The Green Horn Kids head to the starting line. (l-r): Stuart Fletcher, Tommy Caulfield, Colin Hexter, Ryan Hexter, Leo Buchanan, Tom Caulfield.
Tom Caulfield started the Green Horn Kids program as a way to introduce his son to big-boat racing. Last month, with a crew of six boys, ages 8-10 years old, Christina with a Sea II pulled into the Mackinac Island marina forty-six hours and twenty-eight minutes after leaving Port Huron, Michigan, as part of the 2014 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race. Together with his son’s friends and their dads, and thanks to the generosity of boat owner Ari Buchanan, not only did the Green Horn Kids finish the race, they also inspired others to introduce young sailors to big-boat racing.
“It was fantastic,” said Tom. “They did more than sixty percent of the actual sailing, and they saw everything – thirty knot breeze, torrential rain, eight-foot waves, no wind. All the kids were fully engaged.”
Tom and the other dads spent the winter and spring teaching and training with their sons for the overnight race, including spending time at the Quantum Detroit loft working with Wally Cross and Gary Jacoby. The practice paid off, as Tom said the young crew was fully prepared for the event. “They were incredible. They knew what to do, they were all up-to-speed on safety. The safety inspector came on board before the race, and he was shocked that every one of the kids knew where all the safety gear was and how it worked.”
Danny Gerhardstein elected to take the helm so his teammates could eat lunch.
It wasn’t simply their knowledge of the boat that helped them through two-days on the water, though. “Their team work was better than I expected,” said Tom. “We set up a watch – four hours on, four hours off. A couple of hours into the race the kids caught on to the concept. They really worked together to get it down. They kept track of everything, made sure the safety equipment was set, even helped get food for each other. Having six kids spend forty-six hours fully engaged and helping each other displayed a great amount of team work. I was really pleased with them.”
For the boys, it was nothing short of an adventure. Ten year old Leo Buchanan has been sailing Optis for five years, but enjoyed his first big-boat race. “They said it would be a light-wind race, but we got wind speeds of thirty knots. That surprised me,” he said. It made for some enjoyable sailing though. “My favorite part was traveling up Presque Isle. It was very wavy, but it was fun.”
Stuart Fletcher, now eleven, said the ever-changing weather taught them a lot about sailing. “Sailing at night was a lot harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “The weather changes a lot during the evening, so you have to deal with that.” For him, those changes added to the excitement. “It’s an adventure. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Tommy Caulfield, Tom’s eight year-old son, said he would encourage any kid interested in sailing to try it. “It’s a great experience on the water,” he said. “We are the first group of kids to do the Mackinac race, and we want people to know how much fun it was. It was a lot of work, but it was fun.”
Approaching 9 knots, though the race reached 30 knots at times. All of the boys agreed: their favorite part was going fast!
Though the boys took control of the boat and made most of the decisions, their dads were on board with them, sharing watches and helping as needed. They also shared in the experience as their kids guided the boat toward a waiting crowd on Mackinac Island.
“I’ve done 15-16 races, and as we crossed the finish line, this is the first race when I’ve heard people cheering and yelling on shore,” said Tom. “As we approached, there were 50-60 people on the dock welcoming us, including the race chairman. It really gave the boys a boost and helped them see that they’d accomplished something incredibly big.”
With the Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race behind them, the Green Horn Kids are looking ahead to next year, but Tom says the positive response has been so big that he’s not exactly sure what’s next. “We’ve been approached by people that have a definite interest, but we’re not sure how the Green Horn Kids will morph in the immediate future. Our biggest goal is to build, and we’re planning to do a lot, we just don’t know yet how it will look.”
One thing’s for sure, though. Tom achieved his original goal of inspiring a new generation of big-boat sailors that have fallen in love with the water. “During the race, Stuart’s father told me that his son asked how much longer to the finish. His dad thought Stuart was getting bored or looking forward to the end. He told Stuart we had forty miles, or about eight hours left.” His son’s response: can’t we just keep sailing?
To learn more about the Green Horn Kids program, click here.
To see results of the 2014 Bell's Beer Bayview Mackinac Race, click here.