The program began the summer of 1998 after the Yacht Club’s Thursday Night racers brought up the subject, said Ken Vanstory, longtime instructor until John Dillow succeeded him. “One member took the bull by the horns and got it off the ground.”
Volunteers moved the program forward. Club members donated El Toro dinghies. John Ash furnished dry storage at Benicia Marina, and Steve Bales built a trailer for the boats. The program uses Vanguard Optimists, Dewitt dinghies that can be sailed single or double-handed, and the two-person 420 vessels. Other boats are available, too.
“The Opti is a boat that’s size and weight are perfect to teach on,” said Yacht Club member Derith Lutz.
Youngsters need no experience, nor must their families be Yacht Club members. They get “chalk talk” instruction, land skill training like knot tying and line throwing, as well as on-the-water sailing. Boys and girls as young as 8 take half-day classes. Those 10 and older go all day. “We have had children come from all over the Bay Area and beyond to attend,” Lutz said. Some are visiting local grandparents or are from out of state. “We had one young lady who was deaf take classes with us because of our class size,” Lutz said. She preferred the smaller classes to those she’d taken elsewhere. “She had a great time and learned alongside the other children.”
The youngsters keep busy rigging and de-rigging a boat and getting the basics of sailing in a week. In the Benicia Marina water, they learn to use a rudder before managing the sail. “It is a lot to learn,” Lutz said. “With practice and more rigging, they will just rig the boat naturally by themselves.”
Then there’s wind and weather, currents and tides. That means every trip on the water is different. With each experience, the youth learn more, Lutz said. “They will always have to be aware, because Mother Nature will always throw something in to learn a new lesson!”
At the end, parents can see what their children have accomplished and can do on their own, skills they’ve recorded in their U.S. Sailing’s Small Boat Sailor Certification Record Book.
Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association has recognized Benicia Yacht Club several times for its youth classes. Vanstory received the Condon Award in part for his work with the program. “We have a playground for all water sports right here for all to use—the Carquinez Strait! If you learn to sail safely and love the outdoors, then it is a no-brainer,” Lutz said.
“Sailing is a different sport. You can sail by yourself or you can sail with other people. You can race or choose not to race when you go out for a nice day on the water,” Lutz said. “Sailing can take you around the world.”
Sailing camps starting in late June include half-day Introduction to Sailing, full day Learn to Sail for children 10 years old and older, Learn to Sail II and Paddleboarding.
Program information and enrollment applications are available online at beniciayachtclub.org, by emailing email@example.com and at BYC booths at Opening Day on the Strait at the Marina Green and Benicia Yacht Club, April 27.