“A passion has been ignited…” Observations from a Learn2Skiff Clinic in Hampton, VA

Over Memorial Day weekend, fifteen sailors gathered at the Hampton Yacht Club in Hampton, Virginia for a Learn2Skiff introductory clinic sailing 29ers. Learn2Skiff is a program created by Phil Muller (founder of Skiff Generation and head coach of the 2NINER team in Miami, FL) to introduce young riders to 29er in an accelerated learning environment.

Many sailors were nervous before their first sail on a high-octane skiff, but their hesitation was replaced by excitement after a successful first morning on the water. And after three days of training, land exercises, discussions and debriefings, confidence levels and enthusiasm were at an all time high. As one parent commented following the clinic, “a passion ignited…”.

What makes the Learn2Skiff format so effective? For me, it boils down to the accelerated learning environment created by boats, mentoring and sailors:

  1. The Boats: The 29er is fast and unstable, making inevitable and frequent mistakes and capsizing. The Learn2Skiff format teaches sailors to rise to the challenge and includes many additional aids. With four 29ers, three coach boats and 15 sailors, there were always extra hands available and new sailors to rotate.
  2. Mentoring: One of the secrets of the Learn2Skiff format is that experienced 29er sailors sail alongside new sailors. Newbies at Hampton had an amazing chance sailing with experts Jake Julien and Cooper Delbridge, who showed off their technique and gave new sailors a chance to FEEL a fast and balanced boat. With the feeling fresh in their muscles and minds, they then attempted to recreate it as skippers and crews and with new partners, learning from their mistakes along the way.
  3. The Sailors: They taught each other. They supported each other. They bonded through shared adversity. Why? They were already taking up the collaborative approach that Phil calls the “skiff culture” (for more on the skiff culture, check out the 2NINER blog).

A great learning environment can be described in many ways. In the coachboat Phil mentioned the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which a quick search on Wikipedia defined as:

“the distance between what a learner is able to do without help and what he can do with help.”

We started using “ZPD” as a shortcut, a kind of nickname for the learning zone. When sailors got tired or frustrated, more support was added to get them back into the ZPD. When sailors were coasting or complacent, a new boat handling move was introduced to increase the challenge and bring them back into the ZPD. It was clear that when learning to sail the 29er, it is never difficult to find a new challenge.

First produced in 1998, the 29er is not a new boat, but in many ways it is still relevant. He fulfills an important role as an international youth skiff and feeder for the Olympic 49er. Her hull, sails and rigging are surprisingly simple, but sailing well is a challenge for any sailor. And the steep learning curve prepares sailors for the challenges of modern sailing, whether in sports boats, multihulls, offshore or foiling.

Many thanks to the Hampton Yacht Club and HYC Sailing Director Maxwell Plarr for hosting an outstanding clinic and to Skiff Generation for providing boats and coaching. For more information on the 29er, visit https://us29er.org/ and https://www.29er.org/

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