Sailing class brings people together on Lone Lake

From left, Sylvia Roehnelt, sailing instructor Lisa Irwin and Rod Roehnelt cruise around Lone Lake during a sailing lesson Thursday.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
From left, Sylvia Roehnelt, sailing instructor Lisa Irwin and Rod Roehnelt cruise around Lone Lake during a sailing lesson Thursday.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Turns out that sailing is a popular pastime on South Whidbey.

Years of offering children’s classes expanded into adult classes last year, and often both were full. This year, the adult classes that began June 10 had spots available. Less-than-filled courses didn’t stop the South Whidbey Yacht Club, which runs the program through the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District, from offering a four-session class for veterans in early June.

“There’s a lot of veterans coming back with PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] and other issues not defined that strongly, that deserve to have some fun, some recreation and go sailing,” said Bob Rodgers, the Learn to Sail director of the yacht club.

“They’re just flat-out fun. Getting people out there who want to be out there, that’s fun,” he added.

What started out as a niche summer parks program has turned into one of its more successful offerings. This year, no additional sessions were scheduled, though an intermediate level was created for third-year sailing students or children 13 and older in early July, when all of the youth classes begin.

“Kids that started out with it a few years ago are really blossoming,” said Carrie Monforte, parks program director, who credited the activity as being an important one for people both young and old.

“It’s an amazing resource we have here, our natural resources — the mountains, the water,” she said. “It would be a shame to never have a chance to sail around here. It teaches self reliance, perseverance, paying attention to details that matter when you get into a boat.”

South Whidbey Parks runs the registration, processing the money and paperwork. The yacht club is in charge of teaching people how to read the wind, how to tack and the difference between a jib and a main sail.

“They are the experts, not us,” Monforte laughed.

Sailing can be an expensive hobby. Even the small vessels between 12 and 15 feet used by the yacht club for lessons on Lone Lake can cost $1,500. A used, full sailboat can run several thousand dollars. But Monforte praised the yacht club for helping their pupils understand the costs better.

“The folks that are running the program demonstrate that it’s not an overly expensive program with their fun little boats,” she said.

Rodgers and the yacht club leaders hope to see growth in coming years with an advanced class that goes out into the saltwater around the island. Eventually, Rodgers said he’d like to create a competitive sailing club from South Whidbey that races against schools around Puget Sound. That is, however, at least one year out.

“We’re not quite ready,” he said. “ … we really need high school kids to start thinking about that.”

In the coming weeks, look out to Lone Lake for the zig-zagging triangle sails of the yacht club classes, including the new 15-foot Vangaurd 15s — just don’t blink.

“The Vanguards are so much faster that Lone Lake becomes real small when you’re moving in those things,” Rodgers said.

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