GILFORD — "Anyone can sail," said Al Posnack, long-time volunteer with the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association. However, few are born natural sailors, and each year, scores of beginners don life jackets and launch tiny vessels on to Smith Cove for their first solo voyage. The trip usually begins with clumsiness, but ends in triumph.
Cat McLaughlin, one of the instructors for the LWSA Sailing School, said there's a particular instant — where anxiety gives way to accomplishment — that she has learned to look for.
"That moment when you get it, when the wind hits the sail and they start to move, their face lights up ... It's really fun to watch."
McLaughlin knows that moment well, because, before she was an instructor for LWSA, and before she was a junior instructor, she was a student at the LWSA Sailing School.
"My family never had a boat, this was how I got my fix of the lake, this was how I fell in love with sailing," she said. In fact, all of the sailing school's instructors are themselves graduates of the program.
The sailing school has taught more than 2,500 young sailors since beginning in 1988. Thanks to new developments over the past few years, the LWSA is excited for the 2016 sailing school season.
Three years ago, LWSA was able to purchase a a former cove-side home at the end of Davis Road in Gilford, prior to that the association was dependent upon the hospitality of Fay's Boat Yard, which allowed use of a meeting room for its classes. With its own property, LWSA has had the stability to expand and improve upon its programs, which are all aimed at making sailing on Lake Winnipesaukee accessible to all.
At the heart of the sailing school is its children's curriculum, which takes kids as young as seven and teaches them the basics and joy of sailing. At eight years old, children are eligible to enroll is Sailing 101, level one, a week long course where children will spend the lion's share of the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily schedule on the water, piloting their own craft, while instructors in powerboats keep an eye out for safety and offer technical tips.
The courses continue from there, with one week and two week courses for older and more advanced sailors, up to programs for collegiate-level racing sailors.
Posnack said that scholarships are available for interested students who need them.
"Any kid that needs financial aid, we'll get it to them," Posnack said, noting that for many in the region, the sport of sailing seems out of reach. "We're trying to bridge that gap."
The children's sailing school sessions begin on June 20 and run into mid-August; there are still many sessions with space available to those who haven't registered yet.
Drop-off for a day at sailing school is at 9 a.m. The day begins with a brief classroom session, about a half-hour, following which students retrieve their own rigging from the supply shed, and rig up their own small sailboat. They spend the next few hours sailing solo, take a break for lunch, get back on the water and sail some more. The day closes with a short classroom session.
Sailing is an "intellectual sport," said Liam Shanahan, operations director for LWSA.
"Kids understand that the more you pay attention inside, the better you're going to be and the more fun you'll have," he said. "It's very structured and deliberate, but, especially for the younger kids, they don't realize how much they're learning."
While the young sailors learn about sailing, they're also gaining confidence, self-esteem, self-reliance and determination.
To celebrate the end of the week, young sailors join the older classes and leave the safety of Smith Cove for an adventure.
Emily McCabe, instructor, said, "On Fridays, we put all the classes together and we go out for a larger sail." Sometimes the destination is Ragged Island, owned by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, where they can explore the trails and eat lunch, or they might sail to Weirs Beach for ice cream. McCabe said the voyage lets the younger sailors learn from the returning campers, who in turn act as mentors.
"It's great because the whole camp gets to be together and interact," she said.
Over the winter, the LWSA acquired 10 O'pen Bic sailboats, simple and small vessels ideal for children, which brought the number of boats owned by the organization to 37. The program also has a new director this year, Amy Tripp, taking over from prior director Anthony Sperazzo.
To learn more about the LWSA, visit lwsa.org or call 603-589-1177.