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Sailing: Lymington sailor Ian Williams sixth in Oman

Sailing: Lymington sailor Ian Williams sixth in Oman

First published

in Afloat

by Ned Payne

Snowbirds get their sea legs

“I hadn’t sailed since the Boy Scouts, 60-something years ago,” said Roger Gale, of Connecticut, who spends two months in Englewood.

His brother, Bob, came from Arizona to visit and take part in the four-day session offered by the Englewood Sailing Association. In addition to physical exercise, they had a bit of classroom work in Indian Mound Park.

“It’s a nice way to start off the season,” lead instructor Craig Keller said.

Seven men and five women ages 55 to 75 spent four hours daily on Lemon Bay getting on-the-water experience with nine instructors. They learned that sailing takes work, especially when there is a breeze and choppy water.

“Today’s going to be more of a workout than yesterday,” Keller said Tuesday as the wind blew about 10 knots.

Because the Gale brothers weren’t novices, they were on the water by themselves a little earlier than their classmates, and the conditions tested their skills.

“With this wind we learned that tacking is not easy,” Bob Gale said. “We were having a heck of a time.”

Though this is the sixth camp offered for adults — spring and fall sessions began in 2012 — youth programs are the association’s priority in summer camps for beginners and in intermediate, invitation-only lessons from March through November.

The association’s Adult Coed Englewood Sailors group help instructors with boat launching and cleanup on Saturday mornings.

“I always tell people, ‘We’re not a social organization, we’re a teaching organization,’ ” President Hugh Moore said.

The association partners with Sarasota County Parks and Recreation and the South County YMCA to offer programs. Park neighbors include the nonprofit Lemon Bay Crew Club for adults. Together, they are trying to be good stewards and help the park flourish, Moore said.

Over the years, the 13-year-old association has doubled — in its scope and number of members, boats and training programs.

“What better thing than being in boats, safely?” Moore asked.

Started in 2002 by Warren Spear with about 20 members to introduce children to sailing, the first adult class was offered in 2007, and the group is migrating to a family focus. People from Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties come for the instruction.

“Our reputation has really grown beyond our geographic borders,” Moore said.

Some of the recent summer camp students included youths from Sweden, Germany, Italy and Norway.

The fleet of 37 boats includes three safety boats with motors that accompany the sailboats. Younger students learn skills primarily in 14- to 17-foot Laser Pico and Sunfish vessels. This week, the adults were aboard Holder 14s, and one larger Slipper 17 was in action.

“The main thing is building the confidence,” Keller said.

Introduction to sailing

One instructor accompanies two students in each boat. Everyone gets a swim test at the YMCA a week before the classes. The moment one steps in the bay, a life jacket and water shoes go on.

“It’s an introduction to people to the world of sailing in a safe, responsible way,” Moore said.

He is especially proud of the strides made with the children, who come from a variety of backgrounds.

“Sailing is for rich kids; we defy that,” Keller said.

Abigail and Samantha Smith, 18-year-old seniors at Pine View School, are aging out of the youth program. When they enrolled in their first one-week camp at age 13, the sisters said they were not part of any organized social or sports activities.

“For the first time, we were doing something unique to us,” Abigail said.

They have advanced through the program and now coach younger students.

“It’s pretty cool to see kids we are coaching become part of the intermediate team,” Samantha said.

As they await college acceptance letters, the Smiths said the skills learned on Lemon Bay directly translated into other activities, including being involved with the STAR (Students Take Active Roles) Leadership Training.

Over the years, the Smiths said the association has changed, and for the better. They are taking in younger children, there are more — and faster — boats, and the structure in which to store boats and equipment was erected at the park.

That takes money.

Because the association is a independent nonprofit, members must raise money and seek grants to keep class registration fees low.

Run like a small business, association leaders are looking to the future, sustaining what that they have built so far and deciding which direction change will take them next.

They are looking for younger people who have families and the interest to further develop sailing skills and teach others.

“And have a bunch of fun, too,” Moore said.

Rob Domke, who took a class about a year and a half ago, said he immediately liked the “Englewood way of it, very cause and personal.” Because he felt welcome, Domke said, he kept showing up to events.

This week, Domke and classmate Doug Nelson rode in a motorized safety boat, following the snowbird campers, ensuring help was close by in the unlikely event something went wrong.

Domke used members’ expertise in his decision to purchase a 22-foot Catalina. When his 8-year-old son, Kyle, gets a bit older, Domke suspects he will become involved, first with the youth summer camps.

Like Domke, Matt Gamel found help from association members when he bought a 35-foot sailboat on which he now lives and works at the Hermitage in Captiva in Lee County.

“They were a huge resource,” he said.

The 2008 Lemon Bay High School graduate started attending association programs when he was about 10 and became U.S. Sailing Association-certified at age 15.

“I was sort of a shy kid when I went into it,” he said.

The association placed him in leadership positions, giving him confidence to learn new skills. He took part in “boat repair days,” learning tricks that make owning a boat affordable.

He continued in sailing programs, becoming a youth leader before heading to Florida Gulf Coast University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies and is now writing his master’s thesis.

“It was a great part of my life,” Gamel said. “I’m very thankful for them.”

Moore, who finds appropriate sailing metaphors for just about any occasion, knows the importance of learning leadership and decision-making skills, both on the water and off.

“These prevailing conditions, like life, is going to change at any moment,” he said.

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