Yacht Club sets South Enders to sail, ready to expand

Conor Workman steers his El Toro into the wind and away from the safety boat during sailing class.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Conor Workman steers his El Toro into the wind and away from the safety boat during sailing class.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

BAYVIEW — Lone Lake is a little crowded this July.

That’s because Monday through Friday, a dozen eight-foot sailboats are on the water. Those little boats and their sailors are students in South Whidbey Yacht Club’s beginner’s sailing classes.

“We use the lake mainly because there’s always water and the harbors you can launch from around here won’t always have water,” said club member and instructor Don McArthur.

Already, the club hosted a sailing class for adults and one class for members’ grandchildren. The first youths’ class filled up long before the first day of camp on July 11. The $175 children’s classes are limited to 12 students to guarantee they each have their own boat to sail, which suits one young sailor just fine.

“I can be independent and control my own vessel,” said Conor Workman, 13.

Conor is a repeat student. He registered for the class last summer and enjoyed the solitude and relaxation of laying across the El Toro so much so he returned this year.

“I realized I had a knack for it,” Conor said as he de-rigged and tidied the boat.

Or maybe he had a “tack” for it.

Another student, 11-year-old Owen Miller, also liked being alone on the boat. Owen lives on Lone Lake, only a couple houses away from where the club keeps the El Toros during the week. He is one of eight first-time sailing students, and he loves it.

“I like having my own boat and having my own thing going on,” Owen said.

The El Toro-class sailing dinghies tack, swing jib booms, hoist sails, cut, stall and jibe across the water. That’s all part of the education during these classes, plus knowing those and other nautical terms.

Sometimes they cluster, blocking the wind from each other.

Sometimes they bump into each other, though it’s only happened twice in five years and resulted in small holes in the hulls. Sometimes they glide along the glassy surface, chasing the wind and avoiding the “No Go Zone.”

“It takes them forever to learn you can’t go directly from Point A to Point B,” said junior instructor Jake Campbell, 16.

The morning of July 13 was mostly a “no go zone.” It was windy — too windy — and head instructor Bob Rodgers kept the students off the water, despite the students trying to deceive him by binding the flag so Rodgers wouldn’t see how strong the wind was blowing.

Sometimes, the boats also lean and tip into the water.

These classes are a legacy for Pat Sasson. Her late husband Ken Sasson was a founding member of the yacht club, and these sailing classes were always his vision, she said.

Now, with three full classes for youths and her 16-year-old granddaughter Camille Sasson helping as a junior instructor, Pat Sasson found fulfillment watching the young sailors catch the breeze and discover a new passion in the club’s fifth year of sailing classes.

“The kids are timid and nervous the first day and they come back and the looks on their faces shows they’re happy,” Sasson said.

A handful of the students were too timid on a recent Wednesday morning because of the winds. One student regretted getting on the safety boat and not sailing.

“I wish I did,” said 11-year-old Alexandra Kurtz.

The tiny, pigtailed girl with freckles enjoyed sailing so much last year that she registered for this year’s class, and wanted to convince her mother to get a small sailboat, too. Mom shouldn’t expect to share the boat with her daughter, though — Alexandra likes the solitude of sailing on the El Toro.

“You don’t really have to deal with two people on an El Toro,” she said.

Camille Sasson is one of five club members who run the class on a given day. The club’s vice commodore Russ Ernest said 15 members of the 80-member club assist with the class. For the classes, at least one member is on the shore and the rest are in the two safety boats.

With all the experienced sailors instructing the students, what could be a steep learning curve is abated to a soft slope, like that of the jib that afternoon. Campbell, who lives in Redmond, is on the island to sail with Rodgers his grandfather. He teaches the students and noticed sailing becomes a lifetime sport as easily retained and remembered as riding a bike.

“Sailing is a sport that once you get a feel for it, it just clicks,” Campbell said.

The club counts on sailing becoming a deep joy for its students to create a new generation of sailors. That is after all, one of its bylaws. One of the ways it hopes to expand is purchasing two 15-foot vanguard or lidos-class boats to fit two youths for a more experienced class next year. From there, the club’s leaders want to create a competitive high school program.

“I have a drive to share this sport with others,” Ernest said.

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