Sailing is a summer sport, at least for the most part. It is also usually limited to people of means who belong to expensive private sailing clubs.
But Sail Martha’s Vineyard is breaking all the usual rules. Founders Brock and Hope Callen think Islanders and seasonal residents alike should be able to enjoy the sport year-round, without worrying about breaking the bank.
“Basically, all of our programs are heavily subsidized,” said Mr. Callen in an interview this week. “One of the purposes to exist is to provide public access to the water, and public access is synonymous with affordability.”
The founders came up with their novel idea back in the early 1990s. On an Island surrounded by water, they saw children growing up without the option of getting out on the water and learning to sail. They were shut out from lucrative career opportunities in the industry, not to mention the sheer personal thrill of learning to command a sailboat on the open ocean. Sure, sailing classes were available — but they came with a high price tag. To year-round residents, who are often limited in terms of family income, it meant sailing was essentially out of reach.
Enter Sail MV, a program backed by generous donors devoted to keeping the sport accessible to many.
“We are funded entirely by fund-raising,” said Mr. Callen. “It is the generosity of the good folks of this Island, both who live here and visit here, and then come to our events, that allow us to exist.”
But Sail MV is not merely existing; it is thriving. With programs offered year-round for both children and adults, the organization has grown steadily over the years, branching out to offer classroom-based instruction, rowing classes, and competitive options for young sailors. “I think it’s important that folks realize that we’re not just a summer program, that we operate year round. That we have academic programs in the high school. That we have academic programs for adults. That we teach U.S. Coast Guard Master’s licensing courses up to 100 tons. So in the wintertime our educational efforts kind of come off the water and go into the classroom,” said Mr. Callen.
This fall will launch year three of the sailing course offered at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, a successful addition to the high school’s vocational program. “I like it because it’s available to both young men and young women,” he said. “I like it because it teaches skills that are marketable in today’s economy. That the maritime industry is desperate for properly credentialed, properly experienced, and properly trained individuals.”
But back to summer. Sunshine means ocean time for Sail MV sailors, and that’s just how most of them like it. Sailing sessions for kids run in two-week blocks, giving them some 30 hours of instruction. The cost is $50 per student if you’re an Islander. An advanced race training course, which is new this year, is a little more expensive at $350 for four day-long sessions over the course of a month. But the expense is relative. Entry fees are only a fraction of the total cost to the program for each child’s instruction. And it’s still significantly cheaper than sailing classes offered elsewhere. That same amount of money would only cover 10 hours worth of instruction at another local sailing school.
The adult sailing program isn’t new to Sail MV, but it has seen a revitalization in recent years. “We are finding an increasing number of adults that want to be exposed to this sport,” said Mr. Callen. Impressionable kids are often easier to teach than adults, but Mr. Callen said phenomenal instructors for the adult program have helped it to attract interest. “Obviously teaching adults is a different beast than working with children. But I think we’ve hit our stride on it which is kind of nice. And it’s fun to see that program grow. We look forward to continuing to grow,” he said.
And then there’s the rowing element. Members of the Sail MV rowing club venture out into the water year-round, under the hottest summer sun and the snowiest winter skies. Matthew Kramer has been involved since the boat-building began, back in 2004. “I really got involved because I wanted to learn about wooden boat building,” he said. He wound up becoming one of the many community members who worked on building the program’s rowboats, Cassie and Grace.
Things get hectic for Sail MV this time of year, and not just on the water. Last weekend marked the 19th anniversary of the program’s annual seafood buffet and auction fundraiser, held under a tent at the Tisbury Wharf. Auction items included a photo safari trip to Africa, a stay at a villa in Tuscany, a vacation at a house in St. Bart’s, and a day onboard a Boston pilot vessel.
“[We had] all sorts of wonderful things,” said Mr. Callen. “It was a wonderful evening, and folks had a wonderful time.”
This weekend marks the Vineyard Cup, a three-day sailing regatta accompanied by a round of parties that are open to anyone who buys a bracelet at a cost of $30. “They’re the best and most affordable parties this Island can offer,” said Mr. Callen. There will be live music from the Beetlebung Steel Band and food from the Black Dog Restaurant. The bracelet is the only thing you have to buy.
And while the Vineyard Cup is a competitive sailing race, Mr. Callen said competing is not a top priority in the Sail MV program. “We find and have found in all the years that we’ve been doing this that the average child really doesn’t have a whole lot of interest in competing,” he said.
Which is just fine with the people that run Sail MV. “With the children in particular, we don’t lead with racing. It’s not our highest priority.
“Our highest priority is safety. Our next priority is fun and our third priority is good seamanship,” Mr. Callen said.
Sail MV will host parties tonight, Saturday, and Sunday nights during the Vineyard Cup, at Owen Park in Vineyard Haven. For more information, visit vineyardcup.com.