By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – As a generation slowly winds down, begins thinking about the next step, and how it will impact the present, the future is often part of the broader equation. When looking at an entity like the Wawasee Yacht Club, some of the best sailors the club has ever seen are starting to get up in age. Sailing with grandchildren, like their grandfathers did with them.
One way the Club is looking to continue on its heritage, and just sailing in general, is through the Junior Sailing Program. Sailing on the waters of Lake Wawasee has been a tradition that’s creeping past 80 years strong. Always looking for the next generation of skippers and crewmen, the Junior Sail enters its sixth year of its teaching and experience program in its present form. Led by Jeff Herdrich, who has been the lead instructor since the program’s inception in 2011, passing down the love of sailing is both an artform and a passion. WYC did host a version of the program dating back to 1991.
“Tiller time is what it is all about for me,” stated Herdrich, who is part of a huge family of sailors and champion multiple generations of sailing lore on Wawasee. “Even without any wind, we still want them out on the water. We really try for 2-4 miles every day, whether they are eight years old or really experienced. Some need 10-15 hours before they finally get it, but it is awesome to see them finally figure it out. You can see it.”
The program has evolved somewhat from its roots just a few years ago. ‘Tiller Time’ isn’t a rallying cry for Boilermaker football, but the call to service for the campers to get out into the water and get the hands-on experience handling the tiller, among other things. Herdrich is adamant this is the way to get eight-year-olds and 14-year-olds alike to ‘figure it out’ rather than spending time in the clubhouse meeting room.
The kids spend as much time focused on their craft as they do taking instruction from Herdrich, his half-dozen assistants, and from the other kids themselves. Nobody wants to see a fellow sailor struggle, much less capsize the Optis and Bics, so you can hear the youth working back and forth with each other. Largely unashamed, more so eager to pick up a new skill.
“There isn’t much history with my family and sailing, I just always liked sailing,” said Dougie Rassi, 12, who is in his fourth year of the program. “I think my father had a Sunfish. Sailing is a lot of fun for me. Getting tiller time is what it is all about for me. That’s really fun.”
The program is broken into week-long sessions, four weeks in all, with a morning and afternoon pairing. The less experienced work in the morning, the older and presumed more skilled come in the afternoon, but it isn’t resigned to that exact format. The program assistants range in age from middle school to college-aged, and just about all of them are veterans of the program themselves.
“I’ve worked as an assistant every year they have had this,” said Mitchell Moore. “I started when I was 11 and have loved it every time. I don’t recall many at all that haven’t liked doing this. Everybody gets there if they don’t get it at first. They all get there at some point.”
The Junior Sail Program is open to any child, and their family does not have to be a member of the WYC. All of the programs are full this summer, but Herdrich was steadfast in pointing out he would prefer to see more community members come out. He touched on Wawasee Middle School has a short program with the WYC in the fall, but that is about it when it comes to Syracuse-area children participating in junior sailing. He’s hoping 2018 changes that, while still keeping its crop of kids from out of the area as well.
“The kids are what makes this work every year,” Herdrich said, noting 25-36 kids per week occupy the program. “Once we’ve had some of these kids in the program for a couple years, you’ll see them eventually start racing on the weekends. This is for the younger kids. We have to teach the young kids the sport. Old guys like me won’t be able to do this forever, and in the years that we’ve done this, there have been some really good ones head out there (pointing to the pier) who can really race.”
For more details on the Wawasee Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program, visit the club’s web site.