Support community sailing during crisis

Published on September 3rd, 2020

Charlie Zechel, Executive Director at Community Boating Inc., shares a bit of their history which laid the foundation for their upcoming 75th anniversary, while revealing how the pandemic of 2020 has impacted community sailing centers, and that our support is vital for these facilities to get through this crisis:


The winters of the 1930s were harsh for the residents of Boston’s West End, many of whom were immigrants to this country. The Great Depression, like a fierce storm, was washing over the nation. Jobs were scarce, food lines were long, and prospects for a bright future were hard to come by.

This was the world in which Community Boating came to be, initially as a private initiative encouraging youth sailors in building and sailing their craft in the heart of the city. A unique collection of personalities, government institutions, and events coalesced, just enough, such that the Massachusetts Metropolitan District Commission built a new, dedicated boathouse on the banks of the river in 1941.

During the war years, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) kept the program alive through administration and programming support. With the end of the war, in 1946, Community Boating, Inc. (CBI) was incorporated as a non-profit organization, launching its own unique brand of sailing club.

Today CBI operates under an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, continuing a long and fruitful partnership with the Commonwealth.

CBI was a new way of organizing sailing. In contrast to yacht clubs, its mission was, and remains today, “Sailing for All”. Economic and social status were irrelevant to “joining” CBI.

Since CBI’s early days, community sailing programs have spread far and wide across the nation, built in principle on this simple idea – “Sailing for All”. It is with some pride that CBI maintains a special place in the promotion and development of “community sailing” across the United States.

A description of CBI often starts with the program offerings and types of memberships, what boats are used, how the finances are organized, the bylaws, marketing, volunteers, etc. However, there is an ingredient at the core that has sustained CBI for 75 years and cannot be emphasized enough. And it is “COMMUNITY”.

Our community is the most important resource. Many dozens of volunteers – and thousands of sailing members – create the unique quality that is CBI. As a result, CBI has maintained $1 memberships for hundreds of children every year, has developed accessible programming (Universal Access Program) serving more than 250 individuals with disabilities every year, and has brought affordable sailing to a wider community of more than 6,500 individuals every year.

Our sailors come to CBI from all backgrounds. Many have never sailed before, and they take their first sails on “The Charles” after basic instruction from staff and volunteer instructors. Others are highly skilled sailors, simply looking for the most accessible sailing in the metropolitan area for after-work or weekend enjoyment.

Folks come to Community Boating from all over the world (many are researchers, post-docs, entrepreneurs, students, visiting interns and medical residents), as well as from throughout Boston and surrounding communities, drawn by the sight of our fleet of Mercuries, Lasers, 420s, Ideal 18s, Rhodes 19s, Sonars, kayaks, and windsurfers.

Many stay on, renewing their memberships each year and enriching our CBI community with their presence and participation and volunteerism. Others return to their own communities – often remembering their CBI experience for years afterward or even endeavoring to build similar programs in other settings. Still others build on their newfound sailing skills, later to position themselves in ambitious ocean racing and cruising activities.

CBI will be 75 years old in 2021 and has plans for a loud, boisterous, and joyful (in-person) celebration in what we hope to be the post-coronavirus era.

For now, as if an intense squall line were sweeping over us, we’ve all have had to reduce sail, secure the hatches, and hang-on, with the hope that when the storm passes and visibility returns, we will see the horizon ahead, and not a lee shore.

While CBI takes comfort in our history, iconic river presence, and deep sailing community, we simply don’t know what the future will hold or what the next 75 years may look like. I want to appeal to the Scuttlebutt readership: If you love sailing and the concept of “Sailing for All”, please consider supporting your local community sailing centers.

CBI and probably all community sailing centers need your help now. We are operating at a fraction of our normal income and at the same time having to meet demanding requirements for protection of the health and safety of our staff and sailors.

Perhaps you are one of the many tens of thousands of folks who have sailed here and will find a way of giving your financial support in this most crucial moment. I know that every community sailing program in the nation is in the midst of a storm, where survival is not assured. Please support your community sailing programs wherever they may be.

For a list of USA community sailing programs, click here.
To support Community Boating, click here.

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