SW students have a chance to learn at sea

Wyatt Richard and Soren Walljasper, two young sailors from Southwest, have recently found themselves on the brink of a remarkable opportunity.

Fueled by his love of sailing, Richard, 16, applied to take part in a sailing program he found while reading his subscription to “Wooden Boat Magazine.” Established by the Ocean Classroom Foundation, the program accepts 22 students, after a grueling application process, for the chance to sail through the Caribbean and up the coast. Richard and Walljasper, both avid sailors, made the cut and have an opportunity to be a part of the program. Richard could do it as soon as next semester and Walljasper, a year younger, could participate during the next school year.  

Students on board the Harvey Gamage, a 130-foot sailing boat, go through a rigorous program, learning how to crew the ship, as well as studying marine science, mathematics and navigation. There is also a coast guard certification that can be obtained after the program.

Although Richard says this program will look great on a college application, where he eventually wants to apply his knowledge, he says, “It’s also about the entire experience and being able to work well with other people.”

Walljasper said he took a little more time turning in his application. “I’m a year younger than Wyatt and I really had to think about what I wanted to get out of the program. I know I want to make a career with sailing, but it also has to be something that works with my life goals, ” Walljasper said.

However, the cost to board is steep. After being accepted, Richard and his family were presented with a small window of opportunity to raise the necessary funds.

“Wyatt has been selling wreaths door-to-door, fixing up an old sailboat to sell and even wrote letters to relatives across the country,” says Erin Thompson, Wyatt’s mother, of her son’s work to raise money for the trip. Walljasper says he has also been talking to people he knows through his church and sending e-mails to get the word out.

Thompson also saw a chance to put her best foot forward – literally. As a professional in the art of dance, as well as a dance educator, she put together a benefit concert and asked her fellow professionals to perform at Barton Open School in Minneapolis.

On Dec. 11, acclaimed dancers and local musicians will put on a show to raise money for the tuition cost. There will also be a small silent auction, which includes donations from local restaurants.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children and $40 for family packages.

Although Walljasper will not go until next year, he has already started thinking about how he is going to raise funds for his tuition. “I want to take the fundraising into my own hands. I’ve been looking at organizations I can speak to, and I’ll also look to the people that are important in my life,” he said.

Walljasper will also be a part of the Dec. 11 fundraiser to help out his friend. “I play in a jazz combo, and we’ll be performing at the fundraiser,” he said.

Both boys have an immense passion for sailing that has helped them look toward their future goals in life. They also share a bond of friendship through something that they both love to do and will likely continue throughout their lives.

Last year, Wyatt and Soren found beauty in an old unsightly sailboat that had become a permanent fixture in their neighbor’s backyard. Buying the cabin boat for a dollar, the two refurbished it and eventually set sail on Lake Calhoun.

Named the Lady Slipper, the boat fueled their love for sailing and both boys have since become a part of the Lake Calhoun Sailing School.

“It’s my life, kind of. That’s kind of what I want to do with my life. The one big thing I really enjoy,” Richard said.