Person of the Week: Sailing is a Family Affair for Aimee Merkle-Scotland – By Eric O’Connell – Published May 3, 2017
Sailing has always been a part of Aimee Merkle-Scotland’s life. Aimee says the first time she was on a boat she was “probably a month old.” Aimee, the new head instructor for the children’s program of the Clinton Sailing Club (CSC), was introduced to sailing by her parents. Aimee’s parent met at a sailing club when they were young. When they had a family and moved to Madison, they saw the sport as a fun and healthy activity, and introduced it to their children.
Even though sailing has always been her in DNA, it was a long road that brought her to the CSC. As Aimee’s senior year of high school was drawing to a close, she was at a crossroads. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, and also wasn’t wild about her choices for college. Her mother suggested she could take a gap year to figure things out, and Aimee agreed it was a good idea.
Instead of heading to college the next fall, Aimee went to Paris for 3 ½ months to teach English in an after-school program. During the day, she took French classes and explored the city. After coming home for the holidays, Aimee went to the Western African nation of Togo as a member of an organization called AlterSanté. AlterSanté, based in France, helps combat disease in poor populations.
While in Togo, Aimee helped screen people for HIV/AIDS and conducted cooking classes to teach proper nutrition. The time in Africa, seeing the effects of humanitarian efforts in person left a lasting impression on Aimee.
“It was a really incredible experience. We learn about it in school, and textbooks and teachers only show you so much,” Aimee says.
Aimee is now a sophomore at UConn, where she’s studying to become a registered dietician. When she isn’t at school, Aimee enjoys spending time with her three sisters, Anne-Claire, Maeve, and Jane. It was Anne-Clair who Aimee credits with getting her involved with the CSC in the first place.
Aimee spent the summer of 2016 working at night in a restaurant, but found herself bored at home during the day.
“I started tagging along with Anne-Claire to the camp during the day,” Aimee says.
Initially Aimee spent her time playing with kids and squirting them with water or washing the boats and getting them ready. Aimee says she “had fun working with the kids.” Eventually, CSC founder Alan Felgate asked Ann-Claire if she thought Aimee would like to work at the camp in 2017.
“I never off the top of my head thought I’d work at sailing camp, then when my sister did, I was like ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’” Aimee says with a laugh.
As head instructor, Aimee will be in charge of volunteers and other instructors, as well as “chasing around the kids.” A typical day for Aimee starts by ensuring the boats are ready to go before the first camp session starts at 9 a.m. After greeting the kids when they show up, the staff members present a lesson for the day. The lessons cover subjects such as the different parts of a boat, proper safety protocol, and of course, capsizing. While some may like to ignore the prospect of falling into the water entirely, Aimee actually starts the campers with that lesson.
“There’s a lot of fear in capsizing, but starting off with capsizing is a great way to get over the fear and anxiety,” Aimee says.
After the lesson, the camp takes to the water to practice what they just learned. Aimee rides in a separate boat where she can oversee everyone and assist those who need it.
Aimee admits it can be hard not to jump in and do everything for a camper who is struggling, but instead teach them the proper way to do it.
“I want it to be a hands-on learning experience, not a hands-on teaching experience,” Aimee says. Instead of doing the work for them, Aimee likes to explain to the camper what needs to be done, while watching them do it.
To illustrate this point, Aimee describes a scenario in which a camper is stuck and not moving. Rather than just get the boat moving again, Aimee will ask, “Which way is the wind blowing?’ and “How do you know?” to help get the child thinking and then get the boat moving on their own.
According to Aimee, the goal of the program is to have the kids sailing on their own by the end of the session.
“I want that norm of counselors are here to help and guide, but also you’re here to learn and have a great summer,” Aimee says.
While Aimee says that Anne-Claire did a great job in the head instructor role last year, Aimee also says she wants to be sure she doesn’t just copy her sister. She plans to bring her own unique perspective to the role.
As much as Aimee likes being on the water and helping others, she isn’t always so hands-on. For example, during family excursions on their 30-foot craft, Aimee is most likely to be found reading her book.
“I don’t like to help on the big boat, most of the time I’m there to relax,” Aimee says, laughing.
The CSC season runs from Monday, June 19 to Friday, Aug. 25. For more information, visit https://clintonsail.org