For a New Sailor, the First Time Was a Breeze

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For a New Sailor, the First Time Was a Breeze

Jeong Jae-yeong scuffs his sneakers on the pavement and says, "I want to be a sports star."

It is another sunny day by the Han River and Jae-yeong, 14, is attending the Seoul Yacht Association's training camp in Yanghwa with six other hopeful middle-school students. This is Jae-yeong's first lesson. The others, all students at Banpo middle school, have been coming here since May as members of the Sea Explorers of Korea. The club is similar to the Boys Scouts, except that the focus is on water activities. Most of the students are preparing for a convention of the International Sea Cadet Association in Hong Kong in mid-August.

One coach, Kim Tae-gyeom, overhears Jae-yeoung and calls him over for the hard sell. "If you want to become the best yachtsman, you have to commit 100 percent. Boating has to become your life. You have to give up your weekends. You can forget about dating. You think you can do that?"

Jae-young's eyes are barely visible as he ducks his dyed head. "I want to be a sports star," he repeats. If yachting is his sport, he has found the right place.

It may not look like much, but a shack in Yanghwa-dong is the center of the yachting community in Seoul. Lee Byeong-mu, the physical education instructor at the middle school, brought his students here, because "This is where all the yacht professionals in Seoul train."

College yacht clubs also use the facilities for their weekly weekend meetings. The weekends are the busiest time of the week, especially in the late afternoon when the breeze picks up. About ninety boats dock here.

But the area is most crowded when the monsoons rage, causing the river to rise. Two weeks ago, four boats set sail in the afternoon shower, which turned into a storm by nightfall. By morning, the river swelled with brown silt and broken branches, starting to engulf the yachting association property. Frantic boat owners descended upon the dock in droves to haul their boats to higher ground. There was no sailing that day.

Seven years ago, Yanghwa was an unknown destination in the sailing community. Jamwon, on the eastern end of the river, was the the place to sail. One old-timer recalls taking lessons in Jamwon when as a student. "Sure, training was decent, but it was leisurely," he said.

As young students grew into professionals and created the Seoul Yacht Association, they split from the group at Jamwon to seek their own sailing destiny. They sailed their boats west and settled in Yanghwa to set up a serious training camp.

There are several other areas in Seoul to sail, but the powerhouse association and the open space they have staked out have made Yanghwa a popular destination.

The association runs a school from April to October, and male and female novices come in all sizes and ages, from middle school students to 60-year-olds. Four days of private adult lessons are 100,000 won (about $77); the price is 50,000 won for students. Since it takes a year to develop a solid foundation for sailing, the expenses mount up. The school does attract those looking for a glamorous leisure activity, but also rising in the ranks is the future generation of Seoul's yacht athletes.

In his quest for athletic greatness, Jae-yeong tried soccer at first, but he could not resist the talk among his peers about how cool it was to handle a yacht and all the opportunities to travel to foreign countries. Playing a sport is also a way for him to stay clear of "trouble," he adds. Mr. Kim nicknamed him "Seonsu," the athlete.

The students change into baggy shorts, T-shirts, the latest hip footwear - Nike surfing shoes, and life jackets. Lessons usually begin with explanations about safety, equipment, knots and a breakdown of maneuvers.

The students break up into three groups. Each group hauls out a 2.3-meter-long Optimist class boat and begins readying the gear. There is some kidding around, but there is also a sense of nervousness. Several students have never sailed before; three will get first dibs on sailing. Lee Dong-gi pushes the boat into the water and climbs aboard. The current takes him quickly as the coaches, Na Hannah, Kim Tae-gyeom and Kim Jeong-hu, yell, "Push in the centerboad! Watch your ropes, make sure they don't tangle!" Two others take off after him.

When the three get under sail, the others climb aboard a motorboat with the three coaches and also sail into the water. After 15 minutes of watching the young sailers, the students swap places. Dong-gi climbs aboard the motor boat and says, "Dude, it wasn't that easy."

Soon, Mr. Kim yells, "Seonsu, it's your turn." Jae-yeong and a coach climb aboard a boat together. Jae-yeong sits by the mast while the coach holds the tiller. For his first time sailing, he does not get much hands-on experience, but by the time he lands ashore, he is hooked. "This is so cool!" he says.

For more information, call 02-2636-8260.

by Joe Yong-hee

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