Kids treated to day of sailing in Niantic
East Lyme - As the sail of the 38-foot sailboat Sir Prize unfurled, 12-year-old Nick Kaml of Madison grabbed hold of the wheel of the boat and let out a gleeful shout.
The sail caught a breeze and gently glided away from shore to join about 10 other sailboats out for a two-hour cruise Saturday in Niantic Bay. Kaml was among a group of kids and their families sailing out from Niantic Bay Yacht Club as part of “Take A Kid Sailing Day.”
The free event was part of an outreach program by the Niantic Bay Sailing Academy in conjunction with the Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut and East Lyme Park and Recreation Department.
The Miracle League is the same non-profit group that raised $550,000 for construction of a regional Miracle League Field behind Flanders Elementary School in East Lyme. The group runs a series of programs to provide opportunities for children with physical, cognitive and developmental challenges to allow them to participate in recreational, educational and cultural activities in a “nurturing and non-competitive environment.” Those programs include everything from adaptive baseball and lacrosse to dance and kayaking. Some of the children at Saturday’s event, like Kaml, are on the autism spectrum.
Nadine Kaml said her son, Nick, has been involved with other programs organized by the Miracle League and has been impressed by the supportive nature of the volunteers in the programs.
“They make it fun and include everyone,” she said.
Nick Kaml, who was also joined on the boat by his father Gary and Aunt Teri Kaml, were novices in the world of sailing and got a few pointers from Sir Prize owners Constantine and Pam Manthous of Niantic during the sail.
“It’s like steering a go-kart but you have to use the wind,” Constantine Manthous explained with a smile. “The one thing you can’t do is sail directly into the wind.”
Manthous pointed out landmarks along the shore, and explained some nautical terms such as how the front sail is called the jib and how ropes are called lines when on a boat.
Elizabeth Bauch of Coventry came out for Saturday’s event with her son, 9-year-old Joseph Bauch, to give sailing a try. It was the first time for both of them.
She said Joseph is Level 1 on the autism spectrum, the mildest of the three levels, and attends public school with some extra support. Bauch said she came out because not only is she acquainted with Niantic Bay Sailing Academy members but she thought it would be a chance to connect with other parents of children with special needs.
“I figured it would be something nice to do in a safe environment, an opportunity to bring families together with shared experiences of raising a child with special needs,” she said.
Ken Shluger, president of the Niantic Bay Sailing Academy, said 11 boats with captain and crews had signed on for the day’s event, with as many as 39 guests signed up.
It’s the second year the Niantic Bay Sailing Academy is hosting the program. East Lyme Park and Recreation Director and Miracle League Executive Director David Putnam said 15 kids had registered last year and kids and captains alike loved it. The sailing academy had signed on for three more events this year.
The Niantic Bay Sailing Academy also runs a variety of sailing programs for kids and adults. Shluger said the Take A Kid Sailing Day events are special and everyone who has participated typically “leaves with a smile.”
Some of the sailing academy instructors got in on Saturday’s fun, like Joshua Cardoza, 13, a junior sailing instructor from East Lyme and sailing instructor Sara Beth Bouchard, 19, of Waterford. Both helped crew the boats on Saturday.
Bouchard said the Niantic Bay Sailing Academy has introduced a new Adventure Sailing program for young sailors that incorporates STEM activities to its curriculum. She said she has fun volunteering and because she has someone in her family with special needs, “It’s very personal for me.”
Aboard the Sir Prize, Pam Manthous said, “We love sailing. Its nice to be able to share that experience, especially with children.”