Sailing can be a big investment, not only in dollars, but also in time. This means that if you don’t know anyone who sails, it can be difficult to learn the sport. This is where the Saginaw Bay Community Sailing Association (SBCSA) comes in.
The all-volunteer organization is back this year with courses, Open Sailing, on a mission to help people discover the sport of sailing.
Wanda Dziwura, president of the SBCSA, explains that the organization has been around since 1995. The founders wanted to give everyone the opportunity to learn to sail, regardless of experience, income or ability.
After nearly three decades, the SBCSA continues to make learning to sail affordable and simple, says Dziwura.
“Unless you knew someone who owned a boat, or you had enough money to buy a sailboat and hire someone to teach you, there really wasn’t any access in that area to learn to sail and ride a sailboat,” says Dziwura.
Sailing lessons start for children as young as 8 years old.When the organization began, the founding members dug into their own pockets and brought in other marine friends. Soon they had a fleet of borrowed sailboats and started giving lessons.
The program is provided directly by US Sailing, the national governing body for the sport of sailing.
“Can you swim with the help of a life jacket? Dziwura asks. If you can, you can navigate. “Anyone can learn to sail.”
Junior courses start at age 8 and range from beginner to advanced. Adult classes are also available. Dziwura says the lessons are affordable for families to give everyone a chance to experience sailing.
Classes for young people are conducted on so-called Optimus buggies – small boats with one sail. Once kids have mastered the buggies, they can move on to the 12ft RS Feva dinghies with a main sail, jib and spinnaker. More advanced students and adults use 17 foot day sailors and have a mainsail and jib.
This summer, the SBCSA hopes to connect with other local nonprofits such as Boys and Girls Clubs and the Dow Bay Area Family Y to give more kids the chance to get out on the boats.
Lessons build independence and confidence.
“From the first day, the children are alone in the water of the boat and learn to maneuver,” explains Dziwura.
But don’t worry, the instructors are always nearby.
“From day one, they learn how to rig this boat, launch it and move it forward. Then as they go they go up to the bigger boats which have more performance and then go up to the adult boats.
Already an experienced sailor, but don’t want the added expense of owning a boat? Again, Dziwura says no worries.
“We have something for everyone. Experienced sailors can join and use the boats so they don’t have to invest in a boat if they don’t want to.
Adult classes are also available for people who just want to cool off before making an investment.
“It was fun watching the adult classes. People meet in class and become friends, then they go out together on the keel boats.
If you’ve seen the little white boats crossing the river, you’ve seen the Saginaw Bay Community Sailing Association in action.There are two larger boats available to members for day sails, alone or with instructors.
“Once you have completed the training, you can follow a qualification program to also access one of these two boats,” explains Dziwura.
A 22-foot Catalina Capri is available for day sailing with two or three adults and includes a rolling furler, genoa jib and fixed keel. The second is a 24 foot “Brass Tack” and is used for free sailing, but is available to members for day sailing.
Sailing lessons aren’t the only SBCSA offerings.
During the winter, Dziwura says the organization also offers boat building lessons at the Gougeon Brothers boat shop. Every spring, boat builders unveil their winter project. This year, the group has built a sailing canoe and is also working on a stand up paddle. Typically, boat building classes are offered to adults, but Dziwura says they hope to open them up to teenagers.
On Tuesday evenings, members can drop in for free sail and take out any of the boats, from the smaller training boats to the larger day sailors.
“Sometimes we have small regattas on the river,” she says, adding that a membership is required for open sailing.
SBCSA membership is made more affordable by offering student, individual, and family memberships. Dziwura says no matter the size of your family, the price is the same.
Recently, the SBCSA decided to hire an office manager to help publicize its programs and increase its opportunities in the upcoming season.
“We had to recover from not being able to run classes because of the pandemic,” says Dziwura. “We want to grow and offer more programs, but the biggest challenge we’ve faced has been getting the word out.”
The organization hopes to hire Aubrey Wahl as an office manager to help the organization overcome some of these obstacles.
Wahl says she is relatively new to the sailing world and is excited to get her feet wet in the organization.
“I’m in love with this organization because it tries to reach out to an entirely different population, whether it’s young people or adults. (SBCSA) makes it accessible in the sense that it’s not that big dream of “Oh one day I’ll be on a sailboat”, you can literally get off and be on a sailboat. So it’s very exciting.
Dziwura says getting people out on the water is what SBCSA is all about.
“We want to let people know that we have something really cool to offer,” she says. “We want to expose more people to the resource we have in the bay and the river – in a responsible and fun way.”