Every weekend during the summer months, Cass Lake is a hotspot for boaters, swimmers, kayakers and more. But during the week, this popular Oakland County lake is the prime location for kids ages 6-18 to set sail as part of the Pontiac Junior Sailing Club.
This decades-old sailing program, which is hosted at the Pontiac Yacht Club, gives campers the chance to experience all aspects of sailing Ñ from beginner to advanced.
And thanks to the Pontiac Sailing Education Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1984, sailing instruction is much more accessible to families in and near Oakland County. This organization offers needs-based scholarships to select campers and prides itself on fostering educational programs for seamanship training.
Through Learn to Sail beginning and advanced camp offerings, kids learn how to sail, rig and more, says Eric Ellison, the program director of the Pontiac Junior Sailing Club.
Each morning, kids work side-by-side to get the boats out of storage and put them together. From there, students break up into groups and start with a "Chalk Talk," Ellison says, which is a five-minute talk to go over the day's happenings.
Kids go out sailing in the morning from 10 until 11:30 a.m. After their first outing, they return to have lunch and swim off the dock or beach. Then, for two hours in the afternoon, they set sail again. Once they've had their afternoon sail, kids are required to take the boats apart and put them back in storage.
STEM activities are incorporated in the program, as well, Ellison adds. They use REACH programming from US Sailing.
Having to do the heavy lifting makes this experience even more enriching for campers. "Instead of it being come-and-go sailing, it's a little bit more of a learning experience," Ellison says. "It's really cool to watch what we don't normally see a 6, 7- or 8-year-old doing."
Campers can work their way up through the sailing program. "It's very reasonable for a summer-long program, but it gives kids the opportunity to grow," he says.
Those who work their way up to the advanced camp offering can then move on to the Junior Racing Team. There are seven races during the summer, Ellison notes, and it's a great opportunity for children who have learned to love sailing.
"During the summer, we see about 200 to 225 kids. Seventy percent of them have little or no experience, 20 percent have had some experience with (sailing) before and 10 percent are on racing team," he says.
In all, 80 percent of the children who attend the Learn to Sail camp return to experience the other camp offerings, and some even end up working for the camp years later. During his time as program director, Ellison has watched campers move from Learn to Sail all the way through to becoming sailing coaches.
All coaches are US Sailing certified, have been CPR trained and have their boaters licenses, as well.
"I love the teamwork aspect. It's great to see kids working together and help each other out, he says. "Just watching our students have such a fun time on and off the water is amazing. "
The camp helps kids to tackle their own fears, he adds, whether it's the fear of water or the fear of doing something new.
"Sailing is something you can do from age 6 to age 86," he says. "We are introducing them to something that's comfortable."
Camp kicks off on June 15 and runs through Sept. 4, 2020. Each camp goes from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. After-care is available.
For more information on the Pontiac Junior Sailing Club, visit the Pontiac Sailing Education Foundation website.