Portage-area children navigate through boating basics at junior sailing camp on Berlin Lake (gallery)

By ALICIA BALOG | staff writer Published:

Fifty-four kids are learning the boating ropes, such as the mainsheet, at the annual Berlin Yacht Club Junior Sailing Camp, which began Thursday and ends Sunday.

The camp is held at the yacht club in North Benton, just outside of Deerfield in the southeast corner of Portage County.

Co-directors Mike and Nicole Green and Chris and Kelly Ruppen have been meeting since winter to plan the four-day camp and organized between 30 and 40 volunteers, many of whom took vacation days to work with the kids.

Mike Green said the students, ages 8 to 18, are divided into four groups. Each group has a leader that teaches them the boating basics, such as how to move the boat using wind.

"They'll learn a lot of things right on the land on the boat parts, how to put the boat together," he said. "They'll rig the boat themselves."

The children are using about 30 sunfish and laser sailboats that are designed so that every boat is the same, so "it'd be the skills of the sailor and not so the actual boat as far as if they're doing any type of racing," Green said. Two students control the boat, with one controlling the mainsheet, the line controlling the sail, and one controlling the tiller to steer.

Other activities, including two scavenger hunts today, are centered around the camp's theme, pirates.

"The newer kids will have three spots on the water that are kind of closer to the club that they will have to sail to retrieve something to show that they were at that spot," Green said. "Then the (more experienced students) are actually going to get big laminated maps, and they're going to have to go to up to six different points on the shore where we'll have adults staged. They're going to dock their boats at the state park just by the boat ramp, and they're going to have an onshore lunch."

Both children and volunteers are required to wear life jackets any time they are near the water. Volunteers make sure the kids' jackets are coast guard approved and have safety whistles tied to them, Green said. Campers also took a swim test the first day.

"The kids go down to one dock and, one at a time, they have to jump in the water with their life jacket and they swim over to a boat we have tied up," he said. "They have to climb on it, flip it upside down, fall off of it, and then they have to re-right the boat and then swim over to the other dock."

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