Image: Gene Pollux 

In the late 1970s, some young Sarasota mothers wanted to get back to sailing—with kids in tow. They launched sailing classes at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, and soon prams with tykes at the tiller became a familiar sight on the bay. Today the nonprofit Sarasota Youth Sailing (SYS) serves 450 students, ages 5 to 18, in summer and spring camps and on racing teams. Some racers compete internationally, but director Mary Trichter says the program’s main aim is building a love of sailing as “a lifelong sport.” Equally important, kids develop confidence, independence and responsibility. From Day 1, they’re alone in their boats, with counselors close by. Some parents protest—“He’s all by himself!”—but soon even the youngest are hoisting the rigging, capsizing and righting the boat, and tacking their way back to shore. 

The Squadron has been a partner from the beginning, providing boat storage, operational facilities and financial support.

$500,000 annual budget includes grants and gifts that help fund programs and provide scholarships. 

12.5 million Americans sailed in the 1980s; 2.5 million sail now. SYS promotes the sport by recruiting diverse students, creating sailing programs with nonprofits, and offering options for today’s over-scheduled kids.

Two hundred young sailors from across the Southeast compete in the 33rd Annual Sailfest, a fund raiser that takes place on March 28 and 29. 

A new after-school program, Adventures Afloat, will offer kayaking, fishing and other water adventures along with sailing.

SYS kids sail on the USODA National and World Championship teams and have won or placed in races in New Orleans, San Francisco and more. 

SYS’s fleet of 52 boats includes Optimists, O’Pen Bics, Lasers, 420s and Multihulls.

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