The twinned anxiety and excitement of their first solo sail was visible on the faces of the 11 campers as they readied their tiny Optimist prams.
Four of them had attended the annual Fort Myers Beach Summer Sailing Camp last year, but for the rest, it was an all-new experience.
On Wednesday, after two days of hands-on practice, the campers got to sail into the Back Bay from the Mound Hous, each responsible for his or her own boat. They put the skills they had learned to use as they attempted to navigate between two markers.
There were some tears – and more than a few capsizes – but they were all carefully watched over by the camp instructors.
“You did a great job remembering the two rules,” Coach Bob Walke called out to one of the kids, whose pram was now upside down in the water. “Now, what are the two rules?”
The camper had followed them – wear your life jacket, and stay with your boat. All of them had gone through capsize training already. The little prams are light and simple, so it’s easy to flip one over.
Most of the campers are about 8 years old.
“They’re great – they have no fear,” said Denise Monahan, the camp organizer.
She and Walke have been leading the camp for years. Both of Monahan’s daughters, Sydney, 16, and Riley, 14, were instructed in the same camp by Walke when they were children. Now, the two teenagers are helping instruct the camp along with Walke’s son, Patrick, 14.
Sydney is a U.S. Sailing Level 2 instructor. She’s also a competitive sailor and got her start on Fort Myers Beach.
“I like to be out on the water, it’s relaxing,” she said. “With racing, you get to travel a lot and meet new people.”
Having been a camper herself, she’s got insight on what the campers like and don’t like to do. Many of them get nervous or scared – more often than you’d expect, she said – and she tries to help calm them down.
“When they get nervous, I talk to them and explain they’re okay and safe,” she said. “I let them try it, convince them to try it and go from there.”
The camp is held at the Mound House every year, and all of the children enrolled this summer are Fort Myers Beach kids except for one from Sanibel.
“It’s great to see the town and Mound House support the camp,” Monahan said.
Last week presented some tough challenges – strong breezes and afternoon storms – but the campers pulled through.
Alexandria Broadwater had never sailed her own boat before Wednesday, but she seemed to get an instant grasp on the mechanics of managing the sail and rudder. She said she wasn’t nervous, and she liked it.
“I felt like I was going on a trip,” she said. “I liked it. I think I’ll keep doing it. If I get used to it, I’ll be used to it all the time.”