Taking the helm: Students learn sailing, leadership

On a clear March day at Lake Murray, University of South Carolina students are learning the basics of sailing a 22-foot keelboat. Call it the Best. Classroom. Ever.

“It’s probably the most interesting, intriguing thing I’ve done while at USC,” says Jessica Parler, a 22-year-old biology senior from Orangeburg, S.C. “I hope to buy a sailboat one day and keep sailing. Right now, I hope to bring my family out because I know they are excited that I will be certified.”

At the end of Brian Adams’ Basic Keelboat Sailing, a course taught through Adams’ branch of the Lanier Sailing Academy on Lake Murray, students are able to safely skipper or crew a 25-foot boat on sheltered water (lakes and bays) in moderate weather. They receive certification from the American Sailing Association, which accredits sailing courses.

And the class is anything but a day at the beach. The combination of classroom instruction and three full days on the water doesn’t just prepare students for sailing a boat. It also teaches them about leadership and making good decisions.

“The captain is responsible for the welfare of the crew and the boat,” says Adams, a newly minted U.S. citizen who comes to Columbia from England, via the Caribbean and Atlanta. “When you are the captain, you have to make the decisions.”

Students learn to safely take a boat out and bring it back in, as well as how to properly rescue a sailor who falls overboard. However, Adams says his favorite aspect of the course is how students who don’t know each other and come from vastly different backgrounds, with different majors, bond during the eight-hour days on the water. “By the end of it, they’re a little team, and I’m not needed anymore,” he says.

Case in point: Duggan MacDonald. An analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities in New York City, the 2010 finance graduate took Adams’ class his senior year and is now a member at the Manhattan Sailing Club. Every spring, he sails with the Deutsche Bank team in competitions against other bankers.

“Basic Keelboat Sailing was one of the most rewarding classes I took in my time at USC,” MacDonald says. “By the end of our eight weeks, even the most timid novice was able to walk away with the skills needed to confidently take the helm of a 22-foot keelboat. Brian has made myself and the three others on my boat lifelong sailors, and for that, we are grateful.”

(This story originally appeared in the April issue of USC Times.)

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