Rocking the Boat sets sail on Bronx River

Joshua Makower-Brown

Emily Martinez attempts a knot, while other students observe, as part of Rocking the Boat’s new Sailing Program.

Boatbuilding nonprofit adds sailing program to its offerings

This was not your ordinary game of Jeopardy. The categories ranged from “Points of Sail” to “Sail Theory.” The eight participants argued over the correct way to tie the strongest knot possible. Their Alex Trebek was actually John Petrillo, a maritime instructor for the past 12 years.

The game was all part of Rocking the Boat’s new Sailing Program, the latest addition to the organization’s large repertoire of youth educational activities. Started in March, the program aims to formally educate high school students and young adults in sailing so they, in turn, can become well-versed enough to independently teach middle-schoolers how to sail the Bronx River, and perhaps move on to teach as a career.

It is the first time in eight years that Rocking the Boat has introduced a new program.

“We wanted to expand,” said Petrillo, the organization’s on-water program director, who already runs job skills programs in boatbuilding and environmental studies. “There was already demand for a program dedicated just to sailing.”

Once this group of teens and young adults is trained, the program will recruit middle-schoolers to attend a two-week summer camp session that exposes them to sailing for the first time. Those middle-schoolers will later have the opportunity to register for the Youth Development Program as freshmen or sophomores in high school, learning more about sailing or boat-building. Students who show dedication can then move up as apprentices in the Job Skills Program in their junior and senior years in high school, learning advanced sailing skills and getting their first opportunity to teach sailing during the summer camp.

The group of eight working in the sailing program now are concurrently in the Job Skills program, and wanted to add sailing as an extra skill.

If those students decide to go to college in the city, they may be eligible to work part-time for Rocking the Boat as sailing program assistants, doing more sailing and assisting the Youth Development Program.

The reward for all of this dedication and hard work? They’ll become certified U.S. Sailing Level I small boat instructors, with the ability to teach sailing and enter the sailing industry anywhere in the world.

Talia Steer, an 18-year-old member of the program, has aspirations for teaching and sailing around the world after she completes the program.

“Anytime people ask me where I work, I have a story,” Steer said, smiling as she thought about the program. “I love this place. It’s like life.”

Steer was introduced to Rocking the Boat when she was younger by her siblings who had attended programs there. Throughout her tenure, she appreciated how she was always able to meet people who became “like family.”

This goes hand in hand with the philosophy of Rocking the Boat, which has social workers on staff to help the kids get through high school, and pushes them to apply to college and break the local trend in Hunts Point, where only 6.5 percent of adults have earned a bachelor’s degree.

Kinney Glass, a 22-year-old program assistant, remembers his childhood in rural Georgia where he used to row boats for fun. Despite moving to New York – oddly landlocked for a waterfront town — he had a chance to continue his hobby with Rocking the Boat. He discovered the non-profit group when a group of program directors visited his high school and has been attending since he was 15.

“I’d like to continue to work in this kind of environment,” Glass said, “teaching about the environment and sailing.” 


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