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Sails in the sunset

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Most children who attend the South Carolina Maritime Museum’s summer sailing school are skimming across Georgetown harbor the first day.

Instructors explain port and starboard, mast and boom and how to hold the sheet and the tiller to make the boat turn, and they’re off. “We teach them the very beginning parts of sailing,” said instructor Fred Hoelscher. “We want to get them hooked.”

There are 115 children signed up for lessons that run through the first week of August.

Hoelscher had one of his finest hours at the museum when Dominique Duquette brought her children, Morgane, 8, and Jessy, 10, to the class. The children spoke only French. The Duquettes were sailing home to Montreal on their catamaran, JessyMo, when it broke down near Georgetown. They docked along the Harborwalk and waited on an engine part for weeks. Dominique and her husband, Danny, thought the classes would be invaluable to their children.

Hoelscher explained how to turn a sailboat into the wind, and the children’s mother translated his words into French. “One hand on the tiller, the other on the sheet,” he said.

Morgane and Jessy got into Opti Primes, the little wooden boats used in the class, and sailed into the harbor like real sailors. “Ten minutes of instruction in a language they don’t understand and they got it,” Hoelscher said. “Trés bon.”

The Opti Prime is a stable craft with blunt ends and a flat bottom. Unlike the popular Sunfish, these boats rarely tip over, Hoelscher said. Most students pick up sailing skills on the first day and learn to zig-zag going downwind and avoid getting “in irons” facing the wind.

Sisters Mary and Elizabeth Honeycutt had never sailed before taking the class. “They picked it up the first day,” said their mother, Julie Honeycutt. “What a wonderful thing when you live in Georgetown to learn to sail. I guess they’ll want a sailboat now.”

Students in the sailing class get instruction on right-of-way when encountering another boat. Graduates of the course are invited to participate in the Friday night regattas in Georgetown harbor.

The regattas are something new that has taken hold with the support of the Winyah Bay Sailing Club. The Friday Night Racing Series will run through the first Friday in September, according to club member Ashley DesMarteau. “Our primary goal is to get as many boats out on the water as we can,” she said. The series gives sailors an opportunity to get on the water and draws people to Georgetown to watch. Winyah Bay Sailing Club has some two-man boats, called 420s, available along with two new Laser sailboats. Children use the same Opti Primes they used in the sailing classes at the museum. DesMarteau said she has seen as many as 12 boats on the water at once.

Bob Turner, who coaches the Waccamaw High sailing team, usually has his sailboat in the water on Fridays. Turner is known best as the original sock burner and a guest of honor at the museum yearly sock burning ceremony. He and his wife, Becca, have three boys. The oldest, 8-year-old, Dane, participated in the Opti camp.

“We are trying to increase the presence of sailing on Winyah Bay and Georgetown,” Turner said. The regattas vary from fairly competitive to a laid-back approach to getting up and down the creek. “Every Friday is a little different,” he said. “We are sailing among moored boats, other boats racing, the docks and the island, so it’s kind of like a video game, going through the obstacle course.”

High school sailors have missed the early part of summer because of work, “the curse of the sailing class,” Turner said. Their participation should pick up later in the season. “It’s a lot of fun,” Turner said, “and a fair amount of work for the support group and the safety committee. “It’s all volunteer and very much done in good spirits.”

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