Northport non-profit sailing school breezing through fourth summer
Spearheaded by Donna Chapman and her husband, Jim, the non-profit organization has given youths ages 8-16 the opportunity to learn sailing techniques since its introduction in 2009.
Donna Chapman was a member of the Northport Village Council waterfront committee when the idea emerged.
“I said to myself, ‘Why don’t we have a sailing school?’” NYSS president Chapman recalled.
NYSS offered five weeks of instruction starting in July. Broken into five, one-week sessions, instruction lasted for three hours a day finishing with a family picnic each Friday that also allowed students to showcase their newly developed skills for family members. The lessons were $115, but to help cover the cost, the NYSS offered 24 scholarships.
Though instruction was available at several places throughout the county, Chapman believed there would be enough interest in a youth program to warrant serious discussion. She sent an email to Yacht Club members and 10 individuals showed up.
“We started brainstorming different ideas,” she said. “What type of boats? How long? It was a long process.”
Chapman and colleagues brought their plan before the Village Council, which decided to support the upstart school. The council agreed to let the NYSS make its home in the unused classroom connected to the visitor’s center.
“We went in and cleared everything out,” Chapman said. “ ... made it look like a sailing school.”
The next step would be to decide on what type of boats the school would utilize. The answer came in the form of the 8-foot optimist sailing pram, a single-handed sailing dinghy intended for children up to 15 years old.
“I had never seen the pram before,” she said. “We were in Florida going over the Intercostal (Waterway) and we looked down and there went about 20 of them out of the Sarasota sailing school.”
The Chapmans spent the next couple of days speaking with the director of the sailing school. They were offered several pieces of advice to help them develop their school.
The newly formed NYSS board applied for grants and received some money from the Leelanau Township Foundation to help them combat a portion of the costs. With this money, the school got started. The first Optimist kit was donated and Chapman’s husband put it together.
Today the NYSS fleet has grown to 12 Optimists. They’ve even added five Laser Picos, a longer sailing dinghy suitable for older students in the NYSS.
To house the boats, the NYSS gained permission from the Village Council to refurbish a dilapidated bathroom facility on South beach. The school currently relies on a host of volunteers and employs three fulltime instructors. Among them is Dustin Webb, a University of Michigan graduate with 25 years of sailing experience. According to Chapman, each instructor has a level one certifi cation from the U.S. Sailing Association. The NYSS is also sanctioned by U.S. Sailing and uses Red and Green Books to track skill development among its students.
“Our primary focus, of course, is to learn to sail,” Chapman said. “Our students learn about safety first as well as the wind and how to read it.”
Sailing skills might be the focus of the program, but skill development reaches much deeper. Aside from tacking, jibing and knot tying, students often find that important life skills find their way into the program.
“A lot of times they’ll sail double,” Chapman added. “So they spend quite a bit of time working together as a team.
“Teamwork, sportsmanship and how to take direction are huge aspects of our course.”
According to Chapman, seeing the students on the water utilizing their skills is a great feeling.
“You go from Monday to Friday and it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come,” she said. “This is a big thing for Northport.
“We see that anybody can get on the water and it’s great for the kids to have this kind of opportunity.”