Water World

Back on the bay

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The former naval aviator who recently participated in Vets on the Water, the Community Boating Center’s new pilot program, began the daylong sail in Bellingham Bay full of anxiety, saying being so close to saltwater felt like an unnatural act.

It was only when the diesel engine was turned off and he and the three other participants helped unfurl the jib of CBC volunteer Mike Reed’s 36-foot sailboat, Islander, that the veteran realized his chest had expanded and his shoulders had relaxed.

“We were on the water for about five hours,” he said. “They were five hours of focus on given tasks, but also five hours of complete peacefulness. It is hard to describe, but probably easy to experience. Just get out on the water.”

Like the numerous youth and adult programs that further the CBC’s mission of fostering small-watercraft education, access, safe recreation and marine stewardship, Vets on the Water is designed to help military veterans engage with the natural world, learn skills and gain enough confidence to safely enjoy the world of water in our own backyard.

Another vet who’s been working with counselors for more than two years to manage his PTSD at the Bellingham Veterans Center added that sailing placed him squarely in the here and now.

“Sensing how the boat is moving through the water, seeing the telltales and shifting heading and sail settings to optimize speed through the water really pulls you into the present,” he reported of the experience. “The present is a place without anger of the past of fear of the future. That is a good place for me to be.”

While the CBC and other community partners are looking forward to expanding the program and further engaging area veterans, they’re also focused on making the most of the strange summer of 2020.

For example, the same week the inaugural Vets on the Water set sail, youth camps also re-launched in Bellingham Bay with a focus on skill-building, community engagement, team and leadership growth, confidence building, safety awareness and plenty of fun.

“The kids loved trying out sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, building a strong foundation and the desire to fuel future learning,” a recent press release noted. “Campers learn basic skills with the goal of creating a strongly positive experience with small boats that stays with them for a lifetime.”

In addition to adhering to COVID-19 safety mandates, all camps are led by CPR/First Aid/AED-certified instructors who have extensive experience in boating and leading youth groups. Additionally, camps take place rain or shine, with activities adjusted to fit current weather conditions. If it’s overly windy, instructors assess the conditions and continue with on-land activities and education when it’s too sketchy to head out onto the water.

Registration is still open for the Junior Learn to Sail Intermediate Camp (July 27-31), Teen Intro to Keelboat (July 27-31), Adventure Camp (Aug. 3-7), Teens Intro to Keelboat Part II Camp (Aug. 3-7), Sea Kayak Camp for Teens (Aug. 10-14 and Aug. 17-21), and Junior Learn to Sail Beginners Camp (Aug. 10-14).

Before you register your kids, however, you should know a swim check will be required for all students participating in camp programs. The check consists of jumping off the end of the dock without a life jacket, swimming to a nearby buoy, treading water and putting a life jacket on while doing so (see more guidelines on CBC’s website).

Adults won’t have to undertake this test to take part in classes and group paddles—or to rent watercraft hourly or by the day—but they’ll still have safety standards to follow for upcoming events such as three-hour Meteor Shower Tours (Aug. 12-13), Bioluminescence Paddles (various dates Aug. 1-23), and an outing dubbed Coastal Explorer: Experience Sea Kayaking (Aug. 2).

During the latter event, participants learn the basics of sea kayaking while experiencing the many natural wonders of Bellingham Bay, including discovering more about the native flora and fauna of the Salish Sea. Like all of the aforementioned excursions, the event hews closely to the Community Boating Center’s maritime mission of sea-based stewardship—something we should all care about.

For more information about camps, classes, rentals, scholarships and group outings at the Community Boating Center, go to http://www.boatingcenter.org

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