The Winnipesaukee Sailing Association aims to reach more sailors, both young and adult
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Now in its 30th season, the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association gives youth and adults access to a sport that would otherwise be out of reach for some. The association is gearing up this year to reach more people than ever.
"This all started out with four little sailboats, one instructor and a handful of kids. It's come a long way," said long-time volunteer Al Posnack.
Last year, the nonprofit association served 175 children, who spent a week or more at the association's headquarters on Davis Road in Gilford, perfectly situated on the shore of quiet Smith Cove.
The association's fleet has grown to include 37 sailboats, which range in size form 8-foot dinghies to sailboats up to 26 feet long, as well as five motorboats and a couple of kayaks for coaches.
Most of the association's youth students, who start as young as 7, are repeat customers. The new students often sign up because they heard about the program from a friend. Posnack and Executive Director Amy Tripp see that as a sign that they're doing something right.
"We want our camp to be safe, to be fun, and we want kids to learn to sail – in that order," said Tripp.
This season figures to be a banner year for the Sailing Association, with early-bird registrations well ahead of last year.
"There's been huge amounts of interest this spring," said Posnack. If the pace holds up, the 30th season will see more sailors than ever before. Still, he and Tripp see the opportunity to grow much more, by reaching out to more adults, as well as children who come from socioeconomic groups that aren't typically associated with sailing.
It's been a persistent challenge for the association to bring in students from families that don't have a history of boating. There are scholarship funds available, so home finances shouldn't be a barrier, but previous efforts to bring in students from moderate- to low-income homes hadn't proven effective, until last year, when the association reached out to parks and recreation departments in the towns of Meredith, Laconia, Belmont and Gilford, and an after-school program was started last year.
"I think it went great. We introduced some different kids to sailing that we didn't reach (before)," said Posnack. Enrollment was limited in its first year so that the new program could be ironed out. This year features an expanded after-school roster, including many of the students from last year.
Amy Lovisek, assistant recreation director in Laconia, said the after-school sailing program serves a need in this area because there are so many lakes, and it provides a great introduction to the sport.
"It's a really cool program," she said. "It gets people interested in sailing so they can go on and get more training in Winnipesaukee Sailing Association's summer program. For those who are interested in learning the skill, it's a great introduction."
Last year, Laconia sent three students into the program, and she said they're hoping to increase the number of participants this year.
"The people teaching it are certified instructors, and that's huge," she said.
The program, which runs from May 22 to June 25, from 4 to 7 p.m., is open to those 11 and older, including those with little or no experience.
There's still time to sign up for the after-school program, for young people who live in Meredith, Belmont, Gilford or Laconia. Posnack said interested parents should contact their local parks and recreation department to inquire about availability.
Partnership with the parks and recreation offices has worked as a serviceable bridge to students whose parents might not have considered sailing as a possibility. The association is looking for another bridge they can use to reach the many adults in the region who might be interested in the sport. Posnack noted that the association's email list is an effective way to reach interested young sailors, but it has proven a challenge to fill the available spaces for adult lessons.
Adults who have taken lessons through the association usually were referred by an acquaintance. That's the case for Shelley Richardson, who was looking for a gift last year when a friend suggested a lesson.
"I did it on a whim for my husband's birthday," said Richardson, adding that her husband had always been interested in sailing. It ended up being a fateful gift, as they ended up buying a boat later that summer – a 23-foot San Juan. They will likely sign up for a few more lessons this summer, so that their adult children can learn the ropes.
"The people there – so nice, oh my gosh, they could not do enough for you. We had such a great experience, I'm so glad we did it," said Richardson, who said that she didn't think they would have bought a sailboat had it not been for the confidence gained through the lessons.
For young people, Posnack said the experience of being in control of a sailboat can be a powerful one, with benefits well beyond the technical skill of sailing. They develop concentration, sportsmanship, tenacity, independence, self-confidence and teamwork, he said.
"There's a whole string of things that go beyond learning to handle a boat," he said.
Adults benefit from the joy and relaxation of being in tune with the wind and the water, in partnership with the natural forces around them.
The Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association's budget for summer sailing camps is about $55,000, which is covered by tuition. Other costs are covered by the sale of donated boats.
In addition to serving the general public, the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association also provides sailing excursions for a local summer camp that serves children with special needs, and the Patriot Resilience Leadership Institute, which provides therapeutic outdoors experiences for military veterans.
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