Sail classes provide the hull experience

07/01/2012 9:37 AM

08/05/2014 7:54 PM

The boat is but a glorified tub with sheet-sized sail, weaving slowly and unevenly across a tiny Kansas bay.

But the smile at the helm is pure America’s Cup as 9-year-old MayaMay relishes that she’s sailing solo, putting what she’s learned over the past few weeks to use at the right time and in the right ways.

Watching the girl leaves little doubt she will fulfill her desire “to be a big-time sailor” the rest of her life.

About 100 yards away, standing on a dock lined with fine sailing crafts, Gary Pierce watches MayaMay and 15 other young sailors, and admits to equal amounts of pride.

“We’ve produced a lot of pretty fine sailors through our (educational) program,” said Pierce, administrator for the Safety, Training and Education Program for the Walnut Valley Sailing Club. Some of their sailing students have gone on to lead sailing teams at major colleges.

Many, both young and adult, eventually join the club that’s based in a quiet state park cove at El Dorado Reservoir. In doing so, they’re joining one of Kansas’ longest-running sailing traditions.

Dave Bonifield, club commodore, said this is the club’s 75th anniversary, and a lot has changed from what began as the Wichita Sailing Club at Santa Fe Lake in 1937.

Thumbing through a scrapbook at the club dock Tuesday afternoon, Bonifield showed newspaper clippings from the club’s early day black-tie dinners and articles noting thousands flocking to the lake to watch the club’s regattas. Competition was keen enough that some club participants went on to win multiple world and national championships.

Bonifield said the club moved its facilities to the then-new El Dorado Reservoir in 1985, to take advantage of the lake’s size and changed the name to Walnut Valley Sailing Club.

Pierce, a member since 1954, said the club still has weekend races, full-moon cruises and assorted club dinners on their floating club house. The formality of tuxedos and long dresses are long gone, and one of the club’s main purposes is to offer slips for up to about 80 sailboats, plus nearby dry storage.

Pierce said one of the club’s main goals is to furnish support for local sailors, especially those just getting into the sport.

“For years we were seeing people buy a boat, try to sail it for about a year, things would go bad and then they’d leave sailing, never to return,” Pierce said. “We figured there had to be a better way.”

The result has been a program that is approved by Coast Guard and United States Sailing Association, and recognized in all 50 states. Classes are designed to meet the specific needs of each individual by offering beginning, intermediate and advanced instruction.

“The idea is to have a program that keeps a kid keep coming back year after year without getting bored, while always improving,” Pierce said. “We evaluate each student the first day of class and take it from there.”

With pride, Pierce notes that many former students become program instructors.

It’s also the program’s goal for the kids to learn more than just the mechanics of sailing.

“By teaching them sailing the right way, we’re teaching them self-confidence, decision-making and leadership qualities that they’ll use in other parts of their lives,” Pierce said.

MayaMay’s mom, Gina, is pleased with what her daughter has gotten from the session that ended Thursday.

“It’s been so inspirational for her, and she’s so much more confident and proud of what she’s accomplished,” Gin said. “She’s also learning a new kind of friendships because in sailing there are times you have to learn to depend on others and they depend on you.

“She can’t wait to take the second session. She’ll be able to use bigger boats and actually take her dad (an accomplished sailor) or me out with her. We’re all excited.”

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