Sailor Spotlight: John Petrillo
Many people know John Petrillo as the program director at Bay Head Yacht Club for many years. John's positive attitude and love of the sport breed enthusiasm and passion in anyone with whom he interacts. What's special about John is his desire to share sailing with anyone he can. He was a program director on the bay, he taught students during "Semester at Sea" programs, and he is currently involved with Rocking the Boat in the Bronx. John has had his hand in the development of so many sailors in our area. We need more people like John!
Name: John Petrillo
Age: Old enough!
School: Too many to list
Yacht Club: Currently unaffiliated
1. Johnny, tell me a little about your junior sailing history. Where did you grow up, what did you learn to sail in, and what was your experience like as a junior sailor on Barnegat Bay. I grew up sailing at Toms River Yacht Club’s junior sailing program back in the pre-Opti/420 days. I first learned to sail in Toms River prams, which were only sailed at yacht clubs on the Toms River, then moved on to a Blue Jay when I was 11 and then to a Laser Radial at 12. I remember we used to travel “up bay” to Bay Head or Mantoloking and sail against their juniors in Duck Boats, and then they’d come down another week in the summer and sail against us in our prams. Traveling “up bay” was a big deal for us back then! The regatta scene was nothing like today’s packed schedule, and the summer Interclub Series was really important back then, similar to Saturday BBYRA days for seniors. I made some great friends sailing at TRYC, and I had some amazing instructors as well.
2. Most people know and remember you as being the head instructor at the Bay Head YC. How long did you do that, and how was it working at Bay Head YC? I was the Program Director at Bay Head Yacht Club for eight summers, just long enough to see my first set of greenies grow up to graduate from the program. Bay Head is such a great club to work at, and I loved my time there. I had the privilege to work with so many talented instructors, one of whom is currently running the program. The club is very professional, and the parent coordinators both trusted me and my decisions but also provided a great amount of support and guidance at the same time. BHYC members also raise money to support all of its employees still in school with scholarships, which really helped me through my Master’s degree in education. Last year I taught a Level 1 Instructor course to some junior members there and it felt great to be back, I really miss being there each summer!
3. Now you are at Rocking the Boat, right? Can you give me an overview of the programs you run? Correct—I helped to start the sailing program almost four years ago. Rocking the Boat is a youth-development non-profit in the South Bronx, NY, one of the most under-served communities in the country. Our programs use the mediums of boat building, environmental science, and now sailing to empower local youth and help them set and achieve ambitious goals. In designing the sailing program, we really wanted to build a grassroots sailing scene that the neighborhood could identify with. I work with high school aged kids during the school year teaching them to sail right in their own backyard, while also teaching them to teach sailing. In the summer, they will then teach younger kids from the neighborhood in our summer sailing programs.
4. You also ran semester-at-sea programs for high school and college students during the school year. That sounds really interesting; what was that like!? It was a dream job for me! I was at sea for much of a decade teaching history, literature, and policy aboard traditionally rigged sailing school vessels. I loved teaching about what we were directly seeing and experiencing, something that is hard to do inside traditional classrooms. Sailing to so many different ports along the Eastern seaboard and throughout the Caribbean and Central America was always exciting, and learning about and sharing with our students the diverse cultures, histories, and environments we found there was the best way to be a schoolteacher! Our students were full participants in operating the ship, and would learn to stand watch and navigate the ship (among many other things) on top of a full course-load of schoolwork.
5) You are clearly passionate about teaching sailing and boat-making, and I know that everybody loves being around you and feeding off of your energy. What draws you to these jobs and projects? Why do you do what you do? I think it’s all based on my own experiences growing up in the sport. I loved sailing as a kid, and I learned so much about myself and the world around me through it, so it made sense to try and help others do the same. My first job was teaching sailing at Island Heights YC, and I remember how affirming it felt to literally see my kids learning and developing over the course of the summer, and know that I played a small part in that growth. As a program director on the bay, I felt that same pride in seeing my coaches develop as teachers and young adults. And at Rocking the Boat, sharing the sport and all it has to offer with young people who otherwise would not have access to it is so gratifying and gives me so much joy.