GTPulse: Captain Jenny – Teacher Extraordinaire
Someday Jenny McCain is going to race in the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.
“I want to do the Chicago to Mack race. Most captains have done that, but I have not been able to pull it off yet.”
Jenny is an accomplished captain herself. The Traverse City local and TCAPS teacher has grown up in the area around water her entire life. As a child, she enjoyed swimming and beach days, but the thought of sailing was an anxious one. Her dad signed her up for a sailing summer camp on Boardman Lake.
“I think I was in middle school. I went to Traverse Area Community Sailing and was scared to death of it at first,” she said. “I managed to swamp my own boat and thought I was going to die, and everyone said ‘you’re not going to die. You’re fine.’ Once I got past all of those unrealistic fears and understood how sailing worked, I already had a passion for water, so it was just a natural fit.”
Traverse Area Community Sailing or TACS, became not only the place Jenny learned to sail, but also where she first taught others how to sail too. She volunteered, got her instructor’s license, and taught kids how to sail, some of who were frightened of it just like she was, every summer from 2000 to 2010. As a teacher, she was already working with children throughout the school year. She didn’t want to burn out on working with kids.
“I thought I could still sail but have a healthy balance in my own career, and I was thinking about bigger boats and bigger water. So the next step for me was to get my captain’s license.”
Jenny has a captain’s license with a sailing endorsement. With it, she can manage a boat or ship, depending on the tonnage. She knows all of the safety standards and maritime rules, along with ship handling that prevents emergencies, like how to not run a boat aground. The Coast Guard mandates licensing on big waters like the Great Lakes and was a rigorous process to test for.
“I have my master’s as a reading specialist through CMU. Getting the captain’s license felt like getting another master’s degree.”
She went further to get coastal navigation credentials from the American Sailing Association so that she can teach while on the boat. While being licensed opens up opportunities for Jenny to captain a variety of different vessels, she wanted to combine both of her passions by teaching others how to sail.
She spends her summers out on the water where she takes a four-person class through four days of lessons. At the end of the course, students are proficient on a 30-foot boat.
“At the end of those four days, all of the students should be able to bring a boat into the dock successfully, tie up, and not hit anything. But they should also be able to be out on the water, know the conditions for good sailing, know how to raise and lower sails, know how to give commands.”
Currently, she is teaching sailing at the Great Lakes Sailing Company. The Traverse City-based sailing company has won awards from the American Sailing Association and gets people out on the water for lessons or leisure. They offer several kinds of sailing lessons, but Jenny’s favorite to teach is beginners.
“I like teaching a lot of the beginner sailors, we have some other instructors that teach specifically navigation. That’s a little bit beyond once you’ve learned how to do the basic things on a boat.”
Jenny’s affinity for teaching beginners how to sail comes from her own early experiences with learning to overcome fears and fall in love with something.
“I want other people to see the beauty of the Great Lakes because it’s unparalleled. You can drive down a road and look at fields and that’s nice. You can go for a hike in the woods, and you’re immersed in it. But to be immersed on the water is to me, I think what hiking in the woods or climbing a mountain is for other people. It’s navigating the seas. I love taking brand new sailors out when they haven’t experienced that. It’s peaceful.”
She hasn’t gotten to experience any of the peacefulness solo in a while, but she says that she’ll have plenty of time for it someday when she’s not so busy with teaching. And sailing is more fun with friends anyway. On Wednesday nights she and some other captain friends get together in West Bay and race. It’s not Chicago to Mack, but it’s a whole lot of fun.