By Airwaves Writer Sarah Hendrickson
Sailing for Success
The interviewer across the table told me he had one more question before we wrapped up. “I’ve been dying to ask this whole time – can you tell me more about your sailing experience? You have your Coast Guard Captain’s License??”
I smiled and began answering the question that I have been asked in one form or another in scores of interviews and conversations since graduating from UVA in 2016. I started out sailing in an Optimist Dinghy when I was 12 years old and I could not have imagined then the opportunities that my hobby would afford me later down the road. Looking back It is easy to think about my experiences in terms of my involvement with the racing community – but more importantly, I realize that while racing played a significant role in my story, my instructing experiences over the summers are what truly molded me and created significant opportunities for me in college and beyond into my young professional life.
I now sit behind a desk at my 9 – 5 job and reflect. While my peers flipped burgers or waited tables during their summers at home I was outside teaching sailing. I have now taught up and down the east coast – everywhere from the eastern shore of Maryland on the Chesapeake all the way to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. I would like to impart some of the knowledge I absorbed along the way in the hopes of encouraging young sailors to embrace their love of the sport and to maximize the amazing doors it can open up in your life. If you let it, the travel opportunities are endless, the connections you make will last you many years into the future, and you will walk away with invaluable life experiences that many never get the chance to have.
Start out Small
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is experience. My first job instructing sailing was at a small yacht club in Seaford, VA. The program was completely new and very small. I stayed with Seaford for three summers and I grew my reputation within that community of sailors while adding to my experience. It was not glamorous – we would haul Johnson 15s on a wheelbarrow in a shed every morning to an inflatable dinghy and blow up the dinghy from scratch. I hated inflating that dinghy. It felt exhausting and redundant at the time but it taught me the hard work ethic required to run a successful program that would aid me in the years to come. I also received mentorship from the senior instructor there where he spent a significant amount of time and energy on emphasizing the importance of preparation and detailed attention to his craft.
Get Your US Sailing Level 1 Certification – if you can.
Obtaining my US Sailing Level 1 Certification was instrumental in my instructing experience. In any industry in life, credibility is key and oftentimes that credibility does come in the form of a sheet of paper. While you do not 100% have to have certification like this everywhere I have found that the money and the time investment has been more than worth it. It does set you apart from other people and it also opens up other opportunities that may not be in your geographical area (Summer in Maine, anyone?) That Certification will also ensure any prospective Yacht Clubs or Employers that you are willing to put in the time and the effort no matter how fleshed out your sailing resume may be.
Find your Niche
The beauty of the sailing world is that there are countless ways to become involved in the sport. I grew up primarily racing C420s with some Laser Radial racing thrown in on occasion. When it came to instructing, although I had a love for racing and an extensive knowledge, I found that my natural disposition lended very well to teaching beginners with some intermittent private coaching built in as the years went on. For others in my age group, this meant instructing the C420 classes and bringing the youth to regattas up and down the east coast. You may not begin in your niche but make sure you decide what it is that you enjoy the most about the sport – this leveraging of your strengths will make you successful in an already very niched industry/sport.
Leverage Your Network
This advice may seem old but I joined UVA’s Club Sailing Team in 2012 and I received a newsletter on a listserv for a few years. One year there was an advertised position for a instructing opportunity for a Private Charter Company in NYC. On a whim, I applied. If you are currently in school I would highly recommend getting involved in any kind of sailing communities – whether with your school or even outside your school. Listservs will oftentimes contain information that may not feel relevant to you at the time – but occasionally there will be job opportunities. Use this to your advantage and skim to the job opportunity section.
Go Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Sailing is a sport that has brought me outside of my comfort zone time and time again. There is nothing quite like a 40 knot gust of wind (really) on a 40 degree day in a C420 to push that zone to the limit. Ironically, what is even harder is to admit that sometimes taking the opportunities is not always the easiest thing – moving to New York City for a summer between my junior and senior year of college – it was a place where I did not know anyone. It was a huge and unfamiliar city. It was also one of the busiest waterways in the world that I was not familiar with. It was one of the more difficult decisions I had to make. But it was one of the most worthwhile experiences I have undertook not just for the sailing experience – but more importantly for the life experiences I gained as a result from navigating that discomfort. If it feels uncomfortable, chances are, you are probably doing something right.
Flashing back to the scene, I sit across from my interviewer – they are dressed head to toe in a black suit – and I can’t help but smile because all of the experiences flash through my brain like a quick reel movie highlight scene. “That’s a long story” I say “But to answer your question it all started when I was 12 years old and I stepped onto a tiny little boat….”
If you have any questions about sailing instructing please feel free to reach out to me.