If any organization is fit to evaluate over 500 community sailing programs and deem nine of them the best in the country, it’s US Sailing. As part of its new Community Sailing Sanctioning Program, the organization assessed programs based on curriculum, safety, facilities, staff and stability to narrow down the winners. All members of US Sailing, these nine centers stood out for their exemplary educational programs and accessibility. According to executive director Jack Gierhart, “US Sailing felt it was a natural progression to recognize programs that utilize our curriculum standards, safety protocols and overall program management. We consider these programs among the best in the country, if not the world, for people to learn how to sail.”
US Sailing hopes the Sanctioning Program will encourage sailing centers to maintain high educational standards, practice safe sailing and, above all, increase sailing’s accessibility for all. Stuart Gilfillen, US Sailing’s program administrator, says, “We hope to see these sanctioned centers serve as a central point for hosting speakers, training programs and other opportunities that both benefit the center directly and help US Sailing promote our programs.”
Overall, US Sailing’s intent in creating this elite group of programs is much like their entire mission: to improve communities through the joy of sailing. Here’s a look at the winners:
Working with the OC Sailing & Event Center, Westwind Sailing offers year-round classes and camps to anyone over the age of six. In addition to the junior and adults programs, students can enroll in classes for teens and adults together, families, and women-only. The organization was founded in 1987 with the goal of providing safe boating and sailing education to the general public; its success allowed Westwind Sailing to expand to Lake Mission Viejo in 1998. Students often enjoy day sails to Mission Bay and Catalina, among other activities.
The center was also awarded “Excellence in Sailing Instruction” in 1994, “Outstanding Year-Round Sailing Program” in 1999 and 2005, and “Outstanding Director of a Year-Round Program in 2006.”
“Our programs have been in operation for 25 years and we’re proud to have the support of the community and OC Dana Point Harbor as we look forward to the next 25 years!” says Diane Wenzel, founder and executive director of Westwind Sailing.
Stu Says: “What sets Westwind apart is how they’re paving the way by using stand-up paddleboard as a teaching platform.”
“We started out with just 14 children, eight tiny boats and a big dream,” says Spike Lobdell, president and founder of the SHYC Sailing Foundation. The organization was created in 2004 (making it the newest organization on US Sailing’s list) as an offshoot of the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club. SHYC Sailing has come a long way over the past seven years—to date, they have accrued a fleet of 90 boats, taught over 600 students sailing, marine biology and adventure water sports and provided scholarships totaling approximately $65,000.
SHYC’s curriculum stresses the importance life skills such as independence, confidence, respect and becoming an effective team member. These skills are primarily taught through the center’s youth, family and adult programs and are demonstrated at unique events including the yearly Connecticut Special Olympics sailing competition. In 2011, SHYC Sailing purchased their new waterfront property in Stonington, CT, where they look forward to offering year-round courses.
Stu Says: “One of the things that really stood out was the letters from parents and students whose lives had been changed by sailing at the SHYC Sailing Foundation.”
Initially called the Royal Palm Sailing Club, the ESC was conceived in 1984 as a means of bringing sailing to children in Southwest Florida. The club consisted of summer classes taught on a small fleet of Optimist Prams and Lasers; soon enough, classes became year-round and the Royal Palm Sailing Team was formed. Racing is still a major aspect of the ESC, which established its facility along the Caloosahatchee River in 1992.
The ESC boasts a fleet of over 250 boats, with lessons focused on children over the age of 10. After fundamental courses, children can participate in the program’s regional, state and national regattas, one of which is among the largest in the state of Florida. President Ross Webb says, “Our focus has never waivered from being a non-profit that is focused on kids. Kids are why we do what we do every day.”
US Sailing has worked closely with the ESC over the years—ESC is one of their powerboat centers and a host for their Junior Olympic events. As for the recent recognition, Webb believes “this action will provide a national standard for community sailing, which can only make sailing stronger!”
Stu Says: “During the review of their application we were excited to find details about the 10 partnerships they have with local and regional organizations and how they also award merit badges for the Boy and Girl Scouts of America certifications."
Serving as one of the oldest and most established programs in the group, CBI was officially launched in 1946 after Joseph Lee Jr. started a program to help West End children and students of Suffolk College learn to sail on the Charles River. CBI is now one of the largest community sailing organizations in the country. In 2011 alone, there were over 2,150 adult members and 1,687 junior members from the metropolitan Boston community and beyond.
CBI not only teaches children and adults from all economic levels, ethnic groups and regions to sail—it opens its docks for high school sailors to practice and race during the spring and fall seasons. In addition, CBI recently launched a new keelboat excursion program for outreach groups that are teaching children to swim, aptly titled "Sailing for Swimmers."
Stu Says: "It's worth noting that their universal access program for disabled sailors doubled the number of sailing appointments from 2010 to 2011 (from 707 to 1,421)."
Though running a learn-to-sail program on Boston Harbor—one of the most active ports in the U.S.—creates a plethora of challenges, Courageous Sailing Center’s Kate Henderson believes these challenges foster independent sailors. "The fact that these kids work together in small boats on one of North America's busiest ports makes the experience transformative. Students leave with new friends and increased confidence," she says.
Courageous has been operating out of their Charlestown location since 1987 and focuses the majority of their programs on outreach. In 2010, 63 percent of their students were non-Caucasian and 71 percent came from households earning less than $75,000. Henderson says, "Boston kids not only discover sailing, but that kids from other neighborhoods and schools are just like them. Because it's new to everyone, sailing becomes a powerful equalizer."
As for community service, Courageous prides itself on being involved with the Special Olympics and the Big and Little Sisters Organization and weekly Sail Blind races. In 2010, Courageous launched their district-wide Varsity Sailing Team as a means of increasing their presence in the Boston Public Schools.
Stu Says: "They have one of the most detailed Emergency Action Plans (19 pages total) of all the programs we reviewed, which speaks to the fact that they operate so efficiently and safely in one of the most challenging harbors in the country."
Established in 1997 in response to the community's lack of access to Duxbury Bay, DBMS first offered sailing lessons to approximately 50 youth and adults. In 2009, after a five-million dollar fundraising campaign, DBMS expanded to a multi-purpose, 2,400 square-foot facility and, the same year, served over 1,800 students from 90 Massachusetts towns, 20 states and four foreign countries.
According to executive director Chuck Leonard, the organization's success is the direct result of “tireless volunteers, a generous community, terrific staff and enthusiastic students.” In addition to its sailing, rowing, kayaking and ecology courses, DBMS offers two distinct outreach programs: ACCESSAIL, which was awarded "Outstanding Program for Disabled Sailors" by US Sailing in 2006; and Maritime Adventures, a non-profit camp that, with the help of Crossroads for Kids, gives inner-city youth the chance to experience a variety of water activities.
Stu Says: "DBMS offers 10 different ecology programs, which allows them to use their incredible tidal sailing area as an educational platform."
Sail Sand Point believes in going big. The largest community sailing program in the Pacific Northwest, the organization maintains three separate locations in Washington—Seattle (SSP's main facility), Kirkland and Bellevue. The program boats a fleet of 135 and, in 2011 alone, coached over 4,500 students.
Incorporated in 1998, SSP offers low-cost youth and adult programs on Lake Washington. Over the years, the program has aimed to maintain a sense of community. SSP president Jeff Reinhold says, "People love being at SSP. They come down to get out on the water, work on a boat or just enjoy being outside. The only real requirement of being a part of the SSP community is to be here."
As for the future of SSP, Reinhold says, "I expect we’ll add to our community more disabled sailors, veterans and people who might have economic or transportation challenges that currently prevent them from being on the water."
Stu Says: "The host site for the 2010 Baker Trophy (High School Team Racing) and the University of Washington, SSP's venue lends itself to a great variety of opportunities for sailors from several different backgrounds."
Founded in 1979, MCSC offers educational and recreational sailing programs on Lake Michigan. The center, which caters to at-risk urban teenagers and children and adults with disabilities, maintains a fleet of over 80 boats and employs six staff members who average more than 14 years of experience. “We are thrilled and honored to be recognized as one of the best facilities for sailing instruction in the country,” says Peter Rieck, Executive Director of MCSC. “MCSC is dedicated to providing sailing opportunities to all community members.”
MCSC doesn’t stop at helping members of the community learn to sail; it also helps the environment. The facility’s 2010 expansion was completed using “green” initiatives, including recyclable fiber-cement panels and a geothermal energy source for heating and cooling. The sustainable building, which is designed to resemble the boats in the nearby harbor (the cables, railings and tension ties reference sailboat rigging, while the barrel-vaulted roof recalls an arcing hull), won last year’s City of Milwaukee Mayor’s Design Award.
Stu Says: "MCSC is the only program to ever be recognized twice for "More than Ten Years of Hallmark Performance" by the Community Sailing Council."
With year-round access to Lake Champlain, CSC has become a vital community resource that offers programs to thousands of children, adults and families. The organization operates with an emphasis on outreach courses catering to at-risk youth and people with disabilities. Executive director Kate Neubauer says, "We don’t just teach people how to sail; we develop innovative sailing programs that teach development, environmental education and team building."
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of CSC is the range of programs it offers. The LeaderSHIP Program encourages at-risk youth to develop life lessons and stay in school through learning the sport of sailing, while the Adaptive Watersports Program provides therapeutic benefits and helps people with physical and developmental disabilities build self-esteem on the water. CSC also offers Women in Wind, a program designed to introduce women to the joys of sailing.
According to Neubauer, "A new facility on Burlington’s waterfront is the future of CSC. Our new home will create an important anchor for the center’s growing program and promote lake-based activities for all ages and abilities."
Stu Says: "The center boasts fun 'multi-activity camps' that consist of a half day of sailing and a choice of another half-day activity such as climbing, painting, kayaking or skateboarding."