For the past 15 summers, the sailboats of the Saginaw Bay Community Sailing Association (SBCSA) have been plying the Saginaw River in downtown Bay City, Michigan, just a few miles from Lake Huron. During Bay City’s heyday as a lumbering and shipbuilding center on the Great Lakes, the river in Bay City teemed with commercial vessels. Now it is our sailboats that symbolize summertime in Bay City.
Surprisingly, for a state almost surrounded by water and with one of the longest coastlines in the country, there are few places where the general population can easily get involved in sailing. To fulfill this need, in stepped the SBCSA. Like most other community sailing programs, the SBCSA was founded by a group of local sailors who recognized the need for easy and affordable access to sailing. Starting with a few borrowed Optimist prams, the SBCSA’s fleet has grown to include more Optimist prams, RS FEVA two-person dinghies, Transfusion 547 daysailers, and two small keel boats. Each summer, lessons are given to over 80 youth, teens, and adults by our US Sailing certified instructors. While our main focus is on our youth sailors, we advertise that our programs are for ages 8 to 88, and we have nearly meet the upper goal with several of our adult students who are fulfilling their 2nd or maybe 3rd childhood dream of learning to sail. There is nothing more rewarding than to see the smiles and the self-confidence build in a young sailor after their first solo voyage on the river.
The SBCSA has a number of community outreach programs. We host sailing workshops for the Girl Scouts in which the scouts learn the basics of sailing to fulfill their badge requirements. Each year, another 30-40 scouts experience the fun and joy of sailing. But our best known program is the annual Try Sailing Day when free sailboat rides are given to all comers. Over 160 newbie sailors are given a taste of the sea (well, lake) on a Saturday afternoon every June. Most of these newbies have never been sailing before; some come from far and wide to give it a try, and many sign up for lessons. But teaching people how to sail is not enough. We need to keep them in sailing. To meet this goal, we have weekly Open Sailing for members when the training boats are available for all members to sail, qualified members can sail the two small keelboats kept in slips donated by Bay Harbor Marina, and we work with the local yacht clubs to find sailors who will take new sailors aboard and mentor them.
In the winter, we switch to our wooden boat building class which has a mission similar to our sailing program – provide an opportunity for wannabe boat builders to learn some of the basics. This class has evolved from a few adults building prams to expand our fleet to a major fundraising opportunity for the SBCSA. Beginning in January, about 20 members meet twice each week at the Gougeon Boat Shop (yes, they are strong supporters of our programs) to build a boat which becomes the prize in our annual raffle. As a bonus, many of our non-sailing boatbuilders stick around to help with needed maintenance.
None of these community sailing programs could survive without the support of dedicated volunteers who literally keep the programs afloat by helping with the maintenance, the sailing and boatbuilding programs, and the fundraising. I urge each sailor out there to “Give Back” either by volunteering with a local sailing program or by contributing financial support. If you don’t know of one in your area, check the list maintained by US Sailing, or start one!
Executive Director, SBCSA