Issue: September 2003
Pass it On

"Daddeee!" Kaeo was impatient and his voice was taking on that whiny nails-on-a-chalkboard quality. This time, though, it just made me smile. "When are we going?" he asked. "Look, the party's already started!"

The hook was barely down and it was hotter than a steam pot at a crab feast, but with the fine breeze blowing across the West River, a nice patch of shade beneath the awning and a swim in the offing, we'd cool off soon enough. The prospect of dinghying into the sweltering shore, actually, wasn't too appealing. But Kaeo was not to be denied. "Do you think there will be cotton candy again? Will Kyle be there? Do you think they'll have the clown?"

He was referring to the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake's "Big Kids Little Kids" party, held every July 4th weekend, most recently on the West River. Johnny attended his first one on his parents' boat 35-odd years ago. Kaeo's inaugural (when he met his friend and fellow sailor Kyle) was last year.

Industry muckety-mucks fret about how to "grow boating" and get more young people into the sport. Maybe they ought to look at groups like the Sailing Club of the Chesapeake for inspiration. Begun shortly after World War II by people who cared more about sailing than swanky yacht clubs and the mortgage payments they call dues, the Sailing Club remains true to its roots. For one thing, you have to sail. Golfing? Tennis? Fine diversions, but not worthy of membership. (Powerboating, I should note, is acceptable, as long as it's a secondary devotion.) Members participate in cruises and rendezvous all season, many of which require long-distance sailing and a healthy dose of racing thrown in for competitive spice. There's no clubhouse, so events like the Ice Cream Social and Big Kids Little Kids Party are held at members' homes on the water, so people can come by boat or car (there were probably three dozen boats anchored out for the Big Kids party this year).

What I like most about the SCC, though, is how it brings children into the fold. It does this by making it fun to sail places, with a reward of great parties-the kind that my husband still remembers and that my son will remember 30 years from now. Over time, the clowns and the cotton candy, the egg toss and sack racing competitions become peripheral to the main thing-boats and sailing. That's why members of my generation-many of whose parents helped start the club-are happy, and maybe even honored, to become part of it and pass it on.

Our swim over, we turned to the next problem-how to get to the party. The day before we had pulled our little red inflatable from its bag and learned that a mouse had made a meal of it over the winter. So we called the house, begging a ride, and a short while later a Zodiac pulled up to our transom. Its owner was another SCC member who, as it happened, keeps his boat in the same creek we do. On the way in, we talked about boats and laughed about dinghy-eating rodents, and when the Zodiac hit the beach, Kaeo was off. There were hot dogs to eat, cotton candy to be found, clowns to chase. Memories to make.