SAIL MARTHA'S VINEYARD TURNS TWENTY-FIVE

Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 10:40am

Sail Martha’s Vineyard began 25 years ago with a simple mission. It didn’t take a focus group or a consultant to hone the new nonprofit organization’s goals. The founders wanted to get Island kids on the water for free.

A quarter century later, Sail MV is still getting kids on the water for free.

Sail MV executive director Brock Callen. — Mark Lovewell 

“We’ve come a long way in 25 years,” said executive director Brock Callen, who with his wife Hope, organizes and oversees just about everything. “Our real job is to have an impact on the lives of the kids we work with. We just happen to use the water.”

Each year, more than 400 Island kids age eight to 18 are introduced to sailing, or refine their skills in advanced courses, during camps that can run a week or two weeks long. The price is just $50 for a Sail MV membership. Summer residents are also welcome to sign up for programs, with fees ranging from $300 to $600.

Mr. Callen remembers the early days, when founders Nancy Hoffman and the late Nancy Haskell started Sail MV with an idea and not much else. The organization was in its first year, and Mr. Callen and his wife had been living on Martha’s Vineyard for less than a year. He got volunteered.

“Nancy Haskell grabbed me,” Mr. Callen said. “She said you’re going to volunteer and teach kids to sail.”

The sailing instruction started out with groups of three kids, using the Edgartown Yacht Club as a base. Mr. Callen soon became a board member, and eventually became the director overseeing all programs, while Hope became the administrative director.

It wasn’t always easy keeping Sail MV on course.

Sailors learn what to do when the wind changes, on the water and in life. — Mark Lovewell

“Like so many non-profits, Sail MV in those earlier years was on a shoestring,” Mr. Callen said. “At one stage it was on the edge. The thing I enjoy most was managing its continuation. I’ve gotten more pleasure out of this than anything I’ve every done in my life. I get to work with kids on the water. What’s better than that?”

One of those kids was Jake Sudarsky, who was in fifth grade when he signed up for the summer sailing program. Now a student at Bridgewater State University, he said the instructors gave him a sense of confidence.

“I guess that’s where I really found my love for the water,” he said. “When I was younger, I was a little bit afraid of the water. Learning how to sail, I definitely learned how to conquer that fear.”

Like all kids starting the program, Mr. Sudarsky spent the first few weeks ashore, learning about safety, weather, the different parts of the boat and how to tie knots. Then it was off for his first sail.

Headed out for practice on the Lagoon. — Mark Lovewell 

“This was something new I had never done before,” he said. “This was me by myself, controlling the boat at the mercy of the wind, and using my skills.” Sail MV has grown to become a part of Island life, with a lecture series, licensing programs, courses for high school students and the Vineyard Cup, a summer regatta and fundraising event with an emphasis on fun. But nowhere has the organization had more of an impact than its sponsorship of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School sailing team. Sail MV provides the boats, equipment, facilities and coaches.

“The program wouldn’t exist without Sail MV,” said coach Andrew Burr.

An accomplished competitive sailor, Mr. Burr coached the team to unprecedented success in the New England Schools Sailing Association competition. Last year the team finished the season ranked fourth in all of New England, and was the top ranked public school in the region.

“I push pretty hard,” Coach Burr said. “This is not for everybody. I expect you to want to get better, to want to work hard. This isn’t sail around in circles.”

The quality of the program is evident in the number of students who go on to college sailing teams. One of the most accomplished is Emily Reich. The Oak Bluffs native earned All-American honors sailing for Old Dominion University in 2012. She was also named to the Academic All-American sailing team.

High school team was ranked first in New England last year for public schools. The sailors were nurtured at Sail MV. — Mark Lovewell

The quality of the program is also evident in numerous stories of sportsmanship, including a meet last month when the Vineyarders were well ahead of their opponents from Sandwich High School. Co-captains Mary Morano and Zachary Bresnick observed a talented but inexperienced Sandwich sailor, and spent time with her after the race explaining how she could improve.

“Winning and losing is not the most important thing,” Coach Burr said. “At the same time, I expect them to sail well. It’s nice to see people on your team doing the right things.”

Dr. Daniel Pesch, who moved to the Island five years ago to work at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, volunteers many hours of his time as vice-president and treasurer of the Sail MV board of directors. Before he moved here, he spent summers on the Vineyard.

“I’ve been aware of Sail MV for many years,” he said. “My daughter worked there a couple summers. She found it remarkable that so many organizations were focused on racing, when sailing is team building, sailing is mentorship. It’s a vehicle to reach out and work with kids.”

The board has also steered the organization beyond the summer sailing programs towards a role in education. Thanks to Sail MV, since 2007 high school students interested in vocational training have had the opportunity to learn about careers in the maritime trades.

"The program wouldn't exist without Sail MV," sailing coach Andrew Burr said. — Mark Lovewell

“We would like to build that program at the high school,” Mr. Pesch said. “It’s an opportunity to give kids skills that would allow them to be on the Vineyard. They’re looking for that opportunity.”

There will be some special touches to commemorate the 25th anniversary at the annual Seafood Buffet and Auction fundraiser on July 7, followed by the Vineyard Cup on July 8, 9 and 10.

Sail MV benefactor Charlie Dana will be honored for establishing the Dana Family Cup, a new perpetual trophy for the Vineyard Cup regatta.

Also to be honored is sailor, author and historian Nathaniel Philbrick. He will receive the Walter Cronkite Award for his work chronicling the maritime history of the Cape and Islands. Mr. Philbrick, a resident of Nantucket, has written 13 books, including In the Heart the Sea, the story of the whaleship Essex.

This year, Sail MV members will see a lot more of Dolce, an exquisite 41-foot Concordia yawl, donated to the organization by Swanee Hunt, former U.S. ambassador to Austria, and wife of renowned orchestra conductor Charles Ansbacher. Through a series of happenstances, Ms. Hunt’s charitable organization, Swanee Hunt Alternatives, donated the classic wooden vessel to Sail MV, along with $30,000 to keep her ship shape. The organization will establish a sponsorship program that will allow donors to sail Vineyard waters aboard Dolce.

“We were put in the enviable position of having a lovely yacht and maintaining her the way she should be maintained,” Mr. Callen said.

For more information and to sign up for summer sailing programs, visit sailmv.org.