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Local youth learn the ropes of sailing

By Kenyatte Davis Daily Planet staff
Wednesday August 29, 2001

After a summer of overnight sailing adventures and educational voyages on the San Francisco Bay, the 11 graduates from the Pegasus Lifeskills Project celebrated the completion of their program with a barbecue Friday night at the Berkeley Marina. 

The final ceremony was held at The Nautilus Institute, which organized the program along with the Berkeley Boosters and the Shorebird Nature Center. Now in its sixth year, the program is dedicated to exposing local low-income youth to the art of sailing and the science of the San Francisco Bay. 

Peter Hayes, Director of the institute, grew up sailing in Australia and has been behind the project since if first began. 

“There are a lot of skills you have to learn in order to survive out on the water,” said Hayes. “You have to learn discipline, teamwork and many other physical and mental skills.” 

Over the summer, students participated in five over-night voyages and learned to sail on The Pegasus, the 51-foot sail boat belonging to The Nautilus Institute. The boat comfortably seats seven and carries a full complement of the latest safety features. The Pegasus crew takes great pride in the boat’s reputation as one of the safest on the Bay. “We take the fact these parents are entrusting their kids’ lives to us very very very seriously. We are sort of safety crazy,” said Mark Caplan, captain and safety officer of the Pegasus. “We consider ourselves one of the safest boats on the Bay because everyone is in a lifejacket, everyone is on a tether and there’s crew constantly with the kids.” 

Caplan said that this is a great opportunity that all youth should be able to experience, but parents are often wary of letting their children go through with it. 

“Although sailing is inherently safe, a lot of parents are convinced that sailing is dangerous,” he said. “We are trying to reassure them that sailing is not dangerous.” 

The program is active year-round, teaching Berkeley Booster volunteers how to sail from September through December.  

The Boosters that are trained then assist with the younger sailing students during the summer.  

“This is a fabulous program because the kids get the chance to learn about the Bay,” said Berkeley Boosters Executive Director Ove Wittstock.  

“They learn about sailing, ecology and navigation. For the kids, it’s applied history and geography.” 

For all its years of existence, the Berkeley Boosters have supported the Pegasus Program by providing youth volunteers from among their ranks. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that the Nautilus Institute makes possible for us,” said Wittstock. “It was an ideal marriage, they have the boat and we have the kids.” 

From January through June 30 students from schools are taken out every day on all-day trips where they are taught a downscaled version of the program’s summer curriculum. 

All of the students graduating from this year’s summer session said they truly enjoyed the sailing experience, many of them for very different reasons. 

“I liked shooting off the water cannon on the fire boat,” said Breck Shattuck. 

“I liked going to Angel Island and seeing all the different animals,” said Lacretia Ferguson. 

Annaka Pettit liked the socializing: “I'm glad I got to meet some new people,” she said, “and I liked raising the sails.”