“With almost 3,500 miles of coastline, shouldn’t the people of Maine be sailors?”

Beyond being the marketing tagline for SailMaine, this idea is central to the organization’s efforts to make sailing accessible to all ages and income levels.

To that end, 200 people attended the fifth annual SailMaine Soiree last Saturday night, raising $12,000 for SailMaine programming.

SailMaine’s adult sailing programs are financially self-sufficient and help to offset the costs of SailMaine’s two other largest programs – youth learn-to-sail and high school sailing teams.

In the summer, SailMaine offers two-week, 30-hour learn-to-sail courses for youths ages 8 to 18. In 2012, nearly 300 individual kids went through this program, many of them in multiple sessions.

“If someone comes to us and says they can’t pay the $300, we tell them to sign up anyway,” said Jeff Cumming, executive director of SailMaine. “We are set up to make sure that money isn’t a barrier to sailing for kids.”

The Soiree included a silent auction, a raffle, and parts donations on everything from clevis pins to nylon plugs.

In a new “sponsor-a-sailor” portion of the auction, seven bidders committed donating $100 each to help make sailing affordable for local high school students.

In the spring and fall, SailMaine hosts six high school sailing teams – Portland, Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth, Cheverus, and the southern Maine high school team for students from other area schools.

These teams practice collaboratively three afternoons a week for three hours. About 160 high school students sail in the spring and fall. Students who cannot afford the fee of $500 per season can apply for financial aid.

“SailMaine makes sailing more accessible for the community, no matter what your age or means are,” said Sarah Helming Sterm, the former director of programs and events at SailMaine. “It’s so fortunate that Portland has so much happening on the waterfront – so much sailing, so much racing.”

In fact, this weekend the Yarmouth and Falmouth teams are at the Atlantic Coast Challenge, and the Cheverus team is in New Orleans for the Great Oaks Regatta. These invitations were based on previous East Coast standings, which Cummings called “an impressive accomplishment.”

Charlotte Boymer, who coaches the Yarmouth High School sailing team and was the assistant director of SailMaine’s junior sailing program for ages 8 to 18 this summer, enjoys teaching on a working waterfront, with all the variables entailed, from ferry traffic to tanks to lobster boats. “Casco Bay is a really great place to learn to sail,” she said. “You can sail just about anywhere after you learn here.”

“Portland really is a maritime city,” said Chris Mooradian, a Coast Guard officer who considers himself a beginner after six years of sailing. “Where did America’s maritime tradition begin? It began with sailing. Passing on that tradition is a great endeavor.”

His wife, Alicia Mooradian, is one of the event organizers, and their daughter Emily Mooradian sails on the Falmouth High School team.

“Teaching kids how to sail is part of Maine,” said Mali Welch, who used to teach sailing on Vinalhaven. She now works at Maine Magazine, the SailMaine Soiree’s premier sponsor.

Skip Yale, who works for Yale Cordage, grew up sailing on Casco Bay. “Youth sailing is something I’ve always had a passion for,” he said. “And it’s a lifelong sport.”

Both his daughters started sailing at age 7.

Some start even younger, like Elizabeth Newberry of Standish, who first experienced sailing sitting between her father’s knees as a toddler. “She would not say a word the whole time, but she always wanted to be on a boat,” said Bill Newberry, who is on the advisory board for SailMaine.

Now 16, Elizabeth is on the Southern Maine high school sailing team and spent the summer as a camp counselor and sailing instructor.

Tim Jones started sailing at age 20 at University of Massachusetts-Boston, where he was an environmental science major. “It was a good fit,” he said. “Sailing is really organic. It’s a great way to get around. It’s free power.”

In fact, Jones has worked as an instructor at SailMaine for six years and has never owned a sailboat.

Many of his students are older adults and complete beginners. The level of athleticism required depends on several factors.

“It varies, depending on what type of boat you’re in and what the winds are like,” Jones said. “It can be like watching the grass grow, or it can be quite exhilarating.”

“We’re a sailing family,” said Ann Blanchard, who does public relations outreach and photography for SailMaine. She has been sailing with her husband, Tony Blanchard, for 30 years, and their 15-year-old son Nico Blanchard does the 420 summer sailing program with friends from Scarborough. The Blanchards typically spent two weeks on their boat as their family vacation – stopping to go offshore to explore beaches or islands or to go to the movies.

“Being on a boat really gives kids real-life skills such as being in close quarters and having to be respectful, navigating deep waters, and making adjustments to changing conditions,” Ann Blanchard said. “Everyone has responsibilities and a role in decision-making. We have to pull together to work as a team.”

Russ and Sarah Cox both learned to sail in Freeport as children around the same time — though that was long before they met, married, and had three children.

“We put them on boats as early as they’re willing to go,” Russ Cox said. “If we’re going to live in Maine, we want our kids to be comfortable on the water.”

SailMaine is based out of the Casco Bay Community Boating Center at 58 Fore St., Portland. More information is available at www.sailmaine.org.

 

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough who wants to try sailing. She can be contacted at:

amyedits@aol.com