest was a success. With the most exciting prize in the history of junior sailing up for grabs, we received entries from as far away as Georgia, Florida, California, and France!
All of the essays were thoughtful and well written, but of course there’s only one winner. As this issue was going to press, Owen McClung of Norwalk, Connecticut was packing his bags for a one-week Foiling Camp at Oakcliff Sailing in Oyster Bay, New York!
This contest was conceived by Dave White, Executive Director of Sail Black Rock in Bridgeport, CT, and made possible by Oakcliff Executive Director Dawn Riley and her amazing team at Oakcliff. Thank you to every young sailor that submitted an essay and everyone that helped spread the word, and congratulations Owen!
Why I Want to Fly: In Sailing and in Life
By Owen McClung
“There is an art… or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” When Douglas Adams first wrote these words in his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he certainly didn’t have sailing in mind. Nevertheless, his wry observation is strangely appropriate to the sport. Just as there is a knack to flying, there is an art to sailing and a certain knack for making the most of life’s opportunities both on and off the water. When I first set out at our local Norwalk Harbor non-profit city summer camp on a old Widgeon that hardly floated, I spent days on the water just messing about, with not the slightest idea of how this line and that sail and that pole all worked together to make me go anywhere that wasn’t in front of a barge. Then, for reasons indescribable to 10-year-old me, one day it began to click, and I got the knack.
One particular counselor encouraged my newfound spark, and during the following summers I nurtured a newfound enthusiasm for sailing and trust in the boat. Feeling confident rigging, “racing” and occasionally “repairing” small boats, I set out to try my luck on yachts, the natural next step. In 2016, I made the most of a fabulous local resource for young sailors, by joining Norwalk Sea Scout Ship 6. There, I was mentored by a seasoned skipper and I had the pleasure of learning with a dedicated all teen co-ed crew aboard our Tripp 37, Celebration II. Ship 6 gave me the opportunity to learn sailing, navigation and teamwork at an entirely new level. By 15, I had successfully competed in my first Stamford Overnight Race and Vineyard Race. I was elected ship’s Boatswain, and helped lead Celebration to new heights in competition against some serious Long Island Sound contenders: first place in the YRALIS Stratford Shoal Distance Race Series and third place in the Kings Point Day Racing Series. That same summer, I became a junior counselor at Norwalk Sailing School. Some friends recruited me to join a newly formed high school sailing team out of Norwalk Yacht Club that fall. At 16, I earned my US Sailing Instructor certificate and had the pleasure of teaching my first bright-eyed sailors at the same camp where I began my own sailing odyssey.
Meanwhile, at my urban public high school, I entered the Global Studies Language Magnet and dove into engineering courses offered through Project Lead the Way. What does a lanky high schooler do with Arabic and a love of engineering, math and physics? Learn to windsurf, join the Maritime Aquarium’s STEM program, get SCUBA certified, and jump headfirst into a newly offered International Baccalaureate program, for better or for worse. The IB is an academically demanding course, and somehow the US Naval Academy noticed something in me. I received a coveted invitation to attend a Candidate Visit Weekend in Annapolis. In addition to admiring up close the Academy’s extensive Offshore and Dinghy teams, I attended plebe Navigation class and manned the engines of a Yard Patrol craft for man overboard drills on the Severn. That invigorating experience summoned the courage in me to request an overnight at Webb Institute, the tiny, elite college of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in Glen Cove, where I was blown away by the school and the senior thesis presentations I saw.
I continue to throw myself at the sea at every opportunity. Foiling Camp at the renowned Oakcliff Sailing on Oyster Bay is an unparalleled opportunity that I would never have dreamed of without the generosity and encouragement of the WindCheck/Sail Black Rock/Oakcliff scholarship. I want to learn to sail Oakcliff’s cutting edge, high performance Waszps and Nacras, both for the innovative insights they may give me as a future naval engineer, and for the speed and sheer joy of flying over Long Island Sound. Maybe someday I’ll even have the opportunity to teach flying a hydrofoil to some bright-eyed kid, myself.
I believe I have the knack. ■