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Our regular hours for open sailing are
10-6 Saturdays & Sundays, 6:30 to sunset Mon-Fri. more info...
Spring Laser Regatta Sun June 15th
Boat school every Saturday 9am-noon.
Racing every Sunday at 10am. and Wednesdays at 6:30pm.

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[David van Campenhout]

NEWS PHOTOS * Francisco Kjolseth
Members of the U-M Sailing Club gather every weekend at Baseline Lake. Above, David van Campenhout rigs a sail before setting out. Below, a pair of club members practice knots. The club is open to just about anyone who can swim 50 yards.

Sailing, Sailing

U-M Sailing Club offers lessons, races and fun

By Amy Barnes


It's a warm, sunny morning at Baseline Lake north of Dexter. Several small sailboats cut through the water, weaving in and out of each other's paths. About 20 people are standing at the end of the University of Michigan Sailing Club's dock waiting their turn.

I've donned some old clothes and sneakers, ready to exchange my land legs for sea and try sailing for the first time.

With instructor Bill Simpson at the helm, I learn the art of tacking, or coming about ("a maneuver for changing from a starboard to port tack or vice versa"). The boat picks up speed and we quickly head out onto the lake. When I master changing jib sheets and trimming the job, Simpson hands over the helm. My mind reels with sailing jargon and before I get the hang of steering the boat, it capsizes and I plunge into the water. The boat "turtles" (turns over so that the mainsail is completely under water) and I climb up on its belly and wait for the safety boat. I look up at Simpson standing on the boat. He is dry.

[Club members practice their knots]

"Once you capsize, you're well on your way to the learning curve," says Stephanie Schneiderman, vice commodore of the club. In fact, knowing how to capsize is one of the nine required skills club members check when "rating" new members (approving them to use club sailboats alone).

"The worst thing that will happen is you go in the water," says Simpson, an engineer and long-time sailor. "Safety boats are ready at all times."

Established in 1938, the University of Michigan Sailing Club is run as a cooperative, and anyone interested in sailing is welcome to join. Membership is contingent only upon a person's ability to swim 50 yards. All instructors are volunteers, and the 250 to 300 members mow the lawn, repair the docks and maintain the boats and boathouse.

Safety is a top priority for club members. All boats must be sailed within sight of the dock and safety crews are ready and waiting at all times. Also, no boat may be sailed without a rated member.

Ratings run from "elementary" (crew rating) up to "skipper". At the most basic level, members are tested on points including mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, knots, rigging, sailing and nomenclature.

The skipper rating, according to the club's guidebook, "The Michigan Sailor," represents a level of "small boat seamanship," at which "a skipper can handle boats in heavy air and is familiar with the weather." A skipper also is "expected to show responsibility for all club operations under any conditions and to make structural repairs."

"(Sailing) is one of the safest sports I've seen," said Kevin Bosley, commodore and eight-year member of the club. "We deliberately try to teach the basics... We're here to build a foundation (of sailing skills) people can build on and take with them."

Building that foundation begins on Saturday mornings. The club offers instruction from 9 am to 1 pm, and lessons include shoreside lectures and individual lessons on a sailboat or sailboard.

In addition to hands-on instruction, the Sailing Club also provides weekly lectures on topics such as "Right of Way Rules," and "Start Tactics," among others.

Members can put their skills to the test on Sundays in the intra-club races. Held from 10 am to 2 pm, sailors holding the intermediate helm rating or higher race each other several times to clinch the title of best sailor for that week. One race is usually reserved for those with the basic crew rating so they can develop basic racing skills.

Intercollegiate racing in the Midwest Collegiate Sailing Association is open to the best undergraduate sailors. Michigan hosts approximately eight to ten regattas, and each year a memorial regatta is held for the Robert Carey/Allen Price Memorial Bowl, given in memory of a club commodore and racing chairman who died in 1958.

Open sailing is held on Sundays too, as well as most every evening during the week and after 1 pm on Saturdays. Members also can sail after dark, usually on Friday and Saturday nights. Boats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The university-recognized student organization receives no funding from the U-M. Members pay dues, and the club saves one-third of its revenue each year. Among other things, this frugality has allowed the club to build a new boathouse and upgrade its fleet: 14 new sailboats were purchased this year. The entire fleet includes fifteen International 470s, six Lasers, four beginner sailboards and three intermediate/advanced boards.

In addition to sailing, the club organizes picnics on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. They are held on the club's property on Baseline Lake north of Hudson Hills Metropark.

If you're interested in learning how to sail, you can show up at the club's dock on a Saturday morning and put your name on the list for lessons. Wear clothing to suit the weather - and remember that it might be significantly cooler on the water. In cool weather, wool retains its insulating properties when wet; windy weather should prompt you to wear rain pants and coat. Wetsuits are often worn in late fall or early spring. Be sure to wear soft-sole shoes and clothes that can get wet, and take a towel, a change of clothes, a lunch and soft drinks (alcohol is prohibited, as are pets.)

The club is in need of instructors, so you may have to wait a while for a lesson - which is a good time to meet people and share your anxieties over capsizing. The "terminally informal" club, as Kevin Bosley puts it, is a relaxed, encouraging place to learn to sail. The worst thing that can happen is that you'll get wet. But, you'll likely have a great time doing it.

The University of Michigan Sailing Club is located at 8010 Strawberry Lake Road north of Dexter on Baseline Lake. Membership dues for spring and summer are $55 for students and $95 for non-students and include all instruction, use of boats, boards and facilities. Annual family memberships are also available. There is no charge for children accompanying adults. Weekly lectures are held at 7:45pm on Thursdays in room 120 of the Dennison building on the University of Michigan central campus. For more information, or specific directions, call the club at 426-4299 or Kevin Bosley at 426-0920.


©1996 The Ann Arbor News