If Wendy Thomson had her way, everybody in the world would learn how to sail.
Thomson is doing her part, one kid at a time.
She is in her fifth year as the director of the St. Augustine Yacht Club’s Junior Sailing Program. Last summer, 205 kids participated.
“Our goal is to expose as many students as we can to the sport of sailing,” Thomson said.
Thomson says she has the only sailing camp in the country that accepts kids as young as 6.
“We all live around the water,” she said. “There is no reason why we can’t teach these kids how to sail early.”
Thomson and Shannon Brew, the program’s head instructor, know this for a fact. They both learned to sail before they could read.
The summer sailing program runs for 10 weeks. The third week began Monday. Twenty-six kids were enrolled last week with seven returning from Week 1.
The cost of the program is $225 for one week for one child. Other children in the same family are charged $200. A second week costs $200. The program handed out 18 hardship scholarships last year, and Thomson hopes with help from the John Meehan Scholarship Fund it can provide that many again this summer.
Logan March, 13, and her brother, Blake, 11, have been in the program for all five years, Thomson said.
Evan Stoever, 9, is in her third year in the program. This year she is joined by her sister, Marley, 7.
“It’s just fun,” Evan said.
“I love boats,” said Noah Sicuranza, 9, who also is in his second year in the program. “I love drawing boats. I like being on the water and being in the water and making new friends.”
The younger kids learn to sail on Optimist prams. The older kids, ages 11 to 15, sail Club 420s. The yacht club currently has seven Optis and four 420s.
Thomson said by the third day of the week the kids learn the basics of sailing.
“It’s cool to see sailing build their confidence,” Brew said. “Sailing teaches them responsibility and teamwork and helps with their fine motor skills and problem solving. The advanced (kids) want to go sailing, want to go further.”
Some of the program graduates are now on the yacht club’s junior racing team, which competes from Daytona Beach to Jacksonville on the Intracoastal and on the St. Johns River.
Brew, 24, comes from a sailing family. Her parents met at the Rudder Club of Jacksonville — “their boats were docked next to each other; the rest is history,” she said. Brew got her first Opti when she was 6 and has been working at sailing camps since she was 14. Brew, her parents and her sister, Colleen, race together and frequently sail to the Bahamas.
“Sailing has been the center of my family my entire life, which is why I love working with the kids,” she said.
Thomson, 60, was a third-generation member of the Manhassett Bay Yacht Club in New York and raced all over Long Island Sound during her youth. She has been teaching kids to sail for more than 40 years.
Brew is one of four instructors in the program certified through U.S. Sailing. They are assisted by local teenage volunteers who get credit for community service hours.
Thomson would like to see the program continue to grow.
“I’m sharing my passion,” she said. “My goal is to teach every kid in St. Augustine how to sail. The look in these kids’ eyes when they get it and start sailing by themselves is heartwarming.”