by Cara Godlesky
From the first groups of Native Americans who paddled Nantucket’s shores to the tall masts of whaling ships, sailing has always been a part of the nautical history of the island. Nantucket, surrounded by blue waters and a perpetual ocean breeze, is now home to an avid group of experienced and novice sailors. Nantucket Community Sailing, an educational non-profit, is helping those island sailors carry out their hobbies by providing the public access to sailing and water sports.
Nantucket Community Sailing (NCS) offers a wide range of group and private sailing programs, from their “Guppies” program that introduces 5- and 6-year-olds to sailing to their Keelboat Race for experienced 13- to 18-yearolds that includes a long sail day to Martha’s Vineyard. NCS also offers boat and watersport rentals and sponsors the Nantucket High School sailing team. After 22 years and counting, NCS supports the maritime pastime of sailing in our community.
Nantucket Community Sailing is an accredited sailing program through United States Sailing Association, which only recognizes the top national sailing centers for their highest levels of boating education, detailed emergency and safety procedures, and curricula that meets the association’s teaching standards. NCS is one of the 33 accredited sailing programs in the country. The association also awarded NCS as the top community sailing program in the country a few years ago.
“[NCS’s] first goal is to provide affordable access to the water for the community,” said Diana Brown, chief executive officer of NCS. “The second is to provide a variety of programs that serve everybody. We serve children starting at the age of 5 all the way to our oldest sailor at 95…The third goal…we put a lot of effort into offering scholarships and free community sailing opportunities for members of the community who might never get out on the water.”
By meeting high standards and providing sailors of all ages with an opportunity to be out on the water, Nantucket Community Sailing is a benefit to a community that has a very strong relationship to the ocean around it. An island community has a love for the water, and NCS wants to further that love through their mission to engage the people of Nantucket in sailing, teaching life and leadership skills while still holding a deep respect for marine environment.
On top of supplying the community with the tools to sail, Nantucket Community Sailing is aware of how essential it is to protect our waters. NCS works with an organization, Sailors of the Sea and its program, Clean Regattas, the world’s only sustainability certification for water-based events. NCS uses the Clean Regattas program to ensure their sailors have minimal effect on the environment.
Nantucket Community Sailing and Clean Regattas educate and promote environmentally friendly practices. Some of the ways they exercise this mission is by giving out free, reusable water bottles and providing refill stations for their students. They also educate sailors about using nontoxic bottom paint on sailboats that could potentially impair shellfish.
“Sailors are a generally clean impact on the water but if you’re using toxic bottom paint on your sailboat then you’re harming the shellfish,” said Brown. “People should have the least possible impact on the environment they can.”
NCS uses nontoxic paints on their boats, and have done so for 10 years. NCS sees the importance of maintaining Nantucket’s clean oceans and wants sailors they come in contact with to do the same. Sailing can create a connection with ocean that can transform into practicing cleaner methods of sailing.
“[Sailors are] a group of people who are invested in Nantucket’s waters and investing in not only keeping them clean but in keeping them as special as they are,” said Brown. “We have one of the best sailing venues in the northeast of anywhere because we have such a great body of water to sail in and we want to keep it that way.”
Along with their partnership of Sailors of the Seas, NCS joined forced with many local organizations for their outreach programs. NCS collaborates with Saltmarsh Senior Center to offer Sails for Old Salts program. This free program takes senior citizens on sailing outings on their 35′ keelboats during the sunset hours.
NCS works with Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket to offer another free program, Sailing Heals. This program is a therapeutic excursion that takes caregivers, patients, and their family out on the water to enjoy the island scenery.
“We enjoy those relationships [with other organizations], and I think they are mutually beneficial,” said Emily Taylor, program director at NCS. “We look forward to supporting groups that we aren’t normally able to work with during other programming.”
NCS also supports the youth’s community by offering scholarships and youth programs for sailors of all ages. The youth programs are offered for sailors who have never sailed before to youth who are ready for racing.
“I think sailing is a really unique experience and provides students with an opportunity to engage in something that can be recreational or can be competitive and outside and active,” said Taylor. “It’s a whole new set of terminology and skills that they otherwise wouldn’t be introduced to and we can help them develop those skills if they are interested in and encourage them.”
Sailing can be a lifelong activity. It is one of the few sports that is not determined by the participant’s size, physical strength, or gender. Almost anyone can participant in sailing and that is why NCS has so many different programs. NCS offers programs such as Guppies, an introduction to sailing for five and six year olds and Keelboat Race for experienced 13 to 18 year olds, which includes a long sail day to Martha’s Vineyard.
For youth and adults, participating in sailing can teach much about teamwork, leadership, and challenging yourself. Learning these lifelong lessons can even be applied outside of sailing.
“In a lot of ways, sailing and learning to sail mimics many of the skills they will use in the rest of their lives. It builds confidence, independence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency and I think those skills are important,” said Taylor. “We try to encourage that skill development as well as teaching actual sailing skills so I think a lot of what we’re focusing on is helping them help themselves.”
NCS gives back to the island’s youth by providing many scholarships. In 2016, NCS enrolled 1,000 children in their programs and also provided $130,000 in sailing scholarships and free community outreach programs. For some youth, getting a scholarship may be their only opportunity to sail and learn more about the waters that surround them.
“Just to give them that opportunity [to sail] connects them to their island a little bit more, to the water a little bit more,” said Taylor.
NCS will also continue to give back to the island by hosting their Community Day at Jetties Sailing Center. The event allows anyone from the community to come to their open house and use any of the water equipment at the center for free.
For more information about NCS’s private and group sailing lessons, outreach programs and to learn how you can become a volunteer for Nantucket Community Sailing, visit nantucketcommunitysailing.org or call their office at 508-228-6600.