Serhiivka is known as a resort village in Bessarabia, not far from Odesa. However, this place bears no resemblance to the neighboring Zatoka (resort destination): there are no hustle, night parties or expensive boats. The steady pace of life that is predominant here has its own advantages.
Serhiivka is a climate and balneological resort, where one can indulge in swimming, drinking mineral water and rubbing in therapeutic mud. However, basking in the sun is not for everyone. A village at the bank of Budatskyi lyman (estuary) is a local sailing center. Here, on the small boats under the sails, boys and girls regularly train in riding the whirlwind to see what they are worth. They are the trainees of sailing school founded by Viacheslav and Oleksandr Smetanka. Trainees’ boats are racing across the estuary to the Black Sea. Some children have just started to dive under the boom without hitting their heads, while others are already Sailing Champions of Ukraine, confidently holding the helm.
Viacheslav Smetanka offers us an overnight accommodation in one of the rooms of his recreation center “Vodnyk”, while it is still an off-season in the sailing school. This resort is his own man-made creation: he has built the summer house and paved the way to the estuary through the reed, so that they could moor boats and set the sail. He drives an old “Zhyguli” car; he is also one of a small number of people who talks to us in Ukrainian, although he admits that he is more used to Russian. As he says, Russian used to be a language of Soviet military men, who would come to Bessarabia to live to a ripe old age in their summer cottages amid the sun-drenched fruit and vegetables. Viacheslav’s father also is a former military man. He met his wife-to-be in Kazakhstan, where both of them were bringing the land under cultivation. Viacheslav points out being keen on sailing since childhood:
— I was born here, in Serhiivka. When I was eight years old, to be more precise – 50 years ago, I took up sailing. Some time later, I encouraged my younger brother Oleksandr to join me.
He took such a fancy to sport that he set an aim to build a base camp in his hometown, so that they could host internationally recognized competitions. In 90s, Serhiivka hosted young athletes from Great Britain.
— In Ukraine, we call it a brother-town, but they say “sister town”, – so Viacheslav tells about Rotherham, which is a hometown of yachtsmen who used to come to Ukraine to take part in a competition. Due to its location in South Yorkshire along the both banks of the River Don, Rotherham is considered to be the canter of sailing sport in England. The admirers of sails have their trainings here on the bank of local water reservoir. Local yacht clubs are striving to attract more visitors and that is why they regularly host competitions. In Rotherham, one can satisfy all the needs of an avid sailsman. Be it a beginner or an experienced athlete, here everyone can find a comfortable training spot.
Oleksandr and Viacheslav have once signed an agreement between Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi lyceum, Serhiivka school and British educational institutions to facilitate the exchange of experience among children. Volunteer students from Great Britain taught English in Ukrainian schools and Ukrainian children took part in sailing competition abroad. This is the project Viacheslav is proud of:
— We have met Prime Minister. I even have a photo of Prime Minister of Great Britain, my brother, our trainees and myself.
Thanks to Viacheslav’s “national” diplomacy, Serhiivka received ambulance equipment, intensive care unit and medicine from Great Britain. They shared it just like that – asking nothing in return. Collaboration with Great Britain lasted for 5 years. Later, as Viacheslav tells, former “red typists” interfered. They did not do any good, so they had to stop the project. According to Smetanka, it is time to revive it.
Viacheslav sees big prospects for development of sailing and yacht sports in resort towns of southern Ukraine:
— In England, where there are ponds, there also are boats and instructors who teach sailing.
The experienced coach believes that sailing is more than competition. It provides an ample opportunity for children to acquire knowledge and develop various skills.
— One needs to know how to subdue wind and water power; know the boat design; know how to tie a knot; how to tie a rope; how to set sails, batter down a nail, and swim without drowning. There is a lot to learn.
He also mentioned the huge volume of competition rules which also must be learned. These rules, as he says, can be applied to life.
If you start sailing in childhood, it is easier to learn in future. Such a child will easily learn to drive a car. Physical exercise also benefits the children’s health. As coach says, those who sail hardly ever go down with diseases, because there are no bacteria over the water if to compare to the city environment.
The ragged billboard on the school premises depicts smiling faces of boys and girls:
— These are our children at the European Championship last year. Whenever others see something like this, they also want to go.
Viacheslav Smetanka told where his trainees come from:
— Someone has read the works of Jules Verne; others have read some pieces on sails or have seen it somewhere. Some children want to see the world, try different foods and drinks. Children are children.
He treats his trainees as if they were his children, not distinguishing any of them. He says there are plenty of champions. There are also those who have retired from sports due to their age:
— They are already adults, some of them are over 40 now. However, there are also the young ones. For instance, my goddaughter – she is Ukrainian champion of “Optimist” * *A world-class small single-handed sailing dinghy used for teaching the sailing basics to children.
It is obvious that Viacheslav has a lot to be proud of, but he does not eagerly tell about his professional achievements:
— I am no longer a coach. For many years, I have been working as an administrator, taking care of this camp, holding contests and acting as a judge.
Answering the question who has made him proud the most, he named his brother:
— He inherited the helm and keeps working at it every day.
While interviewing Viacheslav, we did not manage to talk to his younger brother. Unfortunately, Oleksandr Smetanka died near Odesa on October 14. He was found dead in his car at the bottom of the sea.
— Bow up! Sashko, help! Higher! Up! Up! Matvii, you must help him! Help! Faster! Turn!
Ihor Leonchuk, a coach from Kyiv, gives commands to the boys who are pulling their boats onto the shore. He and his trainees have come here as guests and have trainings. One boat weights approximately 100 kg, so it takes nine guys to move it. One of them is so tired he frowns.
— I already said “turn” twice.
Meanwhile the coach continues:
— Next boat: less talk, more action. Nose up! Nose here – stern there! Next boat, go!
Another group gets ready to ship out. The boys eagerly tell how their boats are designed, how one shall put sprit* *narrow spar between the lower part of the mast and upper outer corner of spritsail - author’s note and why mast needs to be secured. They interrupt and correct each other just to prove to the adults that they are seasoned yachtsmen. All of them wear life-jackets, either if they can swim or not.
— It is hard to react when the yacht turns unexpectedly, – says one of the boys.
Sails appear at the estuary. Ihor Leonchuk’s trainees learn to feel the wind and turn the yacht. At the beginning, newbies sail with more experienced counterparts so that they could adjust to the boat and conquer fear. Afterwards, when the weather conditions are good, coach allows them to sail alone. Those who have been sailing for more than a year do it with more confidence.
— Roma, listen, do a go-about* *turning the boat against the headwind, - author’s note, – Ihor’s voice comes out of a bullhorn. The coach maneuvers on a motorboat among the trainees and shows the best way of performing particular elements. Roma steers the wrong way and the boat won’t be controlled. Ihor is disappointed:
— Steer the other way! Please, do not get it wrong.
The guy is doing his best. Today, his task is to exercise the maneuvering. Roma does the go-about again: he goes under the boom* *bentwood which is connected to the lower part of the mast; the lower strip of the sail is stretched along the boom - author’s note, umps over, catches wind on the second tack (boat heading according to the wind, – author’s note), takes another seat and changes hands. This time is better, but the coach insists on perfect performance:
— Why are you looking down, Roma? You need to look up at the sail to see how you have caught the wind.
Meanwhile, the boats that have come first are already at the seashore. The sand is white, and the water is clear and warm. It takes 1-km walk across the bridge to get to this place from Serhiivka. The bridge was built back in 1972 with the purpose of connecting the mainland and the sandspit. Such journey is not everyone’s favorite choice, which makes Ihor even happier.
— The less beach-goers there is, the less noise they make. We like this place.
From time to time, he and his “eco-forces” land at the seashore. He and his trainees clean the area.
— We want this seaside to be white and nice.
Viacheslav Smetanka and the like-minded people have founded another junior sailing school in Odesa. However, he believes he could have done more if it weren’t for the ridiculous laws. As Viacheslav puts it, instructors could teach children in the training centers, but there are legislative requirements stating that coach needs to have a degree. Viacheslav is also outraged at the fact that even regular rubber boats must be registered:
— Don’t you agree that if I had an intention of fleeing abroad, I would be insane to take such a boat and sail across the Black Sea? Doesn’t it make more sense to cross the border with Poland or Romania and vanish there? What is this madness all about?
Viacheslav believes that whenever there is open water, there also must be an opportunity to learn sailing:
— All the more so – yachting. When it comes to sport, you need to be a winner, the best of the best, which makes yachting even better, as you take over the sails and you are your only rival, – says Viacheslav.
He has a dream to hold two-weeks courses in Serhiivka where he could teach sailing to children from other regions:
— So that they could leave with an honorary rank of “junior steersman of some boat”. If this camp could be a place for training 2-3 thousand of kids, it would be great.
To fulfill this project, school needs more boats. As of now, there are only about 15-20 trainees. It is also important to build additional rooms for visitors and equipment. Viacheslav says he only needs money to complete all the work:
— If the financial administration worked properly, I would turn this place into something incredible, so that thousands of people would come here. As of now, no one wants to get into the reed. No, wait, the birds feel comfortable there, they sing, but it is not the same for people.
Viacheslav considers Serhiivka as a little paradise to the south of Ukraine:
— We have everything: hot water, therapeutic muds, plenty of fish, pelicans which appeared here six years ago for the first time. The ones that come nowadays are natives. They have chosen Ukraine to be their homeland and always come back here.
At the same time, one needs to strive for a place in the sun and take care of it. Viacheslav reckons that Ukraine is a place where everyone has an ample opportunity to grow and do what they love:
— We need to create a strong country, which would also be comfortable for living, so that our children would grow here and no one would leave; so that we won’t need to go to the USA to earn dollars, but do it here, be it hryvnias not dollars, but in large quantities. Our water is just as good. The pelicans like it. They come back here – to their home. I mean, pelicans come home, and people go to the places where the birds go for winter. It is all wrong. It must be all about home.
For more information, watch the vlog on Ukraïner’s visit to Serhiivka