Brendan West, 17, left, and Jack Adams, 15, guide one sailboat while Wesley Torgerson, 16, helps guide another to the dock during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Therese Pokorney / Juneau Empire)

Brendan West, 17, left, and Jack Adams, 15, guide one sailboat while Wesley Torgerson, 16, helps guide another to the dock during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Therese Pokorney / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Youth Sailing makes waves, inspires young mariners

Participants navigate the waters of growth, confidence and adventure on Gastineau Channel.

For Angus Andrews, 14, sailing is a hobby that runs in his blood — his passion echoes the memories of his parents, who once called a sailboat their home.

As a fourth-year participant in Juneau Youth Sailing (JYS), Andrews serves as a junior instructor in the program, which spans eight weeks each summer and is the only youth sailing school in Alaska.

“My parents offered me the classes when I was 10,” he said. “Sailing is like my favorite thing.”

Jack Adams, 15, Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Sigrid Eller, 13, sail within view of downtown Juneau and the surrounding mountains during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

Jack Adams, 15, Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Sigrid Eller, 13, sail within view of downtown Juneau and the surrounding mountains during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

Andrews is not alone in his admiration for the sea, inspired by his parents. Adrian Whitney, a 19-year-old lead instructor, followed in his father’s sailing footsteps and attended JYS classes every summer from age 12 to 16. Whitney is currently on the sailing team at Amherst College, but returns to JYS each summer to witness the growth and transformation of the young sailors.

“My favorite part is seeing the students come back from previous summers and knowing I’m teaching the next instructor,” he said.

JYS is a prominent force in youth maritime education, igniting a passion for sailing and equipping young mariners with essential life skills.The volunteer-driven, nonprofit program has been instilling a sense of adventure on the water since 1997.

Under the guidance of JYS alumni instructors, students ages 12 to 17 receive hands-on experience during classes that take place at the Juneau Yacht Club. The school provides a fleet of dinghies that are just under 14 feet long — about the size of a Subaru Forester — empowering the young sailors with newfound responsibility.

Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Jack Adams, 15, try right their boat during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Jack Adams, 15, try right their boat during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

For many students these boats represent their first taste of sailing and their initial opportunity to take command of a vessel — a transformative experience that fosters self-confidence and a connection with the maritime world. The program instills not only the art of sailing, but also the importance of safety measures.

“Skills learned on a JYS dinghy could help save students’ lives someday or help them save someone else’s life,” said Carl Brodersen, a former JYS student, instructor and current board president. “And if nothing else, we model excellent life jacket use, which is half the boating safety battle anyway.”

Sailors progress through three levels of courses. Level 1, designed for beginners, focuses on building foundational skills and teaching vital safety techniques. As students advance to Levels 2 and 3, they delve deeper into sailing techniques, seamanship and navigation, gaining the knowledge necessary to handle more complex sailing challenges.

Each four-day course begins with land-based games, fostering camaraderie and team building. Lessons are presented on whiteboards, introducing new concepts, and then the sailors suit up in drysuits to brave the Gastineau Channel for the second part of the day.

From left to right, Kaia Mangaccat, 13, Lua Mangaccat, 15, Sigrid Eller, 13, and Adrian Whitney, 19, pull a boat out of the water after a sailing lesson in Gastineau Channel this week. (Therese Pokorney / Juneau Empire)

From left to right, Kaia Mangaccat, 13, Lua Mangaccat, 15, Sigrid Eller, 13, and Adrian Whitney, 19, pull a boat out of the water after a sailing lesson in Gastineau Channel this week. (Therese Pokorney / Juneau Empire)

Capsize drills, where students learn to overturn and right their boats, become exhilarating challenges and valuable learning experiences, even turning into a game. Brodersen said capsize races help students overcome their apprehension about falling into the water and teach them to think quickly.

“Sailing as a sport is a mix between soccer and ballroom dancing,” he said. “It requires athleticism, excellent situational awareness, quick thinking and effective communication, or your boat won’t go where you want it to and might flip over in the process.”

Beyond the practical skills gained, JYS has a lasting impact on its participants. Brodersen said former students often find themselves drawn back to the water, whether through collegiate sailing teams, careers in maritime fields such as naval architecture, or even competing in the Junior Olympics.

Angus Andrews, 14, jumps into the water during a Juneau Youth Sailing course with Kaia Mangaccat, 13, Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Sigrid Eller, 13, this week near the Juneau Yacht Club. (Therese Pokorney / Juneau Empire)

Angus Andrews, 14, jumps into the water during a Juneau Youth Sailing course with Kaia Mangaccat, 13, Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Sigrid Eller, 13, this week near the Juneau Yacht Club. (Therese Pokorney / Juneau Empire)

At JYS, students not only become proficient in sailing, but also acquire tools to tackle any challenge with self-assurance, resilience and respect for the water. As a program alumnus, Brodersen personally attests to the transformative power of sailing — he said it serves as a valuable teacher and reminder that actions, or lack thereof, have consequences.

“The wind and currents don’t care what we intended to do, only what we actually do, and contending with forces like that — that we can’t control, only respond to — provides no end of valuable life lessons,” he said.

• Contact Therese Pokorney at therese.pokorney@juneauempire.com.

Lauren Stichert, 16, and Angus Andrews, 14, climb aboard a capsized sailboat during a sailing lesson this week in Gastineau Channel. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

Lauren Stichert, 16, and Angus Andrews, 14, climb aboard a capsized sailboat during a sailing lesson this week in Gastineau Channel. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

Jack Adams, 15, Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Sigrid Eller, 13, enjoy calm waters in Gastineau Channel during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

Jack Adams, 15, Lua Mangaccat, 15, and Sigrid Eller, 13, enjoy calm waters in Gastineau Channel during a Juneau Youth Sailing course this week. (Photo by Adrian Whitney)

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Ryan Anderson (left) answers questions from state senators during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
State officials working to meet Friday deadline for revised transportation plan

The federal government rejected the plan on Feb. 9, citing numerous deficiencies.

(Getty Images)
Alaska Republicans head to the polls Tuesday with Trump, Haley and Ramaswamy on the ballot

On Super Tuesday, March 5, Alaska Republicans will join their counterparts in… Continue reading

Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, speaks March 20, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Proposal to define a fetus as a person in Alaska’s criminal code faces pushback

Opponents testified that the bill would threaten Alaskans’ abortion rights

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House approves bigger merit scholarship for in-state high school students

The Alaska House of Representatives voted on Monday without opposition to raise… Continue reading

A mountain biker takes advantage of a trail at Eaglecrest Ski Area during the summer of 2022. The city-owned resort is planning to vastly expand its summer activities with a new gondola and the facilities by 2026. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)
Eaglecrest’s big summertime plans, including the gondola, get OK from planning commission

Ski area also planning new summit lodge, snowtubing park, bike trails and picnic pavilion by 2026.

Spruce Root was invited by the U.S. Forest Service to help roll out the Tongass National Forest Plan Revision process. (Photo by Bethany Goodrich)
Resilient Peoples and Place: Stronger Together in 2024 — A letter from the Sustainable Southeast Partnership

Founded in 2012, the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) is an Indigenous values-led… Continue reading

Students, parents and teachers rally outside Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé prior to a school board meeting Tuesday, seeking a change in the board’s decision to consolidate Juneau’s two high schools beginning with the next school year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Layoffs and larger classes planned along with consolidation at local schools, but BSA increase would help

District leaders not counting on funds approved by Legislature, due to veto threat by governor.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, Feb. 26, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read