Heading into its 8th year, the Alameda Community Sailing Center (ACSC) is a hidden jewel on the water, located on the west side of Alameda on a site that’s about an acre. While the center offers multiple and varied programs, summer sailing camps for kids between ages 8-16 have been its primary focus. Attendees comprise mainly local kids including under-served kids via a scholarship fund (to which St Francis Sailing Foundation contributes).
In 2019, some 350 kids sailed through ACSC’s spring, summer and fall camps catering to 40 to 60 kids on the water per session, doubled up in doublehanded boats. Camps continued in 2020, shifting to a 3-week course rather than the typical 2-week due to Covid requirements. A challenging 2020 gave ACSC the opportunity to further develop its after-school program which the center was able to carry into last fall.
“Parents were like, “Just take my kid out of the house please!” Mike Bishop, center director, laughed. “The last group of after-schoolers was by all accounts a little bit rowdy between house-fever and Zoom-exhaustion!”
In 2020, ASCS has sailed year-round for the first time – through the winter and on Thursday nights which shifted to Sunday afternoons. Outside of camp attendees, an older generation of Laser sailors enjoy the facility, and a San Francisco-based high school store and sail their boats from the site.
“We’re trying to square the pyramid by not necessarily driving people into performance sailing but rather to keep them in sailing in general,” Mike Bishop, center director, explained. “We want to get people to love sailing, refill our sport with people, fill our yacht clubs, have people buy boats and keep things ticking over.”
Bishop, a life-long Laser sailor and founding board member of ACSC, started sailing in Thailand at age 7, and has sailed all over the world, mainly dinghies but also everything from windsurfers to 50-foot+ sailboats. He sails with kids young as 7, and adults as old as 77, citing that there are not many sports that can span 70 years of a life, and appreciating how the sport teaches about so many aspects of life.
“Sailing broadens one’s horizons mentally and physically through the sciences – physics and math, the environment – stewardship and the natural world, and the comradeship of fellow mankind,” Bishop said. “I know that sounds corny, but I really enjoy educating people about sailing and getting them fully engaged. I frankly cannot believe it’s not a required curriculum in schools for all it teaches!”
Bishop believes that the most challenging part of sailing, particularly in the Bay Area, is access to good boats – and easy access to the Bay – both of which ACSC offers.
“The cost of ownership of sailing in the Bay Area is tough for anyone starting out, or young adults with family, and a big part of our mission at ACSC is to create an accessible program with good modern boats that can be used by the community,” he said.
ACSC has a fleet of some 70 sailboats including 40 Optis, a fleet of FJs, and as a Siebel Training Center, it currently has six RS Fevas. That program started last year and by the end of the summer kids were flying kites singlehanded in those boats, Bishop noted. One of Bishop’s measures of the center’s success is how many kids come back each year. Of its 9 core instructors working this past season, 7 had come through the ACSC system.
“When we started out, our bottleneck was finding instructors – now we’re growing our own,” Bishop smiled.
Emily Zagoni, the only full-time employee at ACSC, grew up in Alameda and learned the ropes through the ACSC system, starting as an instructor, then instructor-lead, then part-time program director and now she’s in her third year as a program director. The 33-year-old is an avid sailor, she owns a Tartan 30 and participates in three different summer evening series along with fun racing like Three Bridge Fiasco. She’s also a keelboat instructor at Club Nautique in Alameda and Sausalito.
“I fell in love with the ACSC program and with small boats,” Zagoni commented. “I intended it just to be a summer job but then I just kept coming back summer after summer,” Zagoni said. When she’s not sailing, Zagoni is learning to fly…
ACSC wants to develop life-long sailors, and a keystone program that the center launched a few years ago – Open Sails on Saturdays – provides an opportunity for people to get access to a boat for half or a full day for just $10-$15. The center is beginning to promote other opportunities for young adults to get on the water through windsurfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, and SUP’ing. The center’s family programming facilitates families to get out on the water together – Bishop loves to relate the responses from parents.
“They tell us, “My child is a different child, they are responsible, they talk about sailing and I don’t know what they ‘re talking about so I need to learn how to sail!”
ACSC has plenty of exciting things going on even with Covid restrictions. With its astro turf boat yard, warm weather-protected lagoon, a fun beach, and great dinghy sailing conditions for beginners to experts outside the breakwater, it’s an all-round user-friendly Bay sailing destination. www.Sailalameda.org