Sailing Program Connects Students with the Sea

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Utilizing a small fleet of Rhodes 19s, some at College of the Atlantic are gaining new perspectives on the lush natural and cultural heritage of Maine’s Frenchman Bay, while also developing balance within their rigorous academic lives.

College of the Atlantic sailing program participant Priyamvada Chaudhary ’20 tries her hand at sailboat maintenance during College of the Atlantic's new sailing program. COA offers many opportunities for students to engage with the beautiful natural world surrounding the college.

While the program intimately acquaints students with the winds and tides of the bay and provides extensive seamanship skills, it also compliments students’ academic lives by setting aside time to decompress and reflect, said lead instructor Abby Rowe ’98.

College of the Atlantic sailing program participant Sterling Ford ’20 bounces ideas off of a fellow program participant while preparing to sail on Frenchman Bay. The Bay is just one of many natural and beautiful resources surrounding COA.

The program was designed to provide students with the space they need to learn the fundamentals of sailing, reflect, perfect that knowledge, and, perhaps, come to profound realizations about themselves as individuals, Rowe said.

“The best outcome of any program like this is the pride, the sense of accomplishment from learning something so difficult in such a short time, being entrusted by the college to have a leadership role in this capacity, trusting each other to be as open and honest as possible to be able to learn in that setting, and making some personal connections that weren’t there before,” Rowe said. “Those are like the pinch of salt in any recipe.”

The program began this fall with a week-long intensive, equipping a group of student leaders with a solid foundation in the art of sailing. The training took place in late August, during a period of especially rugged wind and weather conditions. Sailors began their days around 8 a.m. and ended with a family dinner around 7 p.m.

“Sailing is this amazing kind of metaphor for life,” Rowe said. “What I tried to do in my program was provide people with those breaks that would essentially allow them to spend time in the wilderness doing something they may have never done before with a group of people they wouldn’t otherwise really know, and give them that breathing room and time and space to reflect.”  

Program days often featured a combination of lecture, activities, and time for sailing out on the bay. Each different aspect of the program came together to provide a foundation in the essential elements of sailing, including rowing, navigation, boat anatomy, weather and tides, rules of the sea and seamanship, and how to teach others the fundamentals. Some days — favorites for many of the participants — were set aside for nothing but sailing.

Sailing program participant Taylor Mason ’17 hones her skills in rowing on Frenchman Bay, just off the COA pier.

Elias Kann ’20, an experienced sailor, was both a student and teacher during the program. While sailing wasn’t new for Kann, teaching about it was, and he said the program helped this process feel more natural.

“I was really happy that people were enthusiastic and weren’t scared off by it and actually really wanted to sail,” he said. “I didn’t expect people to be so devoted to it.”

Kann, who helped spearhead the program, said that the interdisciplinary nature of sailing makes it a perfect fit for COA.

“You need to know about the weather, the wind, how to adjust the sails, the structure of the boat, and the landmarks you’re sailing around,” he said. “It forces you to be very present and know your surrounding environment.”

College of the Atlantic's new sailing program is an interdisciplinary application of many possible areas of study at the school.

Rowe, who is a Trustee of the college, grew up rowing and sailing off the coast of Cape Cod and later taught backpacking and sailing with Outward Bound on Hurricane Island, ME. She said that sailing offers much to those who pursue it.

“Sometimes it takes literally sailing in a Rhodes 19 in Frenchman Bay to have something click that you talked about in core course, marine biology, or an arts class,” she said. “Messing around in boats is restorative, reflective, and constructive.”

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Frenchman Bay, Hancock County, Maine, United States
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