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By Katherine Relf-Cañas

Learn to be a Sailor at Annapolis Sailing School

"Sailing can be competitive, recreational or anything in between," says Tim Dowling, owner of Annapolis Sailing, the country's first adult sailing school. The whole family can learn to sail or build on what they've already learned while enjoying the historic waterfront in Annapolis, Maryland. Annapolis is known as the sailing capital of the country, which makes it a destination in itself. The town is described as a living museum of colonial and early American history, and it's also home to the U.S. Naval Academy.

Today, there are hundreds of sailing schools to pick from all across the country. Back when Annapolis Sailing School opened in 1959, it was the only one. In 1987, a second school within a school program for children was opened. Called KidShip, it offers two- to five-day sessions that feature the same curriculum as the Annapolis Sailing School. "The focus is on safety, fun and learning, in that order," says Dowling, who acquired Annapolis Sailing from its original owners after teaching there since 1980.

Starting at age 5, the school offers a half-day program. Kids between 8 and 15 can participate in a full-day program. "The focus here is on hands-on, experiential learning with a minimum of theory," says Dowling. "In other words, the best way to learn to sail is by sailing."

The programs prepare individuals and families for a lifetime of sailing, readying them to charter a boat independently. "To develop as a sailor you can take anywhere from one to five years to advance through all the levels," says Dowling. The school gets a lot of return families.

Oceanographic Exploration at Jean-Michel Cousteau Family Camp

Jean-Michel Cousteau's Family Camp is an offshoot of his Ocean Futures Society and is allied with his global Ocean Ambassadors youth program. Based on the leeward side of Catalina Island off the Southern California coast, it is only reachable by boat. Most guests are picked up on the mainland shore. Or you can come in your own boat with permission to moor.

The camp provides wetsuits in every imaginable size so that snorkelers can spend longer periods of time in the water. You won't find many camps where renowned ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau is your personal guide. These dives are a fun way to explore the giant kelp forest. You use the island's ecosystem as an underwater laboratory and learn how what you see relates to principles of biological and ecological science, and how it applies to the sustainability of our larger global ecosystem.

This unique camp has become a family tradition for the Comras family of California, who have spent 10 consecutive summers there with their son who is now 17. "This place is a mix of luxury and roughing it," says Kelly Comras. "They do a great job of mixing age groups. It's suitable for ages 2 to 80."

"Cousteau - or JM as he goes by at the camp - is very accessible. He is such a kid himself. I think he enjoys being with the kids as much if not more than the adults," says Comras. Every night after dinner JM and Dick Murphy present a film and lecture. "They present all kinds of oceanographic issues, including biodiversity and conservation. We really enjoy getting a personal update on their 'round the world' activities," she says.

An international crew of superlative counselors help supervise almost a dozen different activity stations, including ocean kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, hiking, archery, arts and crafts, organic cooking, composting and a very popular climbing wall. Participation in each day's four sessions is completely voluntary. "Many adults opt for reading quietly, or go get a massage or take a long snooze."

The facilities feature current ecological technology, including solar power applied to camp energy needs. The five-day camp, held once annually in August, is a unique opportunity to learn about ocean conservation, meet other families, and connect with nature. Kids go home with knowledge and skills they can integrate into their lives.

Katherine Relf-Canas travels whenever she can. Her daughter, Olivia, now 6, is a responsible globetrotter in training. Her freelance writing has appeared in Mothering and GeoParents.

Comments from readers

"Wow! Great ideas! Thanks!"
"Wonderful article!!! Please keep giving us information that is so hard to find - or even hear about. How would I ever know these opportunities existed? Thanks!"