Over the last two summers, Sardis Lake has been filled with white sails during the month of June. These small but swift boats make up the fleet of Blackjack Sailing, which teaches young people from all over north Mississippi to sail while providing a fun summer diversion.
This summer will be no different. Blackjack’s first camp session began on Monday and will be followed by three more–each of which still has a few spots available for campers aged 8-17. Each day of the five-day sessions teaches sailors of all skill levels how to assemble their boats and maneuver around the lake, with breaks for swimming and games interspersed throughout the day.
“We want the kids to learn sailing skills, but we prioritize fun over that,” said Joe Sabatier, the camp’s Executive Director. “We don’t want anyone to have to sit around for too long before they get to get out on the water and experience sailing firsthand.”
The camp is the brainchild of Sabatier’s father, Jim Sabatier, a semi-retired physics professor, who decided in late 2015 that he wanted to share his personal love of sailing with the people of the area. Lafayette County, being more than 250 miles from the ocean, didn’t have much of a sailing community. He thought that, by teaching kids to sail, he could lay the foundation for such a community. Sardis Lake was the obvious choice.
“Some people are surprised,” said Jim Sabatier. “The wind out on Sardis is really great. It’s fun for the kids, gets them outside and active, and they learn a few things, too.”
The camp, from the outset, has been a family operation. What started with Jim and Joe Sabatier soon incorporated Jim’s wife Linda Sabatier, who serves as a kind of “camp mom,” making sure campers wear sunscreen and get their lifejackets on correctly. The Lead Instructor position went to youngest daughter Susan Sabatier. By the second summer, oldest son Charley Sabatier had moved back to the area from Washington, D.C. and immediately joined in as well.
“I just love it,” said Charley Sabatier. “I’ve always loved sailing, and getting to see the looks on these kids’ faces when they get out there and they realize they can actually do this makes all the work worth it. When that doubt starts to turn into confidence, that’s really special.”
The Sabatier family has found staff to fill out its counselor needs among Ole Miss students, friends of the family, and locals with sailing experience or lifeguarding certifications. The spirit of the camp has always been guided by the Sabatiers, however, and the result has been a summer experience unlike anything previously on offer in the area.
“I’m the kind of person who tends to roll with whatever idea comes my way,” said Joe Sabatier, “so when pop came to me with this idea, I was on board immediately. I had no idea what to expect, though. I didn’t know if it would work, but it’s ended up going way beyond my expectations. I’m really proud of what we’ve built.”
Last-minute registration is still available for sessions. More information is available at blackjacksailing.org.