Youths learn sailing and boat building skills at Whiskey Island Camp

(Plain Press, September 2006) Over a three-week period this summer, fifteen Cleveland youths worked in teams to build five sailboats and then learned to sail them on Lake Erie. Cleveland Municipal School District students in grades six to eight were recruited for a free camping experience in this first-ever summer boat building camp sponsored by the Wendy Park Foundation.

 Christine Bucknell, president of the foundation, says the program, called Whiskey Island to Lake Erie or WHISTLE, is “designed to introduce children to our greatest natural resource, Lake Erie, and the importance of environmental preservation.”

 “We also hope to instill team building skills and craftsmanship,” said Bucknell. The students participating in WHISTLE were grouped into teams of three youths. Members of the Cleveland Amateur Boat Building and Boating Society worked with each team of youths to build an eight-foot dingy sailboat, Optimist.

 In building the sailboats, the students used tools such as electric drills, electric sanders, hammers, saws and screwdrivers, some for the first time, said Bucknell. After the boats were built, the students painted them.

 When the students first arrived at Whiskey Island Marina they were asked why they joined the camp. Some of the reasons were, “I don’t know.” “My dad made me,” or “My grandma made me,” said Bucknell. However, as the students began to work together as teams and got closer to putting their boats in the water, Bucknell noticed an increase in smiles and enthusiasm from the youths.

 Once the boats were ready to sail, one older high school student from the Greater Cleveland Sea Scouts paired up with each WHISTLE youth in a dingy sailboat to go out for their first sailing experience. The next day and after, WHISTLE youths sailed solo in the sailboats. “They learned incredibly quick,” said Bucknell, “and were blessed with wind while going out and around in the lake.”

 For graduation, the students participated in a short Regatta as part of the festivities for the Great Lakes Burning River Festival in Wendy Park on August 12th.

 In all, about fifteen adults helped with the project from the early preparation stages through graduation. In addition to the Cleveland Amateur Boat Building and Boating Society and the Greater Cleveland Sea Scouts, members of the Spirit of America, the Inter City Yacht Club, and the Whiskey Island Marina volunteered for the program. Materials and supplies necessary to build the sailboats were donated by area businesses. Bucknell estimated that about $500 worth of materials were used on each sailboat.

 Bucknell hopes to expand the program next summer to reach more children and include youths from all of Cuyahoga County. “Already a number of adults who heard about the program have come forward and said they want to be involved next summer’, she noted. The Wendy Park Foundation hopes to auction off several of the sailboats constructed this summer to help fund an expanded WHISTLE program next summer.


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