The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Sailing class offers students unique opportunity to embrace MI waters

Courtesy | Emily Roelant

12 Grand Valley State University students in FIT 153– “Sailing” had the unique opportunity to go sailing out on Lake Michigan aboard “Serenity,” a schooner owned by Sailing Saugatuck, a boat tour agency based out of Douglas, Mich.

The newly returning six-week, one-credit course offered this semester is a sailing class that provides students the chance to learn about boating principles, boating history, safety protocols out on the water and how to command real sailing vessels.

Nancy Giardina, one of the professors for this course, was one of the individuals who helped to create the sailing class in 2005 while working as the chairperson of the Department of Movement Science. Giardina has been passionate about sailing for a long time, noting her sailing experiences at the University of Rhode Island, and wanted to integrate her interests into the GVSU education.

“It’s interesting how your own life can be integrated into teaching,” Giardina said. “It just seems appropriate that we would have classes that take advantage of being on Lake Michigan.”

While the course may seem unusual to some people, Giardina said that’s just one of the things that makes the class so appealing to students. Giardina said sailing is set apart from other fitness courses. 

“It’s totally different than a typical sports or fitness activity,” Giardina said. “The fact that we do live here and our university is so close to Lake Michigan (makes the course extra relevant) and I know also some students are interested and encourage others to come along.”  

Though Giardina was part of the original planning for the class, she didn’t teach the course at the time of its creation. Making the course happen has been a collaborative effort between many resources and faculty across campus. Some people involved in the course include AP FIT Course Coordinator Karol Tiemersma, Sally Ross the Movement Science department unit head, Facilities Services and the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center. Additionally, the course draws on outside resources including the ongoing collaboration with Sailing Saugatuck, that gives GVSU students the chance to truly sail.

Since sailing is not an easy activity to complete every week, Giardina has found an alternative for students to explore sailing: remote-controlled model sailboats. By using the remote-controlled sailboats, Giardina found a way to give students an early shot at captaining by floating the boats on Zumberge Pond, located on the Allendale Campus, during classes over the past three weeks.

“We match up students in the classroom and on the pond,” Giardina said. “We figure out who’s gonna be the captain and the first mate, and they switch roles. In sailing, it’s really important that one person is in charge but takes advice from the crew at certain points in time.”

She said the activity not only allows students to learn about safety protocols for watercraft, but they also get to experience intensive collaboration. Students’ ability to work together in the captain and first mate model determines whether or not they will be able to handle a sailboat successfully and safely. Additionally, this class provides a unique opportunity for students to put multiple scientific concepts into practice. 

“Through sailing, there are so many principles of physics applied. It draws on science from many disciplines,” Giardina said. 

Giardina said there is a lot of information that students are presented within the class, ranging from navigational skills to sailing history, but she still prioritizes students’ enjoyment. 

“We all have stress; we all have issues,” Giardina said. “We can control whether we plan on having some fun.” 

Emily Roelant, a marketing major and senior at GVSU enrolled in the sailing course to try something new and enjoyable.

I have really enjoyed the class so far,” Roelant said. “The class is made up of twelve girls, so it has been fun getting to know them and all learning together about the basics of sailing.”

She said each class is structured with some in-class activities to learn about sailing rules and information, while the other part of the class is spent at Zumberge Pond sailing the small remote-controlled model sailboats. Since sailing is so weather-dependent, she and her classmates never know what to expect for the day. 

This training gave Roelant the chance to learn how to navigate many different situations and prepare for her chance to sail on the open water of Lake Michigan.

On Sept. 21 Roelant and her classmates had their first sailing experience. They spent two hours on the open water, with the wind challenging students to learn “figure eight” techniques and how to steer through waves. 

“I was able to be captain and sail the boat from Lake Michigan back to the port which was a really cool experience. It was cool to take everything we’ve learned in class and apply it to real sailing,” Roelant said. 

Giardina acknowledged that most students may never have sailed before, but that shouldn’t deter them from trying it. 

“Students who plan to live near the water for any length of time should try sailing. It’s a fun activity, and it’s a new challenge every time you go out,” Giardina said.

Roelant has no concrete plans for sailing in the future. However, she said she takes in every moment to embrace the class. 

“This class has allowed for all of the students to have a good time while also learning about the basics of sailing,” Roelant said. “Although I do not think I will ever be a first mate or captain on a sailboat, I think all of the skills and knowledge I have learned so far will be helpful to know in the future.”


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