MICHIGAN CITY — Put on a life jacket and hop into the dinghy, boys and girls, it's time to set sail!

Children in the Sailing School at the Michigan City Yacht Club are in their first week of learning to sail on the waters of Lake Michigan. The first session of the summer is all children learning to sail as beginners.

Lynn Duttlinger, treasurer for the South Shore Nautical Education Foundation Board, said the school is popular with kids, and many return year after year. The school separated from the yacht club in 2017 and formed the SSNEF, a nonprofit. The MCYC Sailing School offers sailing instruction for children 8 and older, regardless of previous sailing experience.

Most of their operations are run by volunteers, but the sailing instructors are paid through the cost of the classes. There are five full-time instructors and also counselors-in-training.

"We have amazing instructors," Duttlinger said. "They have been a cohesive, wonderful group this year. ... I can't say enough of these kids; they've really stepped up to the plate."

The programs are designed to teach the skills needed to sail in a fun environment. Classes are tailored to the age and abilities of the participants. Younger sailors are encouraged to become comfortable on the water and under sail. Intermediate and advanced sailors learn the finer points of boat handling and rules of sailing. The school also teaches adult sailing classes on Thursdays. 

Emma Thompson, head instructor, and Claire D'Amato participated in the sailing school when they were they were 9 years old. Heading off to college this fall, both have returned to the school as instructors. Thompson, from Illinois, has been an instructor for three years.

"I like sailing because it's a different sport than everything else," Thompson said. "I think it takes a lot of skill, mentally and physically. It's a great opportunity for the kids, especially at such young ages ... to come on such a beautiful lake and learn the tricks of the trade."

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D'Amato has been an instructor for two years. She is from New York and said learning to sail takes a lot of patience.

"We have a lot of classroom instruction," D'Amato said. "But a lot of it is just getting into the boat and figuring it out."

Other instructors are Alex Dzagus, of Chesterton, Liam Soule from Illinois and Connor Schultz from Utah.

Students learn to sail starting on a boat called an "opti," which is a single-handed sailing dinghy. They then move up to the Capri 14.2, a boat with good stability and easy handling. But before any of that happens, students learn about safety: wearing a life jacket, what to do if the boat capsizes, ducking their head under the boom, etc.

"It's more just getting them out there and getting experience on the water," Duttlinger said.

The yacht club was established in 1933 by local residents drawn together by a love of boating. Since the school's change to nonprofit status, Duttlinger said they are searching for sponsors and benefactors to help with "equipment that needs work" and other issues.

"We don't want to be just Michigan City-based, we want to serve the whole community," Duttlinger said.

For more information on classes, visit mcycsailingschool.com or call 219-561-0141.

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Porter County General Assignment Reporter

Emily covers Porter County news and features for The Times. A transplant from NW Ohio to NWI, Emily loves talking to people and hearing their stories. She graduated from the University of Toledo in 2018 and believes all dogs are good dogs.