With the sun beating down through the clouds, a fleet of optimist sailboats, no bigger than bath tubs, charted their course across the Providence River channel in a straight line like a row of …
With the sun beating down through the clouds, a fleet of optimist sailboats, no bigger than bath tubs, charted their course across the Providence River channel in a straight line like a row of ducklings.
“Tack,” shouted an instructor, and the boats began to turn, forming a zig-zag pattern.
The Edgewood Sailing School, a nonprofit housed at the Edgewood Yacht Club, provides students of all ages with the opportunity to learn how to sail. They offer classes at beginner and intermediate levels for different kinds of boats. With 8 instructors and 6 junior instructors, the school has a student-instructor ratio of 4:1.
For eight weeks during the summer, the school offers two-week-long sessions with instruction from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day begins with a sailing lesson complete with chalk talk and the setting of a course. Then, the students rig their boats and get in the water. Some days, they race. Other times, they go on distance sails to a beach or around a nearby lighthouse.
The daily activities are dependent on the environmental conditions. According to Talia Levine, an instructor, they have to get creative on days when the water is smooth as glass. Sometimes, they swim or hold talent shows.
David Sylvestre started as the Youth Program Director in January. He said that it is incredible to watch as the youngest sailors who come in terrified with no experience transform throughout the session.
“By the end of the week, they’re showing off all their new skills, and they’re comfortable in the boat,” he said. “They go from crying and screaming to laughing and having fun.”
Many instructors were once young children terrified to enter a boat. Now, they ride alongside the student sailors in motorboats and offer instruction.
Greta Shuster said she was a “screamer and a crier” when she first learned to sail at Edgewood when she was seven. She worked her way up the ranks at the school, first as a junior instructor and now as one of the most senior instructors. She’s also on the sailing team at Bates, and she said she is glad Edgewood helped her find her confidence.
The sailing school has produced a number of college racers including a share of their current instructors. A recent alumnus, Henry Lee, won his first race in the F18 World Championship.
“They really wanted me to get it,” Greta said. “I’m very grateful that they stuck with me because I love to sail.”
Greta said the program is special because it “combines teaching and coaching with fun.”
George Shuster, Greta’s dad, is the former commodore of the club and the current vice president of the sailing school board. His family has been involved with EYC since the 1950s, with his grandfather, Ed Bouclin, serving as commodore in 1966. Edgewood Sailing School, originally founded in 1952, is a nonprofit with a board of directors, staff and budget separate from the Edgewood Yacht Club, where it is housed.
Shuster did not grow up sailing as much as he would have liked, but with it in his blood, he decided to return to the club in 2010.
“I knew that it was in my family’s history,” he added.
When Shuster had his own kids, Greta and Georgia, he wanted them to “get back into it together.” He recalls taking Greta out on a 9-ft boat while she was 2 or 3. “She was learning the ropes,” he added with a laugh. He said that sometimes they race, and she usually beats him.
Through his involvement with the club, Shuster said he has supported the mission to make sure Edgewood is “welcoming to all levels of sailing.” He’s glad that the club is not “the type of place where you see a bunch of boats parked in a marina, but a place where people are out there using their boats all the time.”
Over the years, he added, the sailing school has taken measures to make sailing more accessible. They’ve made the scholarship program more robust to make sure that local students who are interested in sailing have the opportunity to participate. Each year, they offer about $3,000 in scholarships to serve about ten students.
Shuster also said they’ve been able to upgrade the fleet so that they have “exactly what we want.” They have three fleets with a total of 39 boats.
He said the school has also invested in training instructors. He explained that younger students often become junior instructors and eventually coaches, just like Greta did. Shuster said that the school did a “really did a great job of developing generation after generation of coaches.”