Spinsheet, December 2001

All Access at Baltimore's Downtown Sailing Center

Yachting: The Downtown Sailing Center, one of 620 North American community sailing programs, is all about teaching.

By Katie Dutton
December 2001
Republished with permission from Spinsheet

On a blustery, cold, Wednesday evening in October about 15 members of the Downtown Sailing Center turned up at the Pavilion at the Baltimore Museum of Industry in the Inner Harbor. They were equipped with wool sweaters, fleece jackets, and hats, ready and willing to brave the conditions for some time on the water. They wouldn’t miss it. To the dismay of the members who had showed up that night, Assistant Director for DSC, Scott Livingston called off the evening sail. "It’s just too windy." Even the old, sturdy schooners participating in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race the next day had cancelled their parade around the Inner Harbor. So the sailors had to go home that night having not received their weekly dose of on-the-water-time, a highly anticipated few hours for the members of the DSC, most of whom are Baltimore residents.

The Downtown Sailing Club was formed in 1990 as a private sailing organization. In 1993, it was converted by its members to the Downtown Sailing Center. The goal was to be a nonprofit community sailing organization offering area residents sailing instruction and access to J/22s and other sailboats at a modest cost. Since then, the DSC has reached and surpassed that goal, continually growing and setting new expectations for themselves. Now the DSC offers a variety of programs including junior and adult learn-to-sail programs, open recreational sailing, racing and social events for members, as well as youth outreach programs for Baltimore City youth. The DSC received US Sailing’s1998 Outstanding New Community Sailing Program award and US Sailing’s 2000 Outstanding Seasonal Community Sailing Program award. The awards were well earned because the DSC is truly a community effort. The group of over 450 members is comprised of a diverse group of professionals from many backgrounds who all volunteer and come together to make the DSC successful in reaching its goals. One example of the way that the surrounding community helps the DSC is the gift of carpet pieces that was given by Bill’s Carpet Fair and used to pad the docks under the DSC’s new Access Dinghies.

The Downtown Sailing Center is fortunate to have a full time staff of three enthusiastic and hard working sailors: Scott Livingston, the Assistant Director, Andy Herbick, the Education Director, and Kirk Culbertson, the Executive Director. They operate out of a small, one room office in the Baltimore Museum of Industry, which overflows with their enthusiasm, the noise of fax machines, and VHF weather reports. The staff of the DSC brings their personal love of sailing to their jobs, and in turn, they work hard to pass that passion for the sport on to the members and students at the DSC.

Located in a prime spot in the Inner Harbor on Key Highway, the sailboats stand out amongst the industrial waterfront that surrounds them, almost as some sort of oasis. The Downtown Sailing Center has a variety of boats at its facility. The daysailer fleet currently includes eight J/22s, five Impulse 21s, five Catalina 22s, six JY 15s, three Escapes, and four Access Dinghies, and the cruising fleet includes a San Juan 24, a Hunter 25, a Tartan 27, and a J/30. The boats are all located at the two handicap accessible docks that the DSC uses adjacent to the Museum of Industry facility. Since DSC is a nonprofit organization, most of its boats were received as donations.

The DSC offers a range of learn to sail programs for everyone from the most novice sailor to those who want to learn to race. For adults, beginning and intermediate classes are held on evenings and weekends. Each class consists of four Monday evenings, four Tuesday evenings, or two weekend days. The DSC maintains a student to instructor ratio of 3 to 1. For junior sailors, the DSC offers keelboat and dinghy classes for kids ages 8 –16, beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. One of the goals of the DSC is to make sailing more accessible to inner-city residents, and one of the ways they do this is by offering community outreach programs such as the summer program they offer in partnership with SuperCamp. This program targets disadvantaged urban children between the second and third grade year (experts say this is the period during which children’s reading skills decline most rapidly). The program stimulates children to reading by linking read assignments with hands-on skills, such as sailing. So far, the DSC and SuperCamp have introduced more than 2,000 inner-city third-graders to sailing and the Inner Harbor.

Member racing is held in the Impulse fleet on Tuesday nights, and J/22 racing is held on Thursday nights. Members come to participate in the racing series primarily to have fun, but also to be on the water in a constructive learning environment.

One of the especially unique aspects of the Downtown Sailing Center is their commitment to provide access to sailing programs for people with disabilities. This program, called "Access-Ability", was developed by the DSC and functions in partnership with local organizations. Similar to the goals of the DSC, the goals of Access-Ability are to provide inclusive sailing opportunities for people with disabilities, to promote life skills such as self-reliance, self-confidence, teamwork, and patience. The DSC also intends this program to serve as a feeder system for the Chesapeake Challenge, a Paralympic sailboat racing program designed to form, train, fund and send a racing team to the 2003 USA Paralympic Trials. The team will represent the USA at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. Through these methods the DSC hopes to further the mission to provide affordable access to sailing for everyone.

The Access 10 dinghies will play a unique role in the "Access-Ability" program. They are made in Australia, and the DSC is the only facility north of Florida to have a fleet of them. They are virtually uncapsizeable, with a dagger board that weighs about 80 pounds and extends over three feet beneath the hull. Each dinghy has two seats, side by side, and all of the controls are led directly into the cockpit, within easy reach of the skipper. The DSC decided to purchase these unique boats because as well as being ideal for disabled sailors, they are great learning boats, very stable and durable.

In order to implement the commitment of the DSC to provide sailing opportunities to people with disabilities, they have developed an approach similar to their other sailing programs. In addition to providing "Special Event" sailing opportunities during the sailing season on one weekend day per month so as to introduce people with disabilities to the sport of sailing, the DSC wants to develop a complete sailing education program specifically designed for people with disabilities. Students for this program will come from those groups attending the "Special Event" programs and also from targeted organizations in the Baltimore area.

To complement the sailing education program, the DSC will develop programs for people with disabilities that are similar to the other programs offered for able-bodied members. These programs will include sailing education for adults and as children, recreational sailing opportunities, racing opportunities, and also organized social events in conjunction with the rest of the DSC members. Recreational sailing will include Open Sailing opportunities for those who have been trained in the boats at specified times and dates. An assigned dockmaster will be on hand to assist those who might need assistance. The DSC also wants to provide a system for those more advanced sailors who have finished the education programs and wish to pursue their sailing in a more competitive environment. This might include a way to become involved in the Chesapeake Challenge Paralympic training program.

The DSC foresees that their "Access-Ability" program will become a permanent part of the sailing opportunities that they will provide to their members and the surrounding community of Baltimore. One of the ways that the DSC will ensure the success of their programs is by having skilled and talented instructors who will create a fun and enthusiastic learning environment.

The awards that the DSC has received are well deserved, as any visitor of the club can attest. There is a general feeling among those at the DSC, both the staff and members, that they are well aware of the unique program they have going, and are in appreciation of it. The DSC is truly a community sailing club, in both the community that has developed amongst the members and in the connection the DSC makes and continues to build with the Baltimore community.

The Downtown Sailing Center is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit community sailing center.
Located at The Baltimore Museum of Industry
Photography donated by Andy Herbick Photography, and others.