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-- Issued August 24, 2007

Ten young HACE residents learned how to sail in five days during this summer’s sailing course offered by the Bayfront Center for Maritime Studies under the watchful eye of Richard Eisenberg, executive director of the Center. “Sailing is simple stuff,” says Eisenberg.

One of the boats they sailed was “The Erie Boat,” below, a replica of the 28-foot cat-ketch that made Erie the freshwater fishing capital of the world in the late 1800s.

The Erie Boat was the vehicle that men used to work the pound and trap nets along the Lake Erie shoreline. It was said that the blue pike were so plentiful that, "you could walk from Erie to Canada on their backs." And it was on their backs that Erie's economy was built and the young town's prominence as a significant Great Lake port grew. The plans for the Center’s Erie Boat came from Howard I. Chapelle's, American Small Sailing Craft. Chapelle is recognized as the dean of indigenous watercraft and described the Erie Boat, "as the product of two or three builders at Erie and built nowhere else."

Besides the Erie Boat, our young sailors had a number of other sailboats, large and small, available to them. “It doesn’t take long to learn some simple sailing theory,” says Eisenberg. HACE students were also transformed from sailors to scientists aboard the Friendship Sloop Momentum on Presque Isle Bay.

They gathered water samples containing freshwater plankton to study the ecology of the Bay. They took the samples ashore to test water quality and studied and identified the plankton under the microscope.

“Sailing itself is the least of what we teach,” Eisenberg says. “We teach teamwork. Having fun. An Olympic sport. Self-reliance. Problem solving: hopefully a beginner’s sail is tame and calm, but it can quickly turn into a big-eyed, white-knuckle kind of adventure.

"When that happens, the kids learn fast about problem-solving and thinking on their feet.” Learning to feel comfortable on the water is huge – on days with no wind, out come the kayaks and canoes and skiffs.

“The kids sail the big boats but they get out there by themselves in their own small boats too,” says Eisenberg. “They love that. They’re in control.” It may look like the program is creating new sailors. “But really, we are building new kids,” Eisenberg says. “The kids are the product.”

On rainy days, the young HACE sailors learned to tie knots and studied sailing theory.

...And on sunny days, they swam off the back of The Erie Boat to cool off, under the watchful eyes of sailing instructors.