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Leadership Through Sailing

During the 2012 Winter Term (January 3-19), Dr. Ken Ayers is teaching a travel class in the Virgin Islands called Leadership Through Sailing. Five students are taking the class and are sending updates and photos for the KWC blog. This page is an aggregate of all their posts, starting at the top.

Day One:

Today we set sail from St. Thomas south by southwest. We went to buoy number two and turned east before mooring at Christmas cove about 4 p.m.

Once we anchored, we went snorkeling and saw lots of sting rays, beautiful fish, colorful coral reefs and deadly sea urchins. Our snorkel ended at a beach, where we found a dried-out conch shell.

Later, we had a delicious homemade dinner made by Chef Ayers. (Way better than the caf.) No leftovers of the chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and stuffing remained. After dinner we laid under the clear constellations of St. Thomas.

Tomorrow we set sail for the island of St. John, where we will hike and do sailing instruction. The weather is 82 degrees and we’re loving every minute of it.

Student Quotes from Day One:

“I can’t stop smiling, this place is unreal.” – Maggie Johansen

“This is one of the best adventures I’ve ever had.” – John Bell

“By far the best day of my life.” – Jayden Morrison

“Best time since the big bang.” – Tatum McMahon

“This is my element.” – Jordan Gary

Day Two:

Today we sailed east to the heart and soul of the Caribbean, St. John. We faced strong force five winds and arrived safely to our anchorage on the south side of the island.

We began our adventures with lunch and a snorkel — we got to swim with spotted sting rays that were jumping from the ocean. Next we went on a treacherous hike that almost took us prisoner. We went on the hike alone, as a team building exercise. After a few wrong turns (thankfully no cannibals) we reached our destination, which was the petroglyphs and some ruins. We hiked back like nobody’s business.

When we returned exhausted, we finished the evening with a snorkel, while our Master Chef Ayers prepared another top-notch meal, which consisted of steaks, baked potatoes, asparagus and grilled pineapples.

We just finished our lesson of the night on weather, and are now preparing for bed. As we sit here in the heart of the Caribbean eating ice cream, we are discussing our upcoming adventure. Tomorrow we sail.


Day Three:

Today we sailed.

The morning started with preliminary sailing instructions, before we hit the open waters. We started sailing with just the jib and headed towards the other side of the ocean, starting in the Caribbean sea and crossing into the mighty Atlantic. We reported to the captain after listening to the weather forecast that the wind speeds should not exceed 20-25 knots. He told us we wouldn’t sail anything over 25. None of us were prepared for what lay ahead.

When we reached the Atlantic, winds quickly exceeded the 25 knots; they averaged between 27 and 33 knots, peaking at a ferocious 38 knots. Thankfully, our Captain and Momma Sue were completely prepared for these forceful winds, but this was one of the craziest and most successful sails. Once we reached Mary’s Point, we all felt more at peace — we had survived the breath of God.

The captain told us that in the ocean are winds, waves, rocks and reefs that can all be hidden. But it builds character, the kind of character you find on battlefields, crossing oceans, climbing mountains and crossing desserts, the kind of character that our generation is lacking. Today we built character.

Once we arrived at our destination for the night, we hiked to Anneburg, the resting place of an old sugar mill. The crew became a family. After we dinghied back to the boat, some chose to snorkel while others fed fish shrimp tails. Tonight we ate a marvelous meal composed of cheese grits, shrimp and vegetables. Now we sit back with our iced teas, and look forward to what the sea has in store for us tomorrow.

Student Quotes

“Today’s sail reminded me of my Coast Guard days on the Bering Sea where it took everyone on deck to work as one to get through the horrendous conditions.” – John Bell

“The most fun I’ve probably ever had on the water.” – Tatum McMahon

“Today was one of the most amazing days of my life. I have always had a fear of water and this trip (especially today) made me feel so confident. I have never been happier and I have never felt more comfortable!” – Maggie Johansen

“There is so much more to sailing than meets the eye. Today I learned about one percent of what we need to learn to sail. I look forward to tomorrow and learning more about this wonderful pasttime.” – Jordan Gary

“There are no words to explain what I went through today. I could try and tell you, but it would do no justice. I’m used to the waves on a lake and let me tell you, the biggest wave I’ve seen doesn’t compare to what I saw today. Nevertheless it was amazing.” – Jayden Morrison

“Today I was amazed at how great the students did in their sailing instruction. They took the helm, learned to tack in heavy winds and they learned you can’t stop nature. Sometimes you have to trim your sails and face the wind. Tomorrow we set sail east to the British Virgin Islands.” – Captain Ayers



Day Four:

The KWC crew onboard the ship.

KWC alumni Rev. Tom Eblen ’68 (center back) and his daughter, Catherine Eblen Sherrard ’95 (center front), join Captain Ayers (far left) and the crew for a day of sailing in the Virgin Islands. Tom is a member of the KWC Board of Trustees. (Click the photo for a larger version.)

Old pals — Ken Ayers, left, and Tom Eblen.


Day Four

Today we checked into the British Virgin Islands — for some, it was their first time crossing customs. After we were cleared, we took the dinghy to Tortolla, where we shopped around, and bought some souvenirs. In Sopershole we got to sit on the docks where the pirates used to hang out years and years ago.

We then met one of our trustees, Tom Eblen, and his daughter Catherine Sherrard. It was a great experience for all of us to meet someone who has had such an impact on our lives. We took them back to the boat for some hotdogs and hamburgers, and got to talk to them more.

The KWC crew onboard the ship with guests Tom Eblen ’68                                                                  and his daughter, Catherine Sherrard ’95.

After lunch we sailed to Jost Van Dyke, the island famous for Foxy’s, a beach restaurant and bar. We went to the mainland and got to meet the actual owner of Foxy’s. The five of us then explored the shoreline and took even more family photos.

Tonight will be an early night for all of us. Tomorrow we sail east to the Virgin Islands and are looking forward to one of the best places to snorkel!

We probably won’t have any cell service for the next two days due to being in an international area (in which it cost an arm and a leg to use the Internet). More when we have a signal again.


Day Five:

Today we woke up moored at Jost Van Dyke Bay and to our surprise the water was nearly as smooth as glass, even though we were expecting bad weather. Captain Ayers informed us the skies were red when he woke; as the old sailors’ omen goes, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!” But today as we got underway under power (motor, no sail) this omen was incorrect. After clearing a few islands, we were told to be prepared to sail. Little did we know, there would be a small amount of wind, so onward we motored!

Once we moored at Monkey Point, we went snorkeling at one of the top ten places in the world to snorkel. We saw all sorts of different fish with vibrant colors, including rainbow fish and tropical parrot fish. After our snorkel, we had the best quesadillas known to mankind on our boat (which was conveniently stationed next to Eric Clapton’s yacht).

Eric Clapton’s yacht.

We finished our day off with a lesson about leadership and initiative. Everyone evaluated themselves on how we can improve our work ethics in the next few days to finish the trip off with 100 percent confidence in ourselves. We will have dinner tonight at a fancy restaurant on shore overlooking the sunset, and tonight we will be in bed early to rest up for our big day tomorrow; we will be heading back west in the early morning.

Student Quotes:

Tatum: My favorite thing to do is snorkel, and today I was flabbergasted by how many fish I was swimming with today. I almost caught one of those suckers!

Maggie: Although I was disappointed that we weren’t able to sail, it was a great day to bond with the others on the boat. It’s amazing how we all have changed since being here. This trip is something I’ll never forget.

Jayden: This week has changed my life and the way I look at it. It’s truly amazing here.

John: Today was a great day; I enjoyed it greatly due to the great bonding time that we encountered as we snorkeled at Monkey Point. I loved when Captain Ayers gave us our mid-term … We all got to express our feelings of self-confidence and leadership rankings of our individual selves. After the mid-term, I was impressed on how everyones confidence rose greatly as we dinghied to shore to check out the island where we were going to eat for the evening..

Jordan: When I woke up this morning I was prepared for a long day of sailing. Unfortunately we didn’t have a bit of wind. Instead we all bonded and took a midterm. This was a great experience. I love it down here.

Captain Ayers: Today the students learned that sometimes you have to change your plans and go with what nature gives you. No matter how badly we wanted to sail, it wasn’t to be. We have reached our turnaround point. The students have come a long way since Day One. Tomorrow we will sail with or without favorable winds. Anyone can sail when the wind blows, but it takes a sailor to sail with light winds — tomorrow they will learn to be sailors. Fair winds and following seas – from the Caribbean.



Day Six:

Clunk … Clunk … Clunk … As the generator abruptly comes to a screeching seizure of operation at o-dark-thirty (4:30 a.m.), Captain Ayers and the boys jumped into action to see why the boat had become exhaustingly hot and uncomfortable (the girls remained in bed…unbothered). Captain Ayers coached John to grab the flashlight to look over the stern of the boat to see if we were extracting water from the generator; as the Captain suspected, a propeller was broken inside the generator. The Captain told the crew to turn on our fans to stay cool, go back to bed and we would fix it in the morning.

After the generator problem was solved, we headed east to the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Under sail we traveled a total of 22 nautical miles. The Captain allowed each of the crew to take the helm (the driver’s seat). Once you take control of the helm, everybody’s life is in your hands! Your decisions at the helm must be quick and logical.

While we took turns at the helm, Captain taught us many lessons, from being able to read the wind to holding our heading. When the wind is at 90 degrees to your beam (directly at your side), that is the fastest point in sailing.

We learned a lesson in life today — if we had taken the easy heading at 090 degrees, we would have sailed back and forth and never made headway. This is much like many in life who go to and through, but never get anywhere. As they grow old they realize they are as they have always been and have never received from life what they were capable of achieving. We learned we must take a heading that, at the end of the day, will get us to our destination.

Once arriving at the Indians snorkel area, we swam with hundreds of fish around the protruding rocks. It was definitely one of the better snorkel adventures we have experienced. We swam to the three gigantic, dark and spooky caves. Adventures like these have transformed us into pros at self-timed photos with our waterproof digital camera. Thankfully none of us were attacked by the ravenous sea urchins and barracudas.

We celebrated our snorkel with a delicious dinner of salmon, cheese grits, cornbread and cole slaw, finished off with the best key lime pie we have ever tasted. Captain Ayers is definitely a top-notch chef. After dishes were cleaned up, we began our lesson on tying knots. We watched the captain’s demonstration and tried our hardest to do exactly what he had done.

Tonight we are at the far southern end of the British Virgin islands at Norman Island. Tomorrow we head back to the US. We will finish off the night with a little bit of a jam session, which includes blasting our music and dancing the night away. We will hit the hay with our eyes on the prize — another twenty miles!



Day Seven:

Day 7 started moored off Norman Island, where we had a nice southern breakfast of bacon, eggs and English muffins. We quickly set sail for open waters towards the straits between the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. To our left was the U.S. island of St. John, and to our right was the British Island of Tortola. Also, at one point we passed the most southeastern portion of the United States — Flanigans Island.

As we pushed through the straights, we all took turns operating the boat as the helmsman, maneuvering the boat within 1,000 yards of shore. About mid-morning we finished a complete circle of our adventure sailing the seas as the pirates did.

After sailing with only the power of the never-ending winds, we approached the lost city of Cruz Bay, a place which Captain Ayers said seems to be lost in the 1960’s because of the hippies and the “peace & love” feel of the era.

After lunch, we checked-in to the U.S. side of customs. We all successfully got back into the U.S., after which Captain Ayers gave us a two-hour liberty to explore the lost city. We enjoyed smoothies, explored shops and walked along the beach shore where the waters were as clear as crystal.

We headed back to the boat, lifted anchor from the ocean floor and set sail through the treacherous shipping channel of ferry boats, sailboats and water taxis that fly at nearly top speed to get from St.Thomas to St.John. The leadership skills we embraced and learned throughout this week allowed us to navigate the treacherous channel with precision and mastery skill.

Once we reach the east end of St. Thomas, we sailed under the jib towards our last destination of Buck Island. We quickly got our snorkel gear on for the last time and jumped into the bay and explored the calm waters with beautiful fish and even a sunken ship. This snorkel was exceptionally special due the bonding of friendships we created and the epic teamwork we kindled. We all handled a white sea urchin, as it gripped and tickled our hands, and dove down to touch the Christmas tree worm in which it disappears quickly when you touch it (kind of like a “touch-me-not” plant).

We returned to the boat to eat our last dinner made by Chef Ayers — grilled pork-chops, greens, sweet potatoes and blueberry muffins. As he prepared dinner, we watched as a close family an emotional picture slide show with music of our entire adventure in Virgin Islands. Once we laughed and reminisced about the trip, we finished our top-notch dinner.

Next time: what we all took from the week …


What We Learned:

John Bell: I feel very blessed and appreciative that I embraced this opportunity to take this trip of leadership and teamwork. During this week, I was amazed on how well my leadership skills have sharpened, and how amazing it was to get to know the crew, who will be close friends for the rest of my life! The skills of leadership and teamwork that I learned from this trip has given me the confidence and determination to excel in everything that I do from here on out!

Jordan Gary: This was an amazing opportunity that I am so grateful for. God has blessed my life in ways that words can’t describe. To see another one of God’s amazing creations was such a blessing. Throughout this trip I have seen my leadership skills tested, and in my opinion I rose to each and every challenge. Taking the helm taught me to be in charge, check on everything, make sure the sails are right and be responsible for the crew all at the same time. It was a great character-building experience. This was a great time and I’m really glad I did took advantage of such a rare opportunity.

Jayden Morrison: This week helped me grow as a person. My confidence grew with every day and every task handed to me. I feel like after being on this trip there’s really nothing I can’t do. I’ve hoisted sails, taken the helm, tacked and swum with some crazy creatures. But I think most importantly, the bonds I made on this trip are truly amazing. Each one of these people helped me grow more than I can say, taught me things about myself and helped me realize my full potential. For this I am truly grateful.

Maggie Johansen: This week was unreal. I am so grateful I was able to take advantage of this opportunity. I grew so much as an individual and got to watch my other classmates grow as well. I have done things on this trip that I never thought I would ever do. I learned so much about myself and gained so much confidence during this journey. I learned to never doubt my abilities and to take charge when I need to. I wish every college kid would take this trip to understand the growth I had as an individual and how we grew so close as a team.

Tatum McMahon: I had the time of my life this week. I have learned so much regarding initiative and leadership. After the last seven days, I can say that I am comfortable being a leader. Before, I was unsure of myself and always let others take the lead. This is an impeccably important quality to life and because of this trip I am more confident in my work ethic and more comfortable in my decisions.


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