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Volume 37 Issue One • April 5 - 18, 2007 now in our 37th season

Sailing for All

by Andrew Spencer

Over in Valencia, Spain, there’s a bunch of sailors trying their best to win a little regatta that they call the America’s Cup.  As you’re reading this, in fact, the American team will be facing off against the Italians in the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup, a series of races which will determine which team will face the current defender of the America’s Cup, the Alinghi team from Switzerland.  It’s a wee-bit ironic, when you think about it, that the America’s Cup is being defended by a team from Switzerland sailing off the coast of Spain.  Sailing has clearly become an international spectator sport.

However, no matter how international the sport may become, it’s still not in any danger of losing its image as an elitist pursuit engaged in by people with square-cut jaws and sweaters tied around their necks.  And this reputation isn’t necessarily totally undeserved, as participation in sailing is, by its very nature, not cheap.  Buying a boat is not the great bargain you might think it is, and maintaining a boat is right up there with fly fishing as a fantastic way to siphon a lot of money out of the kids’ college funds, and to do so quickly.

To top it all off, the America’s Cup—the single most prestigious event in the sport, the race all young sailors dream about participating in—is nothing short of a corporate sponsor’s wildest dream-come-true.  Think about it for a minute…You’ve got a lot of races, and each one runs over an hour in the best of wind conditions, longer with less wind.  So basically you’ve got some pretty huge floating billboards out there, and corporate sponsors are quick to jump on board, no pun intended.

Case in point, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, has reportedly spent upwards of $200 Million—which is like buying three or four houses on Nantucket, to put it in perspective—for the American campaign he’s bankrolling.  But the beauty of it, from his perspective, is that it’s not money wasted per se.  Rather, it’s advertising.  Seriously.  Gone are the days when we had actual names for boats that we were rooting for—“Stars and Stripes,” “Columbia,” or the boat for whom the Cup was named, “America.” No, now we have “BMW Oracle Racing” (the Americans) and “Emirates Team New Zealand” (the Kiwis).  For you shoe fans out there, consider the Italians who landed Prada as their major sponsor.  And incidentally, did anyone notice that the challenger series is, in fact, the Louis Vuitton Cup?  These boats are very cool and very expensive, so they’re plastered with corporate logos from stem-to-stern, and even the sails aren’t spared the advertisers’ logos.  Think NASCAR on water.

So any way you slice it, sailing can be an expensive sport, whether you’re talking about an America’s Cup campaign or a Rhodes 19 to sail around the harbor.  But we’re on Nantucket, surrounded by water, in one of the greatest sailing venues on the planet.  Does it seem fair that only people who can actually find their names on the Fortune 500 list can play?

The folks at Nantucket Community Sailing don’t think so.

NCS was founded in 1995 in response to a lack of publicly-available sailing opportunities on Nantucket.  Former Nantucket school teacher Suzanne Landers Zavatsky looked around and saw the limited public access to affordable sailing lessons and boat rentals.  “It used to be really complicated for the general public to get access to sailing,” said Nick Judson, Executive Director of Nantucket Community Sailing.  “Our goal at Community Sailing is to make access to the water easy for everyone.”

Judson’s sentiments are reflected in the motto of Nantucket Community Sailing, “Putting tillers in the very best hands.”  To achieve their mission of offering safe and affordable access to sailing instruction and activities, the staff members of NCS maintain an office on Winter Street, plus seasonal locations in both Polpis Harbor and at the Jetties.  “We started with six boats,” recalled Judson, “and now we’re up to over a hundred sailboats.”

And that growth has not resulted in what seems to be the common result, namely a loss of customer service.  Just the opposite, in fact. NCS has used its growth to incorporate programs with kayaks, outrigger canoes, and windsurfers.  Additional programs facilitate water activities for disabled mariners through AccesSport America, for underprivileged youth through Project Discovery, and for local kids through the Big Brothers-Big Sisters program.  Both Big Brothers-Big Sisters and the Nantucket Community School programs receive free access to NCS programs compliments of Community Sailing.

“Sailing has really grown in popularity,” explained Judson, “and Community Sailing continues to meet the growing needs of the Nantucket community, both in terms of the year-round population and the summer population.” And to that end, the program offerings at NCS grow to fit the expertise level of the individual, from wet-behind-the-ears beginner to old salts.  Sailing’s popularity locally has grown along with NCS, too, as evidenced in the local involvement with the Nantucket High School sailing team, which Community Sailing funds almost entirely.  From its nascent beginnings, the Whalers sailing team has burgeoned into a force to be reckoned with, and in the last year, the team members raised enough funds to go to Bermuda to sail against international teams.  In addition, through the support of NCS, the high school team this year has hosted a visiting team from Ireland and, just recently, hosted the women’s high school New England Championships.

In addition to providing instruction and boat rentals, NCS also serves as a major organizer of Nantucket Race Week, and is the primary sponsor of one of the marquee wooden boat regattas on the East Coast, the Opera House Cup.  And perhaps there is no better example than that race to illustrate the true nature of NCS.  Born in a local watering hole thirty-five years ago, Nantucket sailors raced for a silver wine bucket.  It was informal, it was friendly, it was fun.  In essence, it was what sailing should be, and it’s what NCS is striving to make sailing once again.  “We’re really making sailing at all levels fun for everyone,” explained Judson, “from beginner sailors up to the Opera House Cup competitors, we want it to be fun.”

Membership in Nantucket Community Sailing is not like plunking down a six-figure check for yacht club membership, either.  The Jetties Beach Sailing Center Membership has a variety of price structures for students, families and Nantucket residents, and members are entitled to a whole package of waterfront activities.  And for those of you who might want to dip your toes into the water before jumping in all the way, NCS offers free public access on Wednesday evenings at their Jetties Beach location.

“Sailing is no longer just a rich man’s sport,” concluded Judson.  “All you need is the excitement and the enthusiasm.  We’ll provide the boats and everything else you need.”

For details about Nantucket Community Sailing, including programs, membership and volunteer opportunities, call 508-228-6600, or check out their website at www.nantucketsailing.com.

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