Young sailors learning not just how to handle boats but how to have lots of safe fun on the water

Sarasota Youth Sailing spring break camp draws 18 youngsters from around the community

Special to The Sarasota News Leader

(From left) Elliott Benson, Ben Vaughan, Teak Gammaro and Sam Vaughan launch their sailboats off the Sarasota Youth Sailing beach for practice during Spring Break Camp. Jennifer Walker photography

Eighteen Sarasota-area children are spending their spring break on the water this year, thanks to Sarasota Youth Sailing’s Learn to Sail Camp.

Ranging in age from 5 to 13, the youngsters attend area schools such as Laurel Nokomis, Bay Haven, Island Village Montessori, Nolan MS and Ashton.

Offering multiple class levels, Sarasota Youth Sailing (SYS) — which is based on City Island in Sarasota — ensures that first-timers and more experienced sailors learn in a safe and fun environment on and off the water. Programs are customized by age and degree of expertise.

The youngest campers begin in the Tadpole fleet, a “pre-beginner” program that introduces the 5- to 6-year-olds to sailboats and water activities, including swimming and just having fun out on Sarasota Bay.

SYS’ Level 1 and Level 2 programs are designed to create positive early sailing experiences, with educational opportunities built into the context of sailing-related games and a focus on fun. The program’s goals are to boost confidence, instill a strong safety foundation, and emphasize the importance of teamwork. Sailed in the popular Optimist dinghies, the young skippers graduate feeling at ease handling their own sea craft.

Elliot Ma is all smiles sailing the Open Bic sailboat during the SYS Spring Break camp. Elliot is one of 10 returning sailors. Jennifer Walker photography

Eight-year-old Gabriel Sullivan, who began sailing two years ago as a Tadpole, is one of 10 returning sailors in camp this week. According to his mother, Christine, Gabe has caught the sailing bug and is attending the camp to continue working on his boat-handling skills. He is also a first-year Green Fleet race team participant, and he already has signed up for SYS Summer Camp sessions, during which he will be able to build his skillset and learn on other sailboats.

“It’s amazing and so much fun,” said Gabe. “All the coaches are really nice and make you want to do even better. My favorite parts of camps are rigging the sailboat, and doing sailing drills. One day, I want to win a ‘huge’ sailboat race and join the Coast Guard.”

Levi Nimz sets sail in an Opti boat as part of Sarasota Youth Sailing’s Learn to Sail camp, with SYS’ Samantha Jones keeping a close eye. Jennifer Walker photography

This week, many of the more experienced spring break campers are having a blast training in the O’Pen Skiff sailboat. This lightweight vessel designed for faster speeds delivers maximum fun for learning sailors who want to continue honing their skills.

Looking ahead to the summer programs, SYS will offer Tadpoles, Level 1 and 2 Optimist, Level 1 and 2 420’s (double-handed boats), O’Pen Skiff, and a fun Adventure Sailing option for small-group sailing on the popular Hobie Waves.

Gabe John and Everett Vaughan work together to rig an Opti sailboat during Sarasota Youth Sailing’s Spring Break Learn to Sail Camp. Jennifer Walker photography

Mary Trichter, the SYS executive director, says the camp programs provide opportunities for all budding sailors. Whether campers just want to be out on the water sailing recreationally, or whether they have a more competitive streak, the programs prepare them with the skills to join the Race Team programs that SYS runs during the school year.

“SYS summer camp offerings are much more than just sailing,” said Trichter. “Whatever the campers’ interests are, we have something for them. There is exposure to the marine environment, swimming on the sandbar, hermit crab and seashell collecting, plus lots of fun ‘mucking about’ in boats in the fresh air and sunshine!”

A youngster learns how to climb back aboard a sailboat after it has been knocked down in the water. Photo courtesy of Sarasota Youth Sailing

Trichter points out another advantage during these unprecedented times: “SYS’ open-air environment and smaller class sizes help to ensure a safe, socially distanced environment for our campers.”

Registration is open for all of SYS’ summer camp sessions (novice to experienced), which will begin on June 14 and run throughout the summer. Visit to learn more and sign up.