The Marina was alive last Saturday afternoon with the sight of small, white, nimbly darting dinghies tacking and jibing at a sparrow’s pace through the basins of Marina del Rey.
Thirty boats steered by young people from eight to 13 years old competed in the fifth High Point race in a series of ten youth competitions.
The eight-foot-long cat-rigged sabots battled up and down D and F basins on a windward/leeward course dodging intersecting boat traffic and fighting to gain the advantage on their opponents — all the while getting valuable foundational experience in the sport of sailboat racing.
The basins sometimes act as wind funnels and sabot races in this area can sometimes be relatively windy affairs, but on this day, the young sailors raced in moderate conditions of about five to seven knots of breeze.
Competitors came from as far north as Santa Barbara and as far south as Long Beach to race on Saturday, June 17th.
“It was a lot of really fun sailing for the little kids,” said California Yacht Club junior program coach Barrett Sprout. “It was challenging for them, being that it was on a weekend in a busy channel.
“There were motorboats going by and the kids had to find their way without getting run over.”
Youth sailing in Marina del Rey is thriving in the two yacht clubs that run such programs. Both the California Yacht Club and the Del Rey Yacht Club are full or near capacity every season and will begin their summer sailing programs this coming week.
Del Rey Yacht Club is looking at teaching more than 70 kids this summer and California Yacht Club will see more than 90 youths learn the basics of sailing and the rudiments of yacht racing. Both programs are open to the public and no club membership is necessary to register a child.
“It’s an obvious confidence- builder,” said longtime Del Rey Yacht Club youth sailing director Virginia Howard. “It does more than just teach them to sail. They become more self-sufficient.
“Lots of parents come back and say, ‘Wow, my kid really did well in school this year.’ Not all, but definitely some.”
Both programs have had children enter the program and become very competitive racers as a result of the experience.
Recently, former junior sailors from the DRYC program, Greg Helias and Austin Rogers, now collegiate sailors, found themselves representing the United States in a New Zealand invitational contest.
Their participation in the contest stems from their involvement in the Del Rey junior program they had both been a part of since they were nine years old.
Helias was also Junior Yachtsman of the Year at one point and Rogers won the Sabot Nationals one of the years he was racing in the program.
“It was a fantastic opportunity for Austin,” said his mother, Cathy Rogers. “I think that he’s learned so much from it.
“It’s really involved him in working with younger kids and it’s just been wonderful for Austin and myself. It’s very rewarding.”
Rogers was a single mother when she got involved with the program and found it to not only be an educational and beneficial situation for her young son, but she enjoyed the experience from a parent’s perspective as well.
“I would much rather sit at a yacht club than the hard benches out in the sun at a baseball game,” she said of her son’s choice of sailing over other youth sports.
“It was something that I could do pleasurably also.”
Both programs nurture kids that have an obvious affinity for the sport and both clubs guide them towards other boats to race on as their knowledge and ability advances.
Cal Yacht Club currently has some very talented kids that are competing on a high level on FJs and Optis.
“We have kids that are going to San Francisco this weekend [to compete] and a couple that are going to the European championships,” Sprout said.
And while breeding competitive sailors is exciting and dramatic, according to Howard, it is not the overall point of the Del Rey youth program.
“I want these kids to come down and I want them to practice,” said Howard.
“But I also want them to go out and sail for just the pure enjoyment of sailing, because that’s equally important.”