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On the water: Sailing club starts community classes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Three small boats skim across the Georgetown harbor in front of a vacant shipping pier and an idle tugboat. A southwest wind catches their sails, tipping their lee rails into the water and causing their crews to stretch themselves out over the hull to balance the boats.

Interest in small boat sailing that began with classes at the S.C. Maritime Museum and grew into sailing clubs at local schools is now on a new tack: community sailing lessons. “We found there were a lot of people who wanted to sail, but weren’t interested in racing,” said Ashley DesMarteau, an organizer of the nonprofit Winyah Bay Sailing Club. “They just wanted to know how to go from Point A to Point B.”

Byron Colvis understands. He began sailing after he moved to Pawleys Island in 1991 from a small town in southeastern Missouri – “just a wide spot in the highway,” he said. He was fresh out of the University of Illinois with a degree in mechanical engineering. He sailed with a friend who had a 19-foot Mariner, a popular daysailer and racing boat. “It’s all about aerodynamics,” he said. “It was a natural fit.”

Colvis is teaching the community sailing classes, which began Saturday afternoon from the dock at Hazzard Marine where the sailing club keeps its fleet of Vanguard 420 racing dinghies. The boats are 4.2 meters long, just under 14 feet. They hold a crew of two: the skipper at the tiller and a crew member to handle the jib.

“The most dangerous thing on the 420 is the jibe,” Colvis told his class of one adult and five children. That happens when the boat changes direction by turning its stern to the wind. The boom swings from one side of the boat to the other in a heartbeat, so the crew in the shallow cockpit must keep their heads low. It’s safer to tack, Colvis said, turning the bow into the wind.

Since the class already has sailing experience, Colvis didn’t spend much time talking. He and Ella Grace Bodie, a member of the Waccamaw High sailing team, helped them rig the boats – sorting out halyards, sheets, outhauls and downhauls – and pushed them out into the channel.

“I think it’s cool to be out on the water with just the wind for power instead of an outboard,” said Chris Fischer of Pawleys Island. He was the lone adult and was accompanied by his son Luke, a seventh-grader who learned to sail in the museum’s Opti prams. “I’ve done clinics and skippered before,” he said, but he wanted more experience at the helm.

So did Grayson Sossoman, a sophomore at the Georgetown School of Arts and Science. He crewed for Ella Smith, a freshman at Waccamaw High who is on the sailing team. “I was told I needed more practice skippering,” Ella said.

“I want to be able to skipper,” Grayson said.

A couple of hours on the water near the State Ports Authority dock gave Colvis a chance to assess the class as he, Ella Grace and his daughter Lacy watched from a skiff. He offered some pointers, but mostly watched and made sure no one got into trouble. He participates in the Charleston Offshore Racing Association and also sails an 18-foot Hobie Cat off Pawleys Island.

“We’ve got a wide range of experience,” Colvis said when he was back on the dock. At the end of the six-week class, he expects to see “clean tacks and jibes.” He wants the class to learn how to handle the sails to get the most power and how to read the wind.

He thought he would get a few more adults, but he’s pleased with the start. There is room for a couple of more sailors. The classes continue Saturday afternoons through Oct. 15. Anyone who is interested can contact Colvis at bbc628@sc.rr.com.

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