City Lights: Sailing through program to teach

Robyn Monroe considers sailing a character-developing activity for kids, one that encourages teamwork, courage and responsibility.

And she can provide at least two examples.

The first is a boy, about 9 or 10, who attended the Huntington Beach Sailing Foundation's summer program on financial aid last summer. The boy appeared shy and quiet when he arrived, keeping to himself and rarely talking to others. The staff, figuring he might need a little seasoning, put him in a beginner's class.

Then he actually got in a boat, and everything changed. Within a couple of weeks, he got the hang of sailing so quickly that instructors graduated him to a higher level. He continued to impress through the end of the summer.

"We had to move him up because he was getting so many of the processes down that he was doing very well," said Monroe, the summer program's administrator. "Whereas most kids might be scared or intimidated, because it is a new thing, he was never scared. He was always ready to go, always polite and helpful."

The second story Monroe could tell, though she'd likely be modest about it, is her own. When I received a press release about the foundation's upcoming fundraiser — Wine Knot 2011, a wine-tasting event Saturday at the Huntington Harbour Yacht Club — and asked to speak to the person in charge, I expected a veteran of a few regattas with a decade of nonprofit experience.

Instead, the woman who answered the phone recommended that I contact Monroe, provided that I got a hold of her between classes at UCLA.

Monroe, a second-year economics and geography major, is 20 years old. She entered the sailing program at 7 and advanced through its four levels — beginning, intermediate, advanced and racing — by 13, then started working as a junior instructor over the summer. At 16, she got her U.S. Sailing certification as a small powerboat handler and instructor. By last year, she had moved up to head instructor, and this year, she plans to oversee the entire program while teaching her own crew.

Bill Wheeler, secretary of the foundation's Board of Directors, said Monroe got the administrator job because she has more than a decade of experience. If that experience started when she had barely passed the age of reason, well, 13 years is 13 years.

Moreover, she's not unique in the sailing program, in which high school and college students frequently serve as instructors for the younger kids. Wheeler said at least two adults, one parent and one board member remain on site at all times, but when it comes to captaining the boats, they let the experienced sailors lead the way.

"A lot of our instructors, junior and senior, have all come up through the ranks," Wheeler said. "We rarely have gone outside to find ourselves instructors."

The foundation's goal this year is to raise $30,000, with future benefits planned for May and July. The staff hopes to fund new powerboats and replace sailboats, some of which are more than 40 years old. It also hopes to provide 15 scholarships, compared to the 10 it offered last year.

And a decade down the road, that could mean 15 more instructors.

"When you're entrusted with something as precious as an actual boat by this club, you take it to heart," Monroe said.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

If You Go

What: Wine Knot 2011

Where: Huntington Harbour Yacht Club, 3821 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $50

Information: (562) 592-2186

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