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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Courageous Sailing

Air Date: Week of

Kids at Camp Harbor View play a racing game on the waters. (Photo: Amie Ninh)

At the Boston nonprofit Courageous Sailing, urban kids spend their days learning in a classroom on the sea. For more than two decades, the organization has strived to turn a historically elite, white sport into an activity that transcends both race and class. Planet Harmony’s Amie Ninh reports.


YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. Sailing has never been what you’d call a democratic sport. It conjures images of wealthy yacht clubs, blazers and topsiders. But a Boston nonprofit called Courageous Sailing wants to make sailors out of inner city kids-- and help them reconnect with the outdoors and learn to value the sea. For more than two decades, the organization has worked to turn the historically elite, white sport into an activity that transcends race and class. Planet Harmony’s Amie Ninh reports from Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard.


WOMAN: Ready to tack?

KIDS: Ready!

NINH: It’s a fairly windy day and that means conditions are just right for sailing. Kids, thrilled to be out on a 20-foot sailboat, tug on ropes to control which direction they’re heading.

WOMAN: Where do you want to go first? The Mystic or the Basin?

NINH: Here at Courageous Sailing Center, kids from all over the city get to experience what it’s like to be out on a boat.

GABRIELA: It’s kind of a once in a lifetime experience to just be out here in a boat all day. The experience is really good because I would have never done this because I just don’t live near water really.

NINH: 9-year-old Gabriela from the South End isn’t the only young sailor who may not realize the sea is actually in her backyard. More than 1,000 low-income Boston kids get the opportunity to sail for free through the organization. Kate Henderson directs the youth program and wants kids to reconnect to the city’s maritime past.

HENDERSON: And that’s what we try to do here, is to not only get them to try this sport, which is so foreign to them culturally a lot of the time, but also gets them exposed to an environment that unfortunately has become very foreign to them but is also very important for them to, I think, appreciate and interact with.

NINH: Henderson says diversity is one of the program’s strengths. More than half of the kids are African American or Latino.

HENDERSON: It’s interesting to hear that these kids learn from each other that though people may seem different on the surface, we’re all just people deep down. It really opens them up to new experiences, new people and making friendships with people unlike themselves. It makes them more open-minded.

NINH: Worlds apart from the bustling Charlestown Navy Yard are the scenic Boston Harbor Islands. The sailing program expanded three years ago to include kids at a summer day camp on one of the islands.

HENDERSON: One of the biggest, most challenging groups we’ve worked with is probably this group out at Camp Harbor View where literally kids felt like this was a white man’s sport and that going out on boats was just this silly, frivolous, you know, thing.

NINH: Camp Harbor View serves kids from at-risk neighborhoods and is run by the City of Boston and the Boys and Girls Club. Jennifer Toscano-Seibert directs this site.

TOSCANO-SEIBERT: This summer we’ve really seen a lot more Latino campers and a lot more campers of African American descent. It’s really exciting for us. There’s no reason the harbor should not be accessible to everyone who lives in Boston.

NINH: With sailing often come life lessons, at least that’s what 13-year-old Kristin from Dorchester found.

A youth helper from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay shows a camper how to determine acidity using pH paper. (Photo: Amie Ninh)

KRISTIN: I decided to do sailing because it’s something I’ve never tried before, and I was curious about it. I’ve learned that, don’t give up until you try one thing because when I first started sailing was kind of hard but now I get it. It’s tons of fun. I love learning how to steer the boat.

NINH: Now, sailing has become routine for the kids who go out on the boats each day at camp. But 14-year-old Terrell from Dorchester remembers his first outing.

TERRELL: Well, my first year here, I went sailing and the sailing instructor tipped the boat and I got, very, very scared, like everything was just falling down this way. So then I started to cry because I was very scared. I thought the boat was going to tip over. So I had to go back in the motorboat and wait at the dock.

NINH: What a difference three years make.

TERRELL: I’m used to the tipping, and it’s not so scary anymore. And I hope to sail to many places.

NINH: The lessons also include a concern for the marine environment, where kids even perform experiments.


NINH: The kids dip a strip of pH paper in the water, just one of the hands-on activities offered through a collaboration between Courageous and a local environmental organization Save the Harbor/Save the Bay. It’s called the Green Boat, and in this floating classroom kids get to do things like tow for plankton, measure water transparency and even cleanup the harbor. Here’s Gabriela, again.

GABRIELA: Sometimes I see people throwing trash in the harbor, and I sometimes ask them to stop. I never really realized how much trash we use and how bad the environment is if we throw trash in the harbor all day.

NINH: Youth Director Kate Henderson says kids often become environmental stewards after they enter the program.

HENDERSON: You get it all the time. What we’re teaching these kids is not only to enjoy the outdoors and Boston Harbor but also to become advocates for the harbor so we have so many kids who have gone into the fields of marine biology and environmental science, which is really great to see that these kids really want to give back.

Kids from Camp Harbor View race their sailboats. (Photo: Amie Ninh)

NINH: Aboard the Green Boat are youth helpers from Save the Harbor/Save the Bay like 16-year-old Mark Rose from Dorchester.

ROSE: To be honest, I really didn’t know most of these places existed until now, like all the islands, the Boston Harbor Islands, the Courageous Sailing Centers. All of this is so new to me.

NINH: Mark now says his goal is to get friends and family from his community to explore the harbor as well.

MARK: The kids here are the ones who actually taught me how to sail. I’ve never been on a sailboat my whole entire life before I started working. People around my community, they don’t really get out. I want to make it possible for them to come out here anytime they want. I definitely want to come back next year. You have the time of your life.

NINH: And for Mark and the other kids, the limited view of the world around them now stretches far beyond their horizons. For Planet Harmony and Living on Earth, I’m Amie Ninh.


YOUNG: Amie reports for our sister program, Planet Harmony, which welcomes all and pays special attention to stories affecting communities of color. Log on and join the discussion at My Planet Harmony dot com.



Courageous Sailing

Camp Harbor View

Save the Harbor/Save the Bay


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