Sail Away: Community Sailing Center Launches Free Program | Live Culture

Sail Away: Community Sailing Center Launches Free Program


  • Courtesy of the Community Sailing Center
  • Sailors in a CSC boat
An old chestnut in sailing circles is that the best two days of a sailor's life are the day he or she buys a boat … and the day he/she sells it. For landlubbers, the joke is that, while sailing can be a blissful pastime, it's also a notoriously expensive and consuming hobby.

This week, the Community Sailing Center in Burlington announced a new initiative that will take away much of the hassle and virtually all of the expense of sailing for those looking to get out on the water.

Beginning in September, the CSC will offer weekend sailboat rentals gratis through its new Free Sailing Program, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.

The pilot program grew out of discussions in June at the CSC's New Horizon Summit, a gathering of sailing center supporters to brainstorm ideas for the nonprofit organization's future.

"One of the big ideas was this notion of, could we figure out how to make sailing free?" said CSC executive director Owen Milne. "More specifically, making it possible for people who know how to sail to just rent a boat and get out on the lake in the same way anybody can go on the bike path or the skate park."

Milne explained that the CSC doesn't actually make much money from sailboat rentals. That meant covering the cost of a free sailing program would be more attainable if the organization could find a sponsor. The WaterWheel Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the rock band Phish in 1997, signed on to underwrite the program.

The CSC's rental fleet includes eight keelboats and about 50 smaller dinghies. In order to rent a boat, prospective sailors must first pass a written exam. If it's been a while since you've hoisted a mainsail or rigged a jib, CSC offers private refresher lessons.
  • Courtesy of the Community Sailing Center
  • A CSC dinghy on Lake Champlain
"We'll usually have someone available to take people out and will try to do that as much as we can in September and October," says Milne. "We'll work with you to make sure you're comfortable."

Milne says he would consider the pilot program a success if the CSC receives more inquiries from locals about learning to sail and, perhaps most importantly, if the program runs safely.

"If it works out, if we see more interest and people are doing it safely, then we'll look into running the program for all of 2020," he says, adding that the program could be replicable at other sailing centers around the country. "And if it's successful in 2020, we could do it forever."

The Free Sailing Program runs Saturdays and Sundays from September 7 to October 14. To reserve a sailboat, call 864-2499.

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