By Tim Sweet
Although many summertime activities were canceled this year because of the pandemic, a group of young community leaders figured out a safer way to offer sailing lessons to youth and adult students in Sturgeon Bay.
Sail Training Foundation (STF) lead instructor Frank “Frankie” Pudlo, 19, has been sailing since he was eight. With a father who’s a naval architect, Pudlo has lived and breathed boats all his life.
Working with Charlie Troup, 17, Pudlo and his team of outstanding teenage instructors convinced the STF board that the sailing program could be conducted safely this summer by reconfiguring the lessons.
They divided students into small groups that met in three separate outdoor locations on the grounds of the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club. Verbal instructions were limited to 15 minutes or fewer, and the rest of the three-and-a-half-hour sessions were spent sailing: optimist dinghies for younger and less experienced sailors, 420/FJ boats for intermediate and more experienced youth, and Flying Scots for adults.
Both Pudlo and Troup have a gift for teaching. Whether offering tips from one of the support boats to young sailors, or riding along in the Flying Scots with adults, they always provide feedback and encouragement to increase the knowledge, competence and confidence of their students.
One day, Pudlo had a whiteboard in the back of his boat so that the teachers could draw out race courses on the water for the students to follow. On another afternoon, the instructors shepherded their “seven little ducklings” under the Oregon Street and Michigan Street bridges. A highlight of the two-week sailing session was being towed in a line through the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal, past the lighthouses and out into Lake Michigan.
The U.S. Sailing organization trains and certifies all of the STF educators, but in Sturgeon Bay, the instructors also display the important attributes of patience and kindness, which engenders respect and admiration in their students.
One of our grandsons has taken lessons through the Sturgeon Bay Yacht Club for the past four summers. Each year he’s become a more accomplished sailor; he’s learned teamwork and communication skills by working cooperatively with his crew members; and his leadership skills have grown through being the skipper of a boat. A bonus is the inability to access video games while absorbing fresh air and sunshine on the water.
Perhaps most importantly, though, sailing is a sport that provides a sense of outdoor adventure and can be enjoyed from a young age to more advanced years if reasonably good health holds. My wife and I are in our 60s, and we’ve been taking lessons for the last two years.
Learn more about the STF program in Sturgeon Bay at sailtrainingfoundation.com.