By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Retiree shows kids the ropes (and masts) of boating

Courtesy photo: Bart Vanderlip of Ventura, here with his wife, Deborah, spends many of his days at sea. Since retiring in 2002, Vanderlip has logged 1,000 hours a year volunteering for the Los Angeles Maritime Institute's Topsail Youth Program.

Sailing on new waters

Ventura County Star/November 9 2007

Soon after Bart Vanderlip retired from a 30-year career doing technology research at Rockwell Science Center, he saw his future at sea.

"I'm going sailing," said the 71-year-old Ventura resident, who retired in 2002.

He has since logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours each year with the Los Angeles Maritime Institute's Topsail Youth Program, which helps at-risk teens with their transition into adulthood.

"This program has been extremely successful in taking at-risk kids from the asphalt jungles of Los Angeles out sailing on a boat," Vanderlip said. "They are given a new look at life. They receive something they can hold on to as a whole new experience compared to what they get at home."

Michigan boy heads to Army

Vanderlip fell in love with sailing shortly before he retired. As one of the founders of Boy Scout Troop 754 in Newbury Park, he recruited some boys to spend three days and two nights on the Bill of Rights ship to Catalina Island.

"That's when my interest in sailing was extremely sparked," Vanderlip recalled.

Now flash back to Vanderlip's early years.

Born and raised in Michigan, he finished his tour of duty in the Army in 1962, serving under Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. During that time, he stood parade watch in Washington, D.C., when Kennedy was inaugurated, and stood many inspections at the time he took on Cuban President Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs.

After completing Army engineering school near D.C., he was later discharged from the Army with a term of more than three years.

He came to California in 1962, at age 26. He got married, divorced and married again to his current wife, Deborah, who had three children from a previous marriage. Together — with Vanderlip's four children from his first marriage — they have 12 grandchildren.

Since his retirement, he has enjoyed fixing up the backyard, volunteering with the American Red Cross and traveling throughout the United States with his wife.

But his foremost passion is sailing with the Topsail Youth Program.

The kids handle the boat

He makes regular trips as a deck hand who oversees 12 to 24 youths at a time on a 117-foot-long, 137-ton, twin-masted brigantine.

"I show them how to handle the lines. We take the sailboat's 5,000 square feet of sail and bring it up to 9 1/2 knots," said Vanderlip, adding that the feat is particularly impressive because youths are involved.

"If we were just to take out adults, and they were in extremely good physical condition, we could sail the ship with no less than seven," he explained. "When we take 24 kids out we can do the same thing, and the kids are the muscle power working as teams to hoist the sails."

Each day's activities build on the skills and knowledge gained during the preceding days. Daily differences in weather, shipping, wildlife and participant skill level make each day a unique and challenging adventure.

When the kids aren't on board, the experience has a positive effect on other areas of their lives, he said, from better grades to less truancy.

Even youths who had previously been anti-social, disruptive or defeatist have made dramatic and lasting gains in cooperation, persistence, self-esteem and leadership.

"They have better relationships with their teachers; they are able to learn faster and pay attention in class," Vanderlip said.

Volunteering with the program has brought the personal satisfaction of learning a new skill while also making a difference in children's lives.

"For a person who didn't know anything about sailing to learn everything that was necessary to perform my job as a deck hand is really fulfilling," he said. "There's also tremendous satisfaction in seeing the kids happy and working together as a team."

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