Opening Sailing to the Community
Published on June 16th, 2015
The city of Neenah in eastern Wisconsin is about 45 miles from Lake Michigan but located adjacent to Lake Winnebago, which is where you’ll find the members of Neenah-Nodaway Yacht Club (NNYC) and Fox Valley Sailing School (FVSS. Jonathan Coultas shares this report on how the locals are sharing their sailing passion…
We just hosted our second annual Sailing Open House on Saturday, June 13. NNYC had done a similar event in the past called the Sail Expo, but it was smaller and the “expo” name made it seem more like an event just for sailors. So in 2014, to coincide with our 150th anniversary, we tweaked the event and it has since become our signature summer event.
Calling the event the Sailing Open House eliminated the perception of something only for those who already sail. To attract an attendance, we schedule it on the same weekend as a popular 3-on-3 street basketball tournament in town and promote it with flyers. We also get the word out through our Facebook page and website and use local family activity guides, the Parks and Recreation department, and newspapers to further market the event.
Once people arrive we have organized lots of activities for both kids and adults, with the local Boy Scout troop on hand with concessions.
Bouncing beach balls on spinnakers, racing foam boats in gutters, nautical face painting, knot tying, and much more keep the kids entertained. The local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla brings “Coastie”, the robot safety boat, to teach kids about water safety in an exciting way.
We line up club member’s boats on the seawall for tours, offering a variety from J/22s to 30-foot cruisers to a F27 trimaran for people to sit on and learn about. However, the big draw and popular activity is sailboat rides through the harbor.
Using the Flying Scots from FVSS training boats and NNYC fleet member boats, we took close to 200 people for rides last year, and despite the threat of rain this year, we still had 150 people out on the water.
Once people get on the water, you encourage them to take photos. They are smiling, getting great images of their families or selfies while sailing, which they are then putting out on social media.
For many it was their first time on a sailboat. Others came back after taking a ride at last year’s Open House and some fondly recalled sailing at summer camps in their youth. The Coast Guard Auxiliary provided loaner life jackets for our passengers with a briefing on PFD fit and safety.
The months of organization and commitment of our volunteers from NNYC and FVSS is paid back instantly when you hear a kid recapping in a rush of excitement how they got to steer the boat during their boat ride through the harbor.
This free and fun event serves a few purposes. It brings our members together for a common cause, while promoting NNYC and FVSS to help pick up new members and students. But most importantly, it exposes sailing to a new and wide audience and gives us a chance to connect with and share our passion for the sport with the community.
I hope other clubs are getting out there and doing similar things in their communities to experience the satisfying rewards and also help grow the sport!