VERO BEACH – The Indian River was dotted with colorful 8-foot-long Opti sailing dinghies on Sunday as the First Annual Fundraiser for the Youth Sailing Foundation of Indian River County got underway.
The Latitude 27/39 Club Members – named for the coordinates 27/39 at the Vero Beach Marina – demonstrated their sailing abilities out on the water and talked with interested youths and adults about the boat building process and upcoming plans for the program.
“We are in our second year of operation and the amount of excitement and interest with our sailing program has just exploded,” said Charlie Pope, Chairman of the Youth Sailing Foundation of Indian River County.
“The Vero Beach Yacht Club was very gracious to us in hosting our event,” said Pope. “The food and service is wonderful and we sold about 265 tickets which will benefit the organization greatly.”
The primary mission and goal of the foundation is to promote and operate a sustainable sailing program for the benefit of local youth between the ages of 7 and 15.
“Our new slogan is ‘The kids build the boats and the boats build the kids’. We want them to do something with their hands and feel accomplished and proud that they are going to sail something they built themselves. They become captains of their own vessels,” said Pope.
“We want the kids to have fun and also develop competence, character and confidence as sailors. Parents and volunteers get the chance to bond with their children as they mentor them throughout the process of building their own boats and then learning to sail them,” he added.
The first boat was built in November 2009 and they are currently working on number 21.
“The boats were designed 63 years ago in Clearwater, Florida and now there are 300,000 of them around the world,” explained Pope. “Only two percent of sailing clubs in the U.S. use wooden boats like these. All others are fiberglass.”
“The boat costs each sailor $1,600 and that includes everything. There are no power tools involved. It’s like gluing together a puzzle,” said Pope. “Each boat takes about 40 hours to assemble and they are such high quality, they will last forever.”
Seventy percent of the foundation’s boats are donated. Most recently, Quail Valley and the Moorings Club have both donated funds for the boats.
“This summer we are hosting a sailing camp at the Moorings in combination with their tennis and golf program. So now it will incorporate all three sports – tennis, golf, and sailing,” said Pope.
The foundation has a truck with a specially built trailer to transport the boats to sail in regattas in other parts of Florida.
The Youth Sailing Foundation has sailed in regattas in Palm Beach, Jensen Beach, Fort Pierce and Melbourne and has hopes to host its own regatta sometime in the future.
For now, sailing classes are held every Saturday from Noon to 3 p.m. with the boats launched from the docks at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina.
In the summer, classes will run from 9 a.m. to Noon.
Vero Beach resident Louise Zimmerman is thrilled to have her 10-year-old son, Ivor, involved with the program. He is currently building boat #21 with his dad and grandfather and has named his vessel ‘Gladiator.’
“He is so excited about learning to sail and race and said that ‘It’s the first thing I have ever been in charge of’,” she said.