US Sailing recently opened its new training facility, with special thanks to donors who contributed more than $300,000 to enable Phase 1 of development to be completed.
Newport, San Diego, Miami, Annapolis, Marina Del Ray, Seattle -- and Stuart. Incongruous as it might seem Stuart, Florida has made the list as one of the nation's best sailing destinations.
This national realization happened principally because of the US Sailing Center of Martin County, Inc.
Since receiving it's sanction as a small boat training center from the United States Sailing Association (US SAILING) in October, 1992 -- at the time one of two in the nation -- the grassroots non-profit learning center has trained more than a thousand local sailors including national collegiate All-American Lee Icyda. Icyda has recently begun her Olympic campaign in the Yngling class with an eye toward the 2004 games in Greece. Other students, such as Peter Strong have distinguished themselves as top sailors at Ivy League Schools such as University of Pennsylvania, where he served as captain of the sailing team.
The center continues to host some of the most prestigious small boat regattas in the nation including several Olympic qualifiers - events that attracted outstanding sailors from around the United States.
Now a winter training site for nationally ranked college sailing teams such as Yale, Brown, and Georgetown, and for high school sailors from throughout the nation, the little program that would has come into its own.
Located in a 5,000 square foot building that looks more like a prestigious yacht club than a learning center, officials at the Martin County facility have even greater ambitions in mind. In their crosshairs is the goal to be recognized as the finest small boat sail training facility in the nation, and considering the Center has been twice chosen as one of the nation's outstanding community sailing centers from of a field of more than 400, that goal is within their grasp.
In talking to founding members Chairman Emeritus Jack LeFort, Sr., Jack LeFort, Jr., Campbell Rich, and current president John Vance, it's obvious success did not come without personal commitment on the part of the founding members as well as a lot of community support.
Community is the byword in these parts. "Community sailing is what we're all about," said Board of Directors president John Vance.
"We are not a private club. We are not elitist. Everyone is welcome. We are totally nonprofit. We only charge for services provided and those charges are based on covering costs. This building, beautiful as it is, belongs to the county and its citizens."
In 1992, LeFort, Sr., longtime volunteer at US Sailing which included serving as Vice President of US SAILING and President of US Professional Sailing, requested the sanctioning of a small boat training center in Stuart, Florida. LeFort's request was granted by the US SAILING Board of Directors in October, 1992. This set in motion the founders' plan to establish a community sailing center in Stuart.
Known more for its fishing as, "The Sailfish Capital of the World," Stuart has vast protected waterways with high velocity winds, especially in the winter. In other words, perfect sailing conditions for small boats, said LeFort, Jr., former outstanding collegiate sailor and current Mumm 30 North American Champion. The only thing lacking was a network of yacht clubs, such as those in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and St. Petersburg, to promote it.
"We've always believed we have the ideal location for a world class small boating sailing center. The sailing conditions are some of the best in the country and on top of it, we have this wonderful, family-friendly community. The sailors that come here to sail love the flavor of the area, that fact that this is a small waterfront community that's safe and easy to get around in," he adds.
Considering that the US Sailing Center of Martin County managed to attract thousands of local kids and national sailors to a facility that amounted to no more than an open air classroom with a recreational vehicle as it's offices on the Jensen Causeway, its successes are even more remarkable.
It was a perfectly executed plan.
"We always figured if we built the program and developed the sailors, the building would eventually come," said LeFort, Jr.
And so it has.
"We kicked off our fund raising program two years ago and the community did not let us down," said LeFort, Jr.
The US Sailing Center officially opened its new training facility with a Grand Opening Celebration Gala on Saturday, April 20, 2002. The evening thanked and saluted the 120 major donors who contributed over $300,000, thus ending Phase I of the $500,000 long-term Capital Campaign. All monies used to construct the new building as well as to purchase new operating equipment were derived from the Building Fund Campaign as well as Gala contributions," said Rich who serves as Fundraising Chair.
Located on a leafy 7-acre site north of the county's new Indian Riverside Park in Jensen Beach, the center has classrooms, locker rooms, showers, and handicap facilities so we can really begin our job of reaching out to provide sailing to everyone in the area, said Vance.
The new facility will be fully staffed with three employees as well as many part time volunteers, "we are again offering 10 weeks of summer youth programs to include not just novice classes but intermediate and advanced sail training on a much broader basis," said Vance.
And in August, in conjunction with Martin County Department of Parks and Recreation, the facility will host a free scholarship week for some of the area's underserved youth to experience the sport of sailing.
Also in the works is sail training for the physically challenged. Five time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, Betsy Alison, who represented US SAILING at the Grand Opening Gala, serves as team coach for the United States Disabled Sailing Team. She'll be providing input as we begin this program, said LeFort, Jr. and considering she is Lee Icyda's skipper in the Yngling class, "I think we'll be seeing a lot of her in Martin County over the next two years," he adds.
Adult sailing instruction, which took a back seat to the junior programs in the past, will be a focus over the next few years as the center broadens its fleet of small boats better suited for novice to advanced adult sailors.
"This winter we'll begin our push to make the Center a vacation destination for sailors seeking winter training and specialized workshops. With the beaches, fine hotels, and excellent restaurants in the area, sailing packages could become a popular attraction."
All of these things can be accomplished within the focus of our serving the US SAILING as one of its three sanctioned training facilities, said Vance.
With Miami designated as the official United States Olympic Committee Training Center, we will operate as their closest support center. What that means to Martin County is the opportunity to hold Olympic qualifiers and trials, said LeFort, Sr. The center will host the 2002 Pre-trials and the 2003 Olympic Windsurfing Trials.
And with the new location, the courses will be located between the bridges on the Indian River, which should make all competitions more visible to spectators.
"After Ten years of sustained effort I am extremely proud of what this group has accomplished. This facility specifically designed as a small boat training center is ideally sited on the Indian River. We now have all the tools in place to fulfill our mission".
For more information about the Center and its programs, call the Program Director at 334-8085.