When it comes to coaching, the more experience the better, and on this 14-by-1.5-mile Penobscot Bay island of nearly 600 residents, Mike Horn's boatload of nautical knowledge anchors — and buoys — an always impressive Islesboro Central School sailing team

A quick glance at the 79-year-old coach's resumé shows the list of experience is long, impressive and proves he may be a bit overqualified to lead an athletic program at one of the state's smallest high schools based on enrollment.

Horn has made stops at various universities, colleges, high schools and yacht clubs around New England, and, if he so desired, may be able to land a sailing gig anywhere he chooses.

Extensive background

Horn, a Lewiston resident, was first introduced to sailing when he was 9 years old in the 1950s, when his father bought an old boat for $200. Horn took lessons on sailing, then, "went to work almost immediately for a man who rented boats by the hour on [Cape Cod in the summers]."

"I rowed people out to the boats, and people that didn’t know how to sail I’d go out with them," Horn said.

From that moment he was hooked.

Through more than 60 years of coaching, Horn's previous stops included coach and director of sailing at Harvard University of Cambridge, Mass. for 32 years, Boston University, Maine Maritime Academy of Castine, Bates College of Lewiston, Yarmouth High School, as well as the United States Coast Guard Academy of New London, Conn.

In his time in the college ranks, Horn racked up national championships with Harvard from 1967 to 1972, as well as in 1974, and his final national title with Boston University in 1999.

He also can claim to have coached an Olympic medalist in the early 1990s.

"Some of my sailors at Harvard [competed in the Olympics], and one in particular, Julia Trottman Brave, sailed the [one-person dinghy event] in 1992 [in Barcelona, Spain]," said Horn. "Julia won a bronze medal, despite being disqualified from two of the 10 races. I’ve had other sailors that have done Olympic campaigns, but have not been selected to the Olympic team."

Along with bringing home hardware and coaching the best in the world, Horn was the executive director of the Intercollegiate Sailing Association of North America 14 years.

Prior to Islesboro, though, Horn applied for a sailing master position on the Midcoast island, but, ultimately, turned it down.

"I had been teaching sailing at various yacht clubs in the summer, and prior to Islesboro I was at Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club," said Horn. "At that time the Maine Sailing Association held interclub competitions, and we would come to Islesboro to sail against them. When Islesboro advertised for a sailing master I applied for the job, and then turned it down, because I wanted to stay in Boothbay Harbor for another year, which was worthwhile.

"That extra year in Boothbay, three young girls won the area 'A' championship, which includes Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and the northern New England states. They went to the national championship in triple-handed sailing out in Cleveland, Ohio. They were the only all-women’s team ever to qualify for that event. They finished last in boats they had never seen before, but the following year the U.S. Sailing Association brochure promoting future sailing, featured them on the cover."

Now, one can find Horn and his impressive coaching abilities tucked away on Islesboro, leading the next crop of young sailors.

Current anchor point

Islesboro first provided Horn a sailing mentor position in 1992, when he was the sailing master at the Tarrantine Club for five years before he departed, and, ultimately, returned.

"When I came back, I came back to take over The Big Tree Boating program, which had been established a few years earlier," said Horn. "I ran Big Tree Boating for 17 years, then took a year off, and when my successor couldn’t return I filled back in for another year until 2019.

"Big Tree Boating has nothing specifically to do with Islesboro Central School, but it was a program that was initiated by a yacht club member who wanted people on the island to have access to sailing that they did not have through the yacht club. During the summer there are many Islesboro school kids in the program, as well as people from away."

"He brings the wisdom of decades of sailing coaching; I keep finding out more about his many previous and amazing lives," said Sophie Kelley-Lau, a senior captain in the ISC sailing program. "Mike has given so much of his time to both the high school sailing team and the summer sailing program, Big Tree Boating."

It was in his time running Big Tree Boating, the light bulb clicked on in Horn's head to start a school program.

"[In 2013], I decided it may be time to start a small sailing team, and that’s when it began," he said. "This fall would have been the seventh fall, but although the school did finally approve sailing for the fall it wasn’t until halfway through the season, and there were no official regattas [due to COVID-19]."

"Mike has been a strong grounding force in my life," said Kelley-Lau. "When I get frustrated, he reassures me and calms me down, he pushes me to be my best self — as a sailor and a person. He can always make me laugh, and his crazy sailing stories are always of great interest on the long drives to and from regattas. His teaching style is purposeful, and he caters to our levels. He has helped me find my strength and overcome fears."

Potential rough waters

Islesboro Central School has one of the smallest school enrollments in the state (about 90 from kindergarten through 12th grade), and it is not out of the ordinary for a school-sponsored sport to cancel a season due to lack of numbers.

That problem has never surfaced since the school sailing program began, even though the program can accept sailors in the seventh- and eighth-grades to compete on the "high school" squad.

"You only need at a minimum four people to be a team," Horn said. "In the seven years, we started out with six, at one point we were down to four for one season, and the most we had was 11."

The prospect of low numbers has not hindered Islesboro from capturing trophies, as the team won the Maine State Championships in 2019, under Horn's guidance.

"Mike started the high school team when I was in sixth grade — a point of contention, since I was a year too young to sail — as a separate entity unrelated to the school," said the 17-year-old Kelley-Lau. "Over the next few years the team merged with the school, and has since become the only school team to have won any sort of award for many many years."

"Through sailing with Mike I have learned to put my all into every aspect of my life rather than holding myself back. He brought me outside my comfort zone by having me skipper rather than crew after my sister [Emily Kelley-Lau] graduated, and I have since become the 'A' boat for our team."

Despite conquering the numbers' crunch, practice time is the problem the team is forced to tackle each season, as the squad only gets to practice one day a week.

"[Practice time] does place us at a disadvantage," Horn said. "Time in the boat is the most important thing, and I have been constantly amazed at how well they’ve done despite the lack of practice time."

Waters of success

Despite the lack of hands-on time, Horn credits Big Tree Boating, and other local programs that have picked up the lost time in the offseason.

"Almost all of [the school sailors] have served as instructors in the summer program, and teaching others how to sail, as well as technique, does a lot for your own improvement and skill," said Horn. "We would have occasionally in the summer a regatta at some other club, which meant they had an opportunity in the summer to do a little bit of sailing. Not as much as sailors at other schools who belong to yacht club programs where they are racing two to three times per week, but they like it and do well.

"A few years ago a bunch of the local high school coaches established the Penobscot Bay Sailing League, and that includes Mound Desert Island, Camden, Rockland, Boothbay and Islesboro. All the other schools practice multiple times per week, but Islesboro won the league championship in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018.

"In the spring of 2019 they won the Maine State Championship, and then in the fall there is usually a girl’s championship. In the first year [Islesboro] competed [in the girl’s championship] they were sixth and eighth. The following year they were second, third and fourth, then the third year they were second and fourth."

Former Eagle Rylee Sienkiewicz has the most impressive showing for a girl in the girls state championships, despite not competing as a senior because the event did not happen.

"Sienkiewicz in her three years competing, was fourth as a freshman, second as a sophomore and third as a senior," Horn said. "No other girl’s skipper has as strong a record as that."

Sienkiewicz does not compete in college, but Emily Kelley-Lau sails at Yale University of New Haven, Conn., and Ava Schlottman at Eckerd College of St. Petersburg, Fla., as a few of Horn's sailors to move on to the collegiate ranks.

"I don’t care if these kids go on to be world beaters, it used to be important, but not so much anymore," Horn said. "Just to see what these kids learn and how they progress [is what matters now.]"