Day 1 – CMAC Boating Skills & Ecology Program

Day 1, Chicago Maritime Arts Center Boating Skills and Ecology Program

The first day of the Chicago Maritime Arts Center Boating Skills and Ecology class got underway on a beautiful morning at the South Shore Yacht Club on the inner lagoon at Jackson Park in Chicago. Amidst the changes brought on by Covid-19, we introduced ourselves to the students and coaches with a thermometer and mask instead of the customary handshake.

With the students scattered at a density of two per picnic table, we begin with lengths of rope and a sample board of various knots worth learning to tie. Starting with the simple figure-eight knot, the would-be young mariners learn the difference between an overhand knot and a figure-eight knot. Do you know the difference? I’ve come to label their knots as “figure-four’s” (an overhand knot), “you’ve got it” (the real figure-eight knot), or a “figure-twelve” (three wraps). Frustration ultimately gives way to laughter and the feeling of accomplishment.


BTW, here’s a link to a great site that shows animations of different knots …

We move on from the figure-eight to a square knot (like tying your shoes) and then to the feared Bowline Knot, the most useful knot in the world. This knot frustrates the most patient mariner until one moment, they “get” it. Knowing just when to lend an experienced hand to guide smaller hands can be challenging. Though many odd-looking variations will blossom from their efforts, over the next five days, the young mariners will become proficient at tying the bowline. Almost as proficient as asking the question…”Can we get in the boats now?”

With the anticipation of getting into the boats heating up, our next section was boating and dock safety. On a docks tour, we teach the students why swimming in and around the docks is dangerous — not only from the risk of electrocution from bad wiring but from the many obstacles in the area. We show the mariners the many ways to help someone in the water without endangering yourself and how to get out of the water if you were to fall in. We ask the students to be observant and identify ladders, swim platforms, and life rings as they walk onto a dock. Part of being a prepared mariner is knowing where swim ladders are, which boats have swim platforms that can help a struggling swimmer, or where life rings or even water hoses are that you might throw to help a swimmer back to safety.

After a lunch of deli sandwiches and the endless checking of cell phones, the much-anticipated chance to get in and explore the boats has come.


Painstakingly, we emphasize how to get into a boat properly. Centering your weight and balance as you gently crouch, spin around, and sit down. As instructors, we’re aware none of our words mean much until one of the students flips into the water. But, this is how kids learn — learning best by doing.

Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 7.52.12 PMHere is a VIDEO of one of young mariners, Nathan, teaching Coach Travis how to tie a Bowline.

One by one, the kids board the small rowing boats, and we set them free from the dock, into what soon resembles nothing so much as a bumper car carnival ride, The new mariners’ departure from the dock swiftly segues into a spider dance on the water… oar’s flailing, boats spinning and nobody making much headway. Fortunately, the South Shore Yacht Club’s docking area is small, and the wind helps to keep our small Bevin Skiffs in the “corral.” But, by the end of the afternoon, the wails of frustration and “I can’t do this” slowly turn to giggles of accomplishment as the young mariners begin to coordinate the swing of their arms with the boat’s motion.


The day ends in a pile of tossed life jackets, quick fist bumps and exaggerated leg and arm movements as the new mariners walk down the dock.

Should you be so inclined  you can help us find a land base, sponsor a student or help cover our operating costs right HERE..

Until next time, stay well… and enjoy the summer while it’s still here.

– Dave


Have You Got a Minute?

Considering the strange circumstances of these past months instigating paradigm shifts in our lives, I hope all of you are doing well. Remarkably, I’ve not been on the water this summer other than to make repairs to a boat at the dock. Probably a first in fifty years. But that ok. It’s safe to say, I’ve had my fair share and plenty more of sailing.

Of the disruptions to our normal lives, the one that concerns me the most is young people and their opportunities to learn during this COVID era. As we ramped up the Atlantic Cup Kids Education Program earlier this year, COVID stepped in and knocked us back off our feet. While we bolstered our online learning presence, and I did virtual classroom visits, it became evident that educating kids would take more ingenuity from all of us. Through our efforts, we still interacted with over 2000 students on our educational portal and in our virtual classroom visits.

So, have you got a minute? I hope your answer is yes, and I hope too that you’ll be up for sharing some of your expertise with a kid.


I know that may sound daunting. I know you aren’t a teacher, but neither am I. Maybe, you don’t even know many kids, I’m single, and don’t have any children. I get that. But our  distance from young people, doesn’t help them much, nor does it challenge us to step up and lead. One of the lessons I’ve learned from COVID is that we all have a responsibility to our community. In that sense, the mysterious “they” is actually us.

logoThis week, I helped to lead a course on Ecology and Boating Skills for The Chicago Maritime Arts Center. CMAC works with young people from all diversities, inspiring them by building a small boat, learning to row it, gaining confidence, and developing an appreciation for learning and being within our natural world. Many of the students we work with know the Chicago River and Lake Michigan exist, but access for them is not easy.

So, what do we do at CMAC? Our mainstay course teaches students to build a small, ten-foot Bevin boat with their hands and minds. When the building is complete, they paint the boat, name it, launch it in the harbor and learn to row on the water. COVID is not making this easy, but we’ve pivoted, and this week, I’m one of three instructors leading our Boating Skills and Ecology course for fourteen students at the South Shore and Jackson Park Yacht Clubs. We use COVID Protocols to keep the kids outdoors and at a safe distance with masks where they will learn about boats, ropes and knots, water quality, the environment of the River and Lake Michigan and, learn to row one of the previously built boats.


It’s going to be a great time, and as you all know, I get personal joy and a real sense of fulfillment from working with young students. I can’t explain how inspired I feel when I see a reluctant student gain the confidence to proudly row across the harbor, venture out, and wondering what other opportunities they can grab from life.

I’m going to put out more blog posts as we go along, so you can live vicariously in this fun-filled, hands-on learning world. Of course, if you’d like to help us out, you’re welcome to contact us at CMAC

Otherwise, you’re on your own… to do what feels inspiring to you, by way of mentoring kids. With our schools stifled in providing ordinary education, much less experiential learning, it’s our chance to step in and help out.

CMC_LeadSo, if you’ve got that spare minute, spend it with a young person. Invite them to learn about your car, your garden, your tools, your kitchen, or give them a copy of your favorite book and help shape their lives. We all have to gravitate from infusion learning, where we put students in a room and infuse them with information to desired learning, where we create, stimulate, and fulfill a person’s desire to learn—teaching them the lifelong skills of learning to learn. Even if you don’t think you are showing that young person anything, know they are listening to your words, how you speak, how you react, how you solve problems, and how to act responsibly.

Take that minute, and spend it generously!

Many thanks!

– Dave

P.S. BTW, if you happen to be looking for some great summer reading, I would be remiss if I did not recommend Spirit of a Dream