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At Sandy Bay Yacht Club, sailing is a skill seaside residents are encouraged to learn

By MARY K. PRATT

The modest Sandy Bay Yacht Club is tucked at the very end of T Wharf, past parallel rows of resident parking spaces and set back from Rockport's tourist shops and seaside restaurants.
Just beyond the club's tan and gray shingled home, sailboat masts rise up from the water of the harbor and sway under recent foggy skies.
It's quiet. No one's sailing, not yet, and that's got Rob Franceschi a little irked. He's waiting for summer to make its appearance on the North Shore so Sandy Bay can put its fleet of Optimists and 420s in the water. Rob's patience is running out.
"There's nobody else that has a bunch of Optis that I can sail. I'm complaining right now that they're not in the water," Rob says from his home just across the bay.
At 13, Rob's a passionate sailor. Sailing takes up most of his time in July and August. He's anxious to get the season started.
"He's been begging us to set up an Optimist for the past couple of weeks," says Greg Wilkinson, head instructor and race coach for the club's junior sailing program.
Rob's a junior member of Sandy Bay. He signed up for sailing lessons last summer and fell in love with the sport. He'll be part of the club's junior race team this summer - when it finally gets here.
He may seem young to be such an accomplished seaman. But junior mariners aren't just welcome at this Rockport club, they're actively recruited.
Adults are, too.
Sandy Bay Yacht Club is home to one of the North Shore's largest and most prominent sailing programs. Visitors to this quaint town will see dozens of Optis and 420s and Rhodes 19s out on the sea nearly every day during the summer.
Started in the 1930s, the junior classes now boast some 150 kids a year. The adult program, which began more recently, has about 35 participants per session each summer. Both programs are still growing, too, with the number of students increasing each year.
 

Rockport sailing classes open to those interested

Sandy Bay Yacht Club's sailing program is open to anyone age 8 or older. It provides instruction to juniors and adults at all skill levels.

The summer is divided into two four-week sessions, with a week off between the two sessions.

The junior program uses 12 Optimist prams and eight Club 420s. these boats are the choice of yacht clubs and sailing programs nationwide. Adults sail in Rhodes 19s and Bullseyes.

Students are grouped by ability. Students become members of either the junior or senior yacht club, where active participation is encouraged in sailing and social activities. Parental membership in SBYC is encouraged, but not necessary, for children to enroll in sailing lessons.

 
Members attest to the success of the classes. Many remember when they first set out in the club's sailboats to try their hand at mastering the sea. The lessons gave them not only the skills needed but fostered a love of the sport that remained with them through their lives.
And, regardless of a student’s age or the program’s growing enrollment numbers, the club’s goal is the same today as it always has been: Teach students the skills of sailing and the love of life at sea.
"The entire club membership views the teaching of sailing as one of life's important lessons," says club commodore Charlie Clark of Rockport.
"There's a strong feeling if you live by the ocean you should have a good sense of seamanship and sailing and a good exposure to racing, if you so choose," he says. "It builds confidence. It builds character. It builds an awareness of the elements and the beauty of Rockport. I think those things are all part of it."

Attracting students

The program is broken down into two summer sessions, the first of which starts next week. Classes meet several times a week for four weeks. Many students sign up for both sessions.
Starting when they're 8, juniors can register for beginner, intermediate or racing lessons in the club's fleet of Optis; older students can sail in the club's 420s. Students who own their own Lasers can take classes using their own boats.
Advanced students also can join the club's Opti or 420 racing teams.
Many Rockport kids, who make up the bulk of the students, see the sailing lessons as a rite of passage.
Liz Fiumara, now 17, signed up for her first class when she was 8. Her older brother and sister both took lessons there, she said, so she was just next in line.
"Actually, at first, I was afraid to tip the boat, so I would run home crying. And I pretended I was seasick," she says. "But I just fell in love with the sport. Getting out there and flying on the water, it's a great feeling."
By the time she was 14, Fiumara was on the club's junior racing team. She got a Laser for her 16th birthday and started to race that last summer. She took third place in last August's Ned Cameron Memorial Laser Regatta at Sandy Bay.
And this summer, Fiumara's 8-year-old sister, Molly, will follow her siblings' example and take sailing lessons, too.
Students start with the very basics, says Wilkinson, the junior sailing instructor. One of the first lessons is how to right a capsized boat. They'll learn to rig the boat, to know the names of the boat parts, to use the spinnaker and later to race.
"Our goal is to develop independent sailors who will like the sport for the rest of their lives," says Wilkinson, a summertime Rockport resident.
Like their younger counterparts, adult sailors have a pick of different levels; they can register for beginner, intermediate or advanced lessons as well as a racing class.
"This is a great way to encourage people to learn about and enjoy the waterfront," says Ron Petoff, the club manager. "Most adults are beginners. They reached a stage when they want to learn something new. They see all these white things on the water that are sails and they decide they want to know how to do it."
That was the case for Maureen Wilkinson.
"The reason I learned to sail – I was in my 40s – is that at that time my son was into it so much, it was his life during the summer," she says.
She and her husband, Dick, would take their son, Greg, to regattas and watch passively from the shore. They decided to take up the sport themselves
"After just one season, we fell, in love with it," she says. They bought a Flying Soot about 10 years ago. Dick just finished a two-year term as club commodore last November, Maureen is director of the adult sailing program, and Greg is the head instructor and race coach for the junior program.
Instructors try to place students of similar abilities together, so they can tailor classes to individual needs. And adults who have more experience when they sign up for their first lessons can opt for the advanced or racing courses, which looks at the academic aspects of the sports.
"Sailboat racing is a very complicated and demanding sport There's a lot of thinking that goes on with it,"' says Ted Engel, an instructor for the adult program. "This requires classroom instruction in addition to hands-on, in addition to teaching them how to handle the boat."
Juniors pay $180 for classes, or $210 to belong to the racing team. Scholarships are available to families who can't afford the fees. A yearly club membership is $41 for juniors. Adults pay $140 for a membership, plus $205 for beginner, intermediate or advanced lessons and $235 for the race class.
Once juniors and adults reach a proficient level, they can become certified, which allows them to use the club's sailboats on their own. That means they don't have to own a boat to enjoy the sport.
Club members said they try to keep fees reasonable and boats available so sailing is accessible to anyone who' interested.
"Both the club and the sailing program has the idea of being as inclusive as they can," says Cameron Smith, the volunteer director for youth and adult sailing programs. "Members of the club tend to be people who grew up sailing and many grew up in Rockport sailing," he adds. "They feel - and I agree - that sailing is a pretty big part of their lives. And they want to pass it on to the next generation. It sounds sappy when you say it, but I keep hearing it from members. There is a consensus among club members that this should happen ."
 
 

More sailing club than yacht club

The popular sailing program isn't the only trait that sets Sandy Bay Yacht Club apart from others on the North Shore. Its attitude does too.
Nearly anyone who's interested in sailing can join Sandy Bay by paying the membership dues. There's no drawn-out nomination or initiation process. Casual, laid-back, low-key, this club puts its energy into sailing, and not social occasions.
Sailing seems to have always been a priority at Sandy Bay. Founded in 1885, club members promoted their own regattas from the very start. Nineteenth century fliers advertised races against other clubs, touting prizes for the winning boats. As the sport of sailboat racing grew and became more organized, so did Sandy Bay Yacht Club. In 1930, the club finally had an official home. Members built the current club house at the end of T Wharf in Rockport Harbor that year.
The sailing lessons also date back to the 1930s. The program started with just a handful of young pupils; now enrollment for the junior and adult programs for both summer sessions is close to 200. Today, the club's fleet includes Bullseyes, 420s, Flying Scots, Lasers, Optimists, Rhodes 19s and Stars.
In addition to the sailing program and club-sponsored regattas, Sandy Bay also hosts potluck dinners, Sunday morning coffees and even junior/senior ping-pong tournaments. Still, despite the popularity of such onshore socials, the club remains focused on the sea.
"In a lot of ways I wish it was just called a sailing club not a yacht club," says sailing instructor Greg Wilkinson, "because that's really what it is."
 

A sport for life

Cherry Clark learned to sail when she was 14. The year was 1932. Her brother, John Nichols, taught her everything she needed to know about seamanship. She later sailed with her husband and in-laws at Sandy Bay Yacht Club. In the 1930s, she was on the first lady's crew to win a North Shore championship.
Later, her children learned to sail at Sandy Bay, as did some of her grandchildren.
Now 80, she still races her Rhodes 19 at Sandy Bay.
"I just love it. When I'm in a race, I forget about everything. It's total concentration on the race, and I enjoy it. I'm very competitive," says Clark, a Rockport resident and mother of the current commodore.
Clark's long-running-enthusiasm for sailing isn't unique among sailors, particularly at Sandy Bay. Members there say they learned to love the sport almost from the beginning. For them, sailing isn't a hobby, it's a way of life.
"It's a lifestyle sport. You know, there's a lot to sailing that has nothing to do with sailing," says Greg Wilkinson. "There's the social aspect."
The sailing lifestyle, as this 25-year-old calls it, didn't appeal to him at first. He learned it at Sandy Bay.
His parents signed him up for lessons when he was 9. "I didn't want to do it. I wanted to hang out at the beach," he recalls.
At the end of his first session, he flipped a boat for no reason. As far as his instructors were concerned, that was his last stunt. They told his parents not to enroll him again. His parents, though, took a gamble and signed him up the following summer for a second season of lessons.
"It all started to click that summer. I started to see there was a lot more to sailing." Wilkinson says now. "It was great. It was fun."
He started to teach sailing when he was 15; he even taught his parents to sail. At 18, he became the head instructor. Now, he coaches the University of Vermont's sailing team during the school year. He's also an instructor/trainer with the United States Sailing Association.
And, of course, he teaches at Sandy Bay, passing on his passion for sailing to the next generation, to kids like 13-year-old Rob Franceschi.
Rob calls the club his second home. He'll get there at 7 a.m. and stay to 8 at night. He'll take sailing lessons again this summer, and he'll take out sailboats on his own whenever be can. As far as he and his family are concerned, it's a perfect way to spend the summer days.
"When he says he's going, to the club, I never worry. It's just a weight off my mind. I know where he is, I know who he's with," says Rob's mother, Janine. "Everybody at the club is just fabulous. They go out of their way to encourage the love of the sport."

Mary K. Pratt is a features writer With the Salem Evening News.

 

 

 



Sandy Bay Yacht Club, P.O. Box 37, 5 T Wharf, Rockport, MA 01966 USA
(978)546-9433 Clubhouse, (978)546-6240 Office

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