Each summer, the Pontiac Yacht Club teaches about 200 kids how to sail. Through the summer camp program, campers with little to no experience in sailing learn the necessary skills to navigate a boat and learn STEM concepts in the process.
“During the course of one or two weeks, the kids learn to put the boats together themselves, launch the boats, go sailing, sail to the desired points and then return to harbor, bring the boats in and put everything away,” says Eric Ellison, camp coordinator.
The camp operates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning June 18. Campers must be 6-18 years old. Sessions begin every other Monday throughout the summer, though Ellison says accomodations can be made for those requiring a specific schedule.
“Sailing involves a lot of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) work and it’s also a teamwork exercise,” Ellison says. “While sailing is active, if the kids are not super physically active, it’s still something they can do. They just need to be comfortable swimming in a lake while wearing a life jacket.”
The Pontiac Yacht Club summer camp program has been bringing in area kids and turning them into sailors since 1995.
“We’re trying to give them a fun experience and show them how to sail,” Ellison says. “Sailing is something different from the other sports the kids play all year.”
The kids sail in Optimist Dinghy and Pram, which are small 8-foot boats that can accomodate one to two campers. The older campers sail in 420s, which are 14-foot conventional-style boars with two sails. They can hold two to three sailors based on size.
“We are teaching the campers the principles of sailing. They get out there and learn awareness of the wind, how the rudder works and physics behind sailing. They are learning so much while they are sailing,” Ellison says.
The Pontiac Yacht Club is located in West Bloomfield on a bay on Cass Lake. This location gives them the best sailing environment, Ellison says.
“We very seldom get heavy weather. Cass Lake bay is protected from wind and the waves. On a normally heavier wind day, our bay is usually about half as windy as it is on the lake. This helps take away some of the element of fear for kids just learning to sail,” Ellison says.
A typical day for campers includes going through the day’s plan, setting up the boats, sailing for an hour and a half and then coming into shore to have lunch, play on the playground and go swimming. Then, the kids sail for another hour and a half before coming in to play games and clean up the boats.
“The second week, we sail across Cass Lake to Dodge State Park and have a pizza party,” Ellison says.
While camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., early drop-off and after-care is available for an additional cost
The camp is staffed by eight coaches. Ellison says they are all certified through the United States Sailing Association and are trained in water safety, CPR, First Aid and AED use.
“We find that a lot of people are fearful of sailing or think it’s too big of a commitment. Ninety-five percent of the kids have never stepped foot on a sailboat and they are able to learn it all so quickly. It’s not as complicated as it looks,” Ellison says.
For more information about the Pontiac Yacht Club Junior Sailing program, call 248-682-8020 or visit pyc54.org.