Of course, our first night’s sleep during the Young Women at the Helm program was not as long and refreshing as we would have liked, but I suppose that was to be expected. Though the students were a little tired, their enthusiasm did not seem to lag on Day Two—an even more impressive feat considering the rain that dogged us throughout the morning.

After breakfast and packing up camp, the students came back aboard to get their boat ready. Soon we were underway, with the girls now shadowing their respective crewmembers at work. They raised sail in short order, and we were drifting north with the current in very little wind. I decided to push through a particularly heavy patch of rain and our engine took us to just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge where the captain of the Tugboat Bruce Macalester told me I would find drier weather and a sailing breeze. He did not lead us astray and, after a delicious albeit damp lunch, we were able to shed the feeling of drowned rats, sheet out the mainsail and shut down the engine off Philipsburg to broad reach upriver in the light southeasterly breeze.


That’s when the meat of the program really started to take hold. The Heritage watch created beautiful tile art in the form of the Dutch Delft tiles; the Ecology watch got to practice their jobs for the trawling we would do later in the afternoon; the Boat life watch engaged mechanical advantage experiments, not forgetting to do their underway boat checks; and the Navigation watch built their “chip log” to measure our speed through the water and proceeded to use that data in conjunction with tidal current data to calculate our average speed over ground and our estimated time of arrival at our destination. Several hours later, Amber, a 2nd year YWH student, was over the moon when her ETA proved to be the closest, off only by minutes.

By the time we reached northern Haverstraw Bay our curiosity overtook us and it was time to find out what was living at the bottom of the river. The Ecology watch was ready for their first shot at fishing and the wind was perfect to fish under sail, something we rarely do. But that is the beauty of this program. Its inherent freedom allows us to try new things, not just for the students, but for ourselves as well. We trawled slowly and deliberately, smoothly and quietly, and the girls came up with a bounty of hogchokers, tomcod and thanks to the increased dissolved oxygen, white perch.

With our new specimen safely settled in the tank we carried on just a little bit further north where we struck sail off King Marine in Verplanck, with the girls from the Heritage watch getting more hands on each time, and made ready to come alongside. With the Boat Life crew on docklines and Navigation crew on the tiller and helm controls, we made a smooth landing and the students again headed ashore to make camp. A huge “Thank You” goes out here to the enormous generosity and hospitality of Randy King.

That night Julie grilled vast amounts of juicy barbecued chicken and corn on the cob and, like last year, the girls were again transfixed and transformed by Jennifer Lee and the time they spent in the Wigwam, with some helping to set it up and others choosing to spend the night in the native abode instead of their more modern tent.

We again awoke to light, intermittent rain, and again the girls made the best of it, taking turns at various shoreside activities. Interspersed with packing up camp and readying the deck, there was the crucial dockline throwing practice, the fear-inducing but oh-so rewarding climb aloft, and the quietly satisfying beach clean-up. After getting underway with the girls, literally, at the helm, the Ecology watch set their last trawl, then we set sail and motor-sailed up through the Highlands to get some miles behind us. Light northerly wind and following current in Newburgh Bay meant I could shut down off Bannerman’s Island and beat the rest of the way up to Beacon.


For the last time that week, the young women took their positions at the helm and on deck and brought us alongside. They put the boat to bed and we mustered aft where each watch gave a presentation on what they had learned. A beautiful spread of Julie’s fresh baked goodies welcomed parents, staff and board members who joined the crew and students in a graduation ceremony. Afterwards, we all, crew and students made our heartfelt goodbyes and promises to meet again next year.

This year was marked by the unique challenge of widely fluctuating weather, an intense curriculum that gets more finely tuned with each year, and a wonderful mix of alumni and newcomers both in the participants and crew; all of which lent real depth to the program. It was a pleasure to sail with all of our participants and crew, and major kudos go straight to Maija Neimisto, our onboard educator, for all her hard work managing and executing this program.

Young Women at the Helm_Class of 2009