The Gig Harbor Yacht Club junior sailing race team recently wrapped up its first season of competition. The team, which is mostly comprised of Gig Harbor High School students, is the brainchild of Rhonda Ashpole and Joan Storkman.
“It started loosely with myself, and a couple other parents took kids to regattas in 2013,” Ashpole said.
Ashpole and Storkman hosted an informational meeting in late winter to gauge interest within the community.
“Joan and I were thinking, no one is going to come; it’ll just be my two kids,” Ashpole said. “We’re thinking, ‘Oh, gosh.’”
Fortunately, their fears were unfounded. About 15 kids attended the informational meeting, and about 12 committed to the team this season. Like any other high school spring sport, sailing season runs from March to early May. The team participates in regattas in places like Bainbridge Island, Anacortes and Silverdale. The team practiced twice a week for about three hours at a time, launching their boats out of West Shore Marina.
The team is run through the Gig Harbor Yacht Club junior sailing program. The yacht club owns all the boats, but it doesn’t need them until summer, so the high school team gets to use them in the spring. The team uses Flying Junior boats, or “FJs,” one of two boat types typically used in high school competitive sailing.
Along with Storkman, Dennis Clark serves as coach. Both bring decades of sailing expertise to the table.
“Those two have been awesome,” Ashpole said of the coaches. “They’re seasoned sailors, more mature sailors who’ve been sailing locally for 30, 40 years. To have that kind of experience out there, just that enthusiasm and knowledge, is valuable.”
A third partner in the coaching circle is Gig Harbor High School 2013 graduate Hanne Weaver. Weaver, a competitive sailor, is taking a year off school and dedicating her time to train for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. She is an important role model for the high school students.
“I really enjoyed that, just helping the kids,” Weaver said.
Weaver said for the club to grow, they need to continue to find ways to make sailing fun and exciting for the kids.
“Just getting more people out on the water. That’s the only way it’ll grow, making it seem more fun than just something they have to do,” Weaver said. “Kids want to do it when it’s more fun.”
For Weaver, nothing compares to being on the water.
“The world just stops, and it’s a relaxation,” Weaver said. “Nothing really matters when you’re on the water.”
The club joins the Gig Harbor Kayak and Canoe Team in the local waters. Both make sense for the Gig Harbor area, but before the club started, sailors had to drive up to places like Seattle to practice.
“We thought, this is crazy; we live in Gig Harbor,” Ashpole said. “We should be able to do some racing from our town and not have to drive far away. We have the water and lots of sailors that live here.”
One of Ashpole’s daughters, 15-year-old Kara, said she enjoys the bonds she has with other kids on the team.
“I think it’s fun being able to connect with other people and learn from other people’s experiences, and just be able to get out on the water and have fun,” she said.