Think Inclusive, Not Exclusive

Published on July 17th, 2013

At the end of his workday in steamy midtown Manhattan (NYC), Joel Terry craves relaxing outdoors. But these days, instead of starting his hour-long commute home to the mellow shore town of Long Branch, New Jersey, Terry stops at an unlikely source of nature: downtown Manhattan.

There, he boards a sailboat and is soon jibing and tacking against the whipping winds of New York Harbor. Terry, 37, who works in retail finance, is a newly minted member of the Manhattan Sailing Club, one of an increasing number of community sailing clubs across the country.

Dozens of its sailboats sit in the North Cove marina, bobbing among mega-yachts near the World Financial Center. But sailing these days doesn’t have to mean blue blazers, clubhouse dining rooms, and strict rules of etiquette. Next to multimillion-dollar yachts with names like Imagine and Endless Summer, and in the shadow of shiny towers housing financial behemoths Goldman Sachs and American Express, members, or “dock rats,” socialize on plastic lawn chairs while drinking beers. (Full disclosure: the writer is a member.)

“Sailing has had the reputation of being an expensive, elitist sport, but it really isn’t,” says Jack Gierhart, executive director of U.S. Sailing, the governing body for the sport. “Community sailing programs have been around for quite a while, but they’ve become more relevant and active in sailing recently, even in this economy.”

With more than 550 community sailing programs across the United States, these open-to-the-public and mostly nonprofit clubs account for the recent resurgence of a pastime whose popularity has waned since its heyday in the 1970s and ’80s, when sailing was a chic alternative to motorized boats during the energy crisis. The number of these organizations has risen 10 percent over the past three years, according to Gierhart.

For $1,500 a year, some 900 Manhattan Sailing Club members get access to the club’s 38 boats, the option to compete in racing leagues, and a “fleet captain” mentoring program in which they go out on the water with experienced skippers who remind them of the difference between clove and cleat hitches. Membership at the volunteer-run Fairwind Yacht Club in Marina del Rey in Southern California costs just $400 a year and offers access to its modest fleet of 20 boats.

These price tags are a far cry from those of the nation’s more than 1,100 private yacht clubs, with initiation fees often in the tens of thousands and yearly dues that run several thousand more. That can be in addition to requirements that members purchase hundreds of dollars of food and drink every month. Often, entry into these clubs is by recommendation only. Such rules have been blamed for sailing’s stagnation over the past couple of decades. – The Daily Beast, read on

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