Get off the dock and into the bay with the Saginaw Bay Community Sailing Association

Sailing can be a big investment, not only in dollars, but also in time. That means if you don’t know anyone who sails, it can be tough to learn about the sport. That’s where the Saginaw Bay Community Sailing Association (SBCSA) comes in.

The all-volunteer organization is back this year with lessons, open sailing, the mission to help people learn about the sport of sailing.

Wanda Dziwura, President of the SBCSA, says the organization has been around since 1995. The founders wanted to give everyone the opportunity to learn to sail, no matter their experience, income, or ability.

After nearly three decades, the SBCSA continues to make it affordable and simple to learn to sail, Dziwura says.

“Unless you know somebody who owns a boat, or you have enough money to go buy a sailboat, and hire someone to teach you, there wasn’t really any access in this area to learn how to sail and get on a sailboat,” says Dziwura.

Sailing lessons start for kids as young as 8 years old.When the organization started, the founding members dug into their own pockets and got other sailing friends to chip in. Soon, they had a fleet of borrowed sailboats and started teaching classes.

The curriculum is provided directly from U.S. Sailing, the national governing body for the sport of sailing.

“Can you swim with the aid of a lifejacket?” Dziwura asks. If you can, you can sail. “Anyone can learn to sail.”

Youth lessons start at age 8, and range from beginner to advanced. Adult lessons also are available. Dziwura says the lessons are affordable for families in order to give everyone a chance to experience sailing.

Youth lessons are provided on what are known as Optimus prams – small boats with one sail. Once kids master the prams, they can advance to 12-foot RS Feva dinghies with a main sail, jib, and spinnaker. More advanced students and adults use day-sailors that are 17 feet and have a main sail and jib.

This summer, the SBCSA hopes to connect with other local non-profits such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Dow Bay Area Family Y to give more kids the chance to get out on the boats.

The lessons build independence and confidence.

“From Day One, the kids are in the water in the boat by themselves and learning to maneuver,” says Dziwura.

But not to worry – instructors are always close.

“From Day One, they learn how to rig that boat, get it in the water and make it go. Then, as they advance, they move up to the larger boats that have more performance, and then move up into the adult boats.”

Already an experienced sailor, but don’t want the added expense of boat ownership? Again, Dziwura say no worries.

“We have something for everyone. Experienced sailors can become members and use the boats so they don’t have to invest in a boat if they don’t want to.”

Adult classes are also available for people who just want a refresher before making an investment.

“It’s been fun to watch the adult classes. People meet each other in class and become friends, then they go out on the keel boats together.”

If you've seen the small white boats sailing across the river, you've seen the Saginaw Bay Community Sailing Association in action.There are two larger boats available for members to take out on day-sails either by themselves or with instructors.

“Once you go through the training, you can go through a qualifying program to get access to one of those two boats as well,” says Dziwura.

A 22-foot Catalina Capri is available for day sailing with two or three adults and features a rolling furler, genoa jib, and a fixed keel. The second is a 24 foot “Brass Tack” and is used for open sailing, but it’s available to members for day sailing.

Sailing lessons are not the only offerings at the SBCSA.

During the winter, Dziwura says the organization also provides boat-building classes in the boat shop at Gougeon Brothers. Each spring, the boatbuilders unveil their winter project. This year, the group built a sailing canoe, and are working on a stand-up paddle board too. Typically, the boatbuilding classes are offered to adults, but Dziwura says they’re hoping to open it up to teens.

Tuesday evenings, members can drop by for open sailing and take out any of the boats, whether the small training boats or the larger day sailors.

“Sometimes we have small regattas out on the river,” she says, adding membership is required for the open sailing.

Membership in the SBCSA is made more affordable by providing student, individual, and family memberships. Dziwura says it doesn’t matter what size your family is, the price is the same.

Recently, the SBCSA decided to hire an office manager to help get some publicity for their programs and to grow their opportunities in the coming season.

“We have had to recover from not being able to hold classes because of the pandemic,” says Dziwura. “We want to grow and offer more programs, but the biggest challenge we faced was getting the word out.”

The organization hopes hiring Aubrey Wahl as the office manager helps get the organization through some of those hurdles.

Wahl says she is fairly new to the sailing world and is excited to get her feet wet in the organization.

“I’m in love with this organization because they’re trying to open up to an entirely different population of people, whether they’re youth or adults. (SBCSA) makes it accessible in a sense that it’s not this big dream of ‘Oh one day I’ll be on a sailboat,’ you can literally come down and be on a sailboat. So it’s very exciting.”

Dziwura says getting people out onto the water is what SBCSA is all about.

“We want to let people know we’ve got something really cool to offer,” she says. “We want to expose more people to the resource we have in the bay and the river – in a responsible as well as fun way.”