Sail Newport is New England’s largest public sailing center. What makes it unique? Our mission is to promote access to the sport. One way we achieve that is by providing boat storage. If you own a boat and don’t belong to a yacht club, you can keep it here. We have rentals too, for those who don’t own a boat. Close to my heart, though, are the instructional programs for people of all ages and experience levels.
Do many students become lifelong sailors? I can’t put a number on it, but I know we’re very successful at taking adults and kids who come in with no prior experience and making them into sailors. I think most of the people who have the opportunity to learn here, whether for recreational or competitive sailing, would say they relished the experience and got something really special out of it.
Who are among the school’s notable alumni? There are names that people will know, sailors like Rome Kirby. But I think the ones to talk about now are the fourth-graders from Pell Elementary School in Newport. These students are involved in a program we started a few years ago. They come here during their academic day to learn the basics of sailing over eight weeks. They’re not names that people who follow the sport will recognize, but their efforts are every bit as memorable.
As an expert on instruction, what advice would you give to a parent who wants to get a child hooked on sailing? Two things. One is the sheer physical experience; that is what you sell. And then there’s the independence that comes along with sailing your own boat. With these fourth-graders, we see their eyes open as they are exposed to a new perspective. Things look different from the water. The sights and sounds, they’re all part of the experience, and those things resonate with these young people. For the kids who don’t have an interest in competitive sailing—which is the vast majority—the sport is about the friendships and sharing the experience. Sailing is very personal, and in that way it’s unlike so many of the things that distract kids today—stuff like phones and computers. Sailing offers them the chance to hang with their buds and enjoy the shared experience. They learn to communicate, too. That’s something that’s getting lost as more kids learn to communicate with their fingers.
Who was your first sailing instructor? My dad. When I was 4 years old, he took me out on a Sunfish. It capsized and I swallowed some water before getting hauled back onto the boat after it was righted. Afterward, he treated me to the biggest ice cream sundae. He made sure the last memory I had of that day was a positive one. He made sure that we had fun together.
What’s your favorite pastime? I do still sail a bit myself. I’ll do some weeknight racing or cruising with friends. One of my current hobbies, though, is not sailing-related. I race cars off-road. As a sport, it has many parallels to sailing. You spend a lot of time preparing.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue.