Where I live, any kid who can swim can go for a ride on a sailboat on any summer day. In fact, about 1,500 kids give it a shot through their school or a social agency each summer. This is only possible because, about 35 years ago, local sailors (including the Harken Brothers) negotiated with the city for a land lease near the lake, built some sheds and a boat launch, and collected a ragtag fleet of sailboats to create the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. Last year the local TV news captured the action as a diverse group of jolly 9-year-old boys, led by a 15-year-old sailing counselor, tacked a 30-year-old Ensign. It is as thrilling as sailing footage can be — wind noise, motion, timing — all there!
Moreover, it is a real mentoring moment. They are all clearly having fun, and they are all learning. The students are serious and organized, and the instructor is nurturing, patient and proud. The Center has done an admirable job of making some of these moments possible over the years. Many area sailors say they caught the bug there and have sailed ever since.
However, while it boasts cranes, a ramp for people with special needs, and has been raising money to replace its dusty, cramped classrooms, it hasn’t yet found the complete formula for growth. Junior students don’t often stick around after high school, and few become instructors. Older members join to sail but not to teach; they don’t often engage with young newcomers. New instructor recruitment has become a limiting issue. So program retention rates, while impressive compared to national numbers, are still flat.
So Milwaukee sailors are investing, again, in sailing. A two+ million dollar capital campaign to build a new teaching center is in the final phases, and will evolve into a new campaign to expand the fleet.
But more than buildings, the Center’s leadership knows what it needs: it needs the unlimited flow of contagious enthusiasm for sailing. It understands that a curriculum that puts kids in boats by themselves doesn’t yield sailors. Additionally it sees that it can’t depend on matching old to young strangers, because neither feel comfortable making the requisite commitment. So it is taking bold steps to pull parents and guardians onto the water with their kids, even if sailing is unfamiliar to the parents. Last year, it started an innovative new class called Compass, which features a built-in parent day that will soon be expanded into a class for both parents and kids; Compass will eventually evolve into a families-only, family team sailing series.
From moms to sons, and from daughters to dads and then outward, enthusiasm for sailing is making Milwaukee a model sailing community.
– Nicholas Hayes, Author of the new book ‘Saving Sailing’
To learn how you can help the sailing center, go to http://www.sailingcenter.org.
Note: Five percent of royalties from the new book ‘Saving Sailing’ will go directly to MCSC’s Compass program, and book buyers can opt-in to donate a few more dollars to the program if they buy the book at http://www.savingsailing.com.