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While most Kabeyun counselors were once Kabeyun campers, Alex Hill is a delightful exception. He found Kabeyun by answering an ad in 2008 and quickly became a pivotal part of our staff. He spent one year leading rock climbing trips and six years teaching Photography before shifting to Sailing, which he now heads. Alex was a driving force behind camp’s 2019 acquisition of a Drascombe Gig, a 25-foot, British-built sailboat with a cockpit that can be set up for sailing or rowing. This winter, Alex talked to Laura Remington about sailing adventures and living in the Beavers cabin.
How many years ago did you start thinking about Kabeyun getting a boat like this?
My first year on sailing staff. I started looking at larger boats to try and figure out how we could extend the learning and because taking sailing trips in two Towns was frustrating and a little scary. I wanted everyone on the same boat. I wanted there to be a crew, where kids have meaningful jobs. I liked the idea of rowing so you’re not stuck if there’s no wind.
Did the Gig meet your expectations?
Oh, it exceeded expectations in every way! It’s super fun. Everyone gets to try everything, and the stress of sailing perfectly is taken way, way down. You can sail this [boat] with very limited sailing experience and you’d be fine. But to really make it sail well and to make it feel like the boat is alive, there’s a lot of skill and coordination between a lot of people. To me, that is the right spot to have an instructional boat, where risk of failure is low yet the skill cap is very high.
Do you feel like you guys achieved that this summer, that you had it humming at times?
We definitely had some days when we were crushing it. And we definitely had some days when we were rowing. There were some days when we rowed, honestly, faster than we would have gone if we were sailing.
You’ve said it was very hard getting everyone to row in sync.
We tried all sorts of things. I tried music, but then the BPMs [beats per minute] would change. I tried calling out stroke, but no one at camp has good enough rhythm that they’re not influenced by, for example, one kid pulling a little early and then thinking, “Wait, am I late?” I ended up getting a metronome, and it was like magic. Once you get in sync, all of a sudden the speed picks up and the boat goes three or four times faster. It’s not that anyone’s pulling harder, it’s that their efforts are adding up rather than destroying each other.
There’s a terrific photo that shows a bunch of guys rowing the Gig under a low bridge in Wolfeboro. Would you tell me about that?
Going under that bridge is so stinking cool. It’s something no other boat in our fleet can do, to take down our mast and row. The first time we did it, there was a line of people taking pictures on the bridge. The Mount Washington was practically tipping over to one side, because everyone’s on that side watching us. When we popped out the other side, people were cheering. They’re like, “This is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.” First off, you never see a sailboat take its mast down! That’s not normal. And then there was our war galley of frothing-at-the-mouth, excited children. Very disciplined, but frothing-at-the-mouth excited.
So fun. Switching gears here: You’ve spent most of your Kabeyun summers in the Beavers cabin. Why do you like that age group?
I like how in that age range, they’ve got the right amount of child in them still. Playfulness. They’re willing to give it a go and have fun, yet they’re starting to become fully realized, actualized human beings. It’s a really cool time. And some of the things they do are hilarious. If you’re going to survive with many children around you, you have to enjoy the stupid things they do that would frustrate everyone else. If you can’t have a giggle about that really annoying thing that kid just did, oh my gosh, you’re in for a rough patch.
You seem to have a great appreciation of all our campers. In fact, I understand you learned to sail from a camper?
Yeah. I was just trying to make a connection with a particular camper. There were three guys in my cabin who all were living and breathing sailing. So I asked this one camper to take me sailing, so I could get to know him. In the boat, I kept asking him, “How’s this work? How’s that work?” He ended up taking me out two or three times and he taught me enough so that I could sail a Town without him. It brought us a lot closer together. Years later, he was on sailing staff with me and it was super neat.
I love that story.
I’m proud to tell kids a camper taught me how to sail. I don’t think it diminishes my knowledge at all. To me, it is a powerful thing that I can tell a camper: “Look, you could be that person who knows more than the old people around you and you could be the one teaching them.” It’s a really powerful, lifelong feeling.
Alex is a New Hampshire native now living in Claremont, NH, where he teaches computer science at Claremont Middle School. He has an undergraduate degree in Photography, a master’s in Elementary Education, and an undying curiosity to master new things.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
You can read about all our fantastic staff members here and learn more about Kabeyun's Drascombe Gig here.
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