Education ‘for sail’: Community Sailing Center summer youth classes back after Irma

Lance Shearer

Living on an island, learning to sail a boat seems like a natural thing. It is also, said Marco Island Community Sailing Center’s president Rocky Cale, a skill that, once learned, is never forgotten.

“It’s like learning to ride a bicycle,” he said. “This is something that will last you a lifetime.”

With the amount of rain Marco has seen recently, it is also easy to imagine that sailing could become a necessity, in a Noah’s ark scenario in which the precipitation keeps falling until only the island’s high rises are poking above the churning Gulf. In reality, though, the rains have washed out days of classes of the sailing center’s summer session, which runs one-week classes through Aug. 2, from their headquarters at the Marco Island Yacht Club by the foot of the Jolley Bridge.

More:Shorebird shepherds: Audubon works to protect Tigertail’s black skimmer colony

Cale spoke as he maneuvered in an outboard skiff, one of the center’s coach boats, monitoring a class of students sailing their prams around a course of temporary buoys placed between the bridge and the club, as well as the class’s teenage instructors in another coach boat.

“We teach them the basics, how to tack and jibe and steer their boats. The first thing you have to learn is to use the tiller. You have to push the tiller to the left to make the boat go to the right,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to overcome their anxiety – you’re putting kids into a new environment.”

But the youngsters take to it like a duck to water, and soon are experiencing the thrill of piloting their own vessel, making it go where they direct – even against the wind. They learn “marlinspike” seamanship ashore, tying knots such as the bowline, to make a loop in the end of a line, and a figure eight knot as a “stopper” to keep a line from slipping through a block or pulley.

The beginner’s weeklong session is for students ages 8 to 13, but some kids as young as six have taken the course and excelled, said Cale. Intermediate level sailors move up from the eight-foot Optimist prams, the international standard for a beginning sailboat, to the International 420, a 4.2 meter sloop fitted with a spinnaker, and begin to learn the fundamentals of sailboat racing.

More:For Marco Island's Independence Day, life’s a beach

This summer session is the first the sailing center has held since Hurricane Irma trashed their facility next to the MIYC. The City of Marco Island had sponsored the program for years, but after Irma, opted out of continuing it.

“The city dropped the insurance ­– they said it was too much money,” said Dwyn von Bereghy, fleet captain/sail for the MIYC, and the club’s coordinator for the sailing classes. “The yacht club said let’s see if we can do something with this.”

The cost for a week of sailing instruction is $160, and while they hope to have scholarships in place for next summer, they don’t have the funds available right now, said von Bereghy.

“We’ve just started with this, but we do have plans for the future,” she said. Students can opt for a daily rate, and pay just $32 per session, if they want to do fewer than a week of five classes.

“In addition to the summer youth classes, and the high school team, we offer adult sailing instruction, and we’re hoping to do a program for veterans with PTSD or disabilities. That would be free of charge, a community service.”

The sailing center’s instructors are certified by US Sailing, the United States Sailing Association, and students completing the course receive a certificate from the organization.

“There are really a lot of good lessons in sailing,” said Cale. “You learn a lot about yourself.” Benefits from training in the discipline, he said, include patience, perseverance, tolerance, and overcoming fears, along with the requisite boat-handling skills.

More:Doing our part: Little steps add up to help the environment

To learn more or sign up a young sailor, contact Rocky Cale at 609-703-4310, or email rockycale@hotmail.com.