An eThekwini  school teacher is reinventing the City’s social sailing scene

A former Geography teacher who used to write school text books for a living is at the forefront of a hugely successful sail training programme.  Jackie Barnard de Fin is well-known in sailing circles for her efforts to introduce the sport to kids from disadvantaged communities. What few people realise however is that it all started as a hobby at the Island Sailing Club. And while building it into one of the country’s premier sailing programmes Jackie has reinvented herself almost as much as the youngsters she teaches. “It has been a challenge because I’m a geographer,” she told SABBEX in a telephone interview. “During my earlier career I wrote school textbooks in earth sciences and geography.  But as an educationalist I soon saw what an amazing sport sailing is for kids.”

Jackie credits Clipper Race skipper Craig Millar with transforming junior sailing in Durban giving it a new lease on life – for herself and her many students. “After the Clipper Race he started Sail Africa to give something back to the City of Durban by giving kids the opportunity to sail who would never have such an opportunity if they didn’t come through such a sail programme.

“At the time I was teaching Siyanda Vato who has recently completed the World Two Handed Race in the Mediterranean representing South Africa.  Siya joined the small schools sailing programme at the Island Sailing Club. He was just a kid but I could see he was a natural sailor. He could literally sail a bathtub with a hankie,” recalls Jackie. “I asked Craig to take Siyanda on and he asked for my help, this request was more meaningful as Siyanda had gone as far as I could take him.   From there it has been a labour of love. Since I retired as a teacher I’ve been doing it full time.”

Buoyed by Sail Africa Jackie gradually built up the programme, which typically kicks off with a six-week theory and practical course on L26 yachts. Students receive certificates from South African Sailing and are encouraged to join sailing Clubs, or even find employment in the maritime sector.  The programme has also caught the attention of several government stakeholders, including the Department of Education which asked Jackie to design a programme for inclusion in their Nautical Sciences curriculum. With her background in education and curriculum design Jackie was perfectly suited to the task. Sadly Nautical Sciences was discontinued in KwaZulu-Natal, but it is still offered in the Western Cape.

In addition to the standard Sail Africa  programme, Jackie and her team have branched out into schools programmes, and more recently also into the tertiary space. The school programmes typically last between three to five days, including both on-water and classroom extension activities. “You can’t do it anymore but we used to take them up the maritime tower in Durban, and look at the Port from up there. We would also go to one of the terminals and do educational excursions,” explains Jackie.

She was also asked to start a programme for the Durban University of Technology, although funding dried up during the initial Covid-19 lockdown.  The maritime offshore students come for practical harbour craft lessons coupled with sailing. “Some stay on and do day skipper courses with us as well,” says Jackie.

Added to the mix is instructor training and miscellaneous other programmes tailored to particular needs, such as input into EThekwini’s recent My Port My Heritage Programme. Says Jackie: “I’ve just given a presentation to the Department of Transport and to the Department of Sports and Recreation about the link between sport, the economy and education. In the beginning I only used to show the sport aspect of sailing, but now I like to show how it all fits. We started out as pure sports but I think because I am educationalist it has drifted onto the education side.”

The results have been nothing short of spectacular and have earned Jackie well-deserved accolades, including a nomination as a LeadSA Hero – a campaign co-sponsored by Independent Newspapers.  Jackie insists the biggest thrill is watching how sailing galvanises kids’ ambitions and dreams, as well as inculcating invaluable life skills. “It’s just amazing to see how these kids grow from sailing,” she says. “Most of the kids are scared of going on the water, but suddenly they start overcoming their fears. Some kids don’t come back but many of them do.”

Sailing also demands teamwork and a level of personal responsibility which could act as a catalyst for personal growth. “You have to be there on time – the boat won’t wait for kids,” Jackie explains. “On the water they can’t mess up – their safety depends on every one of them. They just learn so many more things and as a result you see their confidence improve.”

“I’m actually amazed at how much we have achieved.”

She’s not the only one.

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