Youth Sailing Foundation

March 9, 2018

While in Vero, I had a great time helping out at the Youth Sailing Foundation of Indian River County.  As a former reporter, I must disclose that Pat Harris, a close friend and business associate for 35 years, is Chairman of the Foundation.  But I will also disclose that I was a damn good reporter and I think my observations of the spirit and dedication of the YSF team, and the outstanding results produced, are accurate.

Sailing is automatically thought of an elitist pursuit.  Because it requires boats, specialized training and lots of expensive equipment (sails!), I won’t argue that it isn’t.  But what the YSF does is try to make the many positives of the sport accessible to just about any kid (or adult, for that matter) in Indian River County (Vero Beach) that wants to work hard and learn.

Think of it this way:  Team sports teach skills, competition and teamwork.  Sailing teaches skills, competition, teamwork, physics and even when the kid is only the captain of an 8-foot Optimist pram, a degree of individual responsibility that is usually reserved for pitchers and quarterbacks.

And then there is the factor called “not drowning” that adds a special frisson to the sport and wonderfully concentrates the learning experience the way sitting on the bench at a baseball game doesn’t.  The skills learned in team sports fade.  Hopefully water safety (and knowing how to tie knots) last a lifetime.

This is not a fancy operation.  The YSF is located in a partially deactivated water treatment plant generously lent them by the city of Vero Beach.  (In a presentation to members of the New York Yacht Club, Pat noted,  “You have affluence.  We have effluence,” a contrast that hopefully brought out some heavy checkbooks). Boat and trailer storage are under a highway leading to a bridge.  There is a small beach for launching and a canal for the chase boats that had something to do with the plant.

All the boats (420s, Optis, small cruisers for adult lessons, a couple Lasers, the chase and safety boats) are donated and are in pretty tough shape when they arrive.  That’s where the volunteers come in.  Every Tuesday and Thursday an army of retirees show up and get to work.  The skill level is fantastic and the boats are pristine when they hit the water.

The shop volunteers are coordinated by a calm, collected fellow named Larry (nobody seems to have a last name here).  He never hurries, but seems to be everywhere at once and really keeps the work moving.  Vero is an expensive area, and most of these guys are former executives, business owners, doctors and lawyers — not an easy herd of cats to handle.  But Larry is just one of those guys you automatically like and want to work for.

One of my favorite volunteers is Robert.  He was in the automotive industry for years and came to the YSF knowing nothing about boats.  But anything mechanical is Robert’s realm.  I once asked Robert if I should drill a drain hole in a trailer and in three minutes had 37 reasons why I should, why I shouldn’t, how to do it, how not to do it and in the end, endorsement of my methods.  He gave me an amazing five-minute tutorial on the construction, care, and foibles of boat trailer wheel bearings that made this arcane subject understandable to me for the first time ever.

I didn’t get to meet them since I spent my time in the shops and on the water, but I understand there is another army of volunteers handling donors and events.  The professional staff of Stu (executive director), Eleanor (office manager) and Mary (head sailing instructor) are great, effective people but they would drown (so to speak) without the volunteers.

Okay, but does it work?  Well, the YSF is a really busy place with middle school, high school, sailing team and adult sailing classes happening every day and a big summer camp program.  And these kids, who never saw a yacht club in their life and just sort of walked into this, can really SAIL.

My last activity at the YSF was on a chase boat at the Steve Martin Regatta, a big 40-boat deal with boats and teams from all over the area.  It was blowing like stink, and I was wondering if we just wouldn’t be rounding up capsized boats.  But the kids kept their boats sailing and showed some real skill in the starts and mark roundings.   They were surrounded by chase boats and I felt they were really safe in pretty marginal conditions.

Here is a link to some drone footage:

Pat, the volunteer army, the professional staff, the donors and the citizens of Vero Beach should be very proud of what’s happening at the YSF.  I hope to be back.

wood shop volunteers

Woodshop volunteers

vol trailer

Volunteer working on a trailer — trailers are always a problem!

engine rigging shop

Rigging and engine shop

mary whaler

Chief Sailing Instructor Mary Morgan (23-24, but very together) telling a former captain of industry how she needs it done. (Chase boats are in great shape!)


Donated Hobie 16 all spruced up.

adult sailing 2

O’Day Mariners brought to like-new condition by the crew

adult sailing 1

Adult sailing lessons Thursdays and Sundays

regatta prep

Regatta prep

skippers meeting

Skippers’ meeting



hangin on

Hangin’ on!


“Big Boat” fleet on a windy day. (The drone videos have the Opti action)

bic open

Bic Open screaming along

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