HARPSWELL — With almost 3,500 miles of coastline in Maine, Perry Acworth believes everyone should be able to sail.
And as program director of the Abbot Fletcher Sailing School on Orr’s Island, Acworth is trying to do something about it.
“We have more coastline than the state of California and more than 3,400 islands,” she said. “There’s a whole world out there that kids in Maine don’t get to explore.”
Now in it’s 12th year, the school, which is affiliated with the Orr’s-Bailey Island Yacht Club and named for Maine sailor Abbot Fletcher, sees 125 kids go through it’s program each year. Instructors teach children how to sail and how to be safe on the water.
“The goal is to turn kids on to sailing and to being on a boat on the water,” Acworth said.
With the partnership, the rec departments receive a portion of the registration fees, which the towns can use. But the money usually goes toward scholarships.
Gina Perow, Harpswell recreation director, said that as of Tuesday she had nine kids signed up and she expects a few more before the programs start next week.
Acworth said the partnership with the recreation departments is not just about getting more kids into the program; it’s about teaching kids how much fun it can be to be on the water.
“It’s more like trying to promote rec for kids whether it’s on the water, in the field or in a gym,” she said.
Bobbi Robertson, volunteer director of the program for the past nine years, said that there is a value to learning to sail that can’t be found in other sports.
“There are few individual sports where you have to rely on your own talents, instincts, to find out what’s inside of you and bring it out; I think sailing really does that,” she said. “We start (the kids) in little Optis, which is a one-man sailboat, and even though there are people there to help, it’s up to (the kids) what (they) do.”
The Abbot Fletcher school caters to all abilities, whether kids have never been on a boat before or whether they are old salts.
Acworth said that probably 50 percent of the students they see are “brand spanking new” and are there to learn the basics. But some students have been coming for years and are a part of the school’s racing teams. She also said that participants don’t have to be members of the Orr’s-Bailey Island Yacht Club.
Robertson said that many of the students at the school live locally, but they also see a lot of tourists coming back year after year.
“Although we have got a lot of people who live here, we have a lot of people who come for vacation and we try to cater to that as well as the racing kids,” she said.
After a swim test on the first day, kids work with instructors in a 4-1 ratio, something that is not seen in many other sports, both Acworth and Robertson said.
Students can sign up for as many sessions as they want and Robertson said that many times people who have been to the program to learn to sail come back as councilors.
Sailing really works its way into the hearts of the students, she said.
“You seen them come and they don’t know if they want to (get in a boat), and the first day is a swim test and they have to capsize and the water in Maine is freezing, and they go from that to the end of it, when all they want to do is capsize because they love it,” Robertson said.
Kids from 8 to 18 have the chance to learn to sail in the Abbot Fletcher Sailing School summer programs on Orr’s Island in Harpswell.