Tuesday, October 21, 2014

All Shapes and Sizes in Sarasota

The Sarasota Sailing Squadron is a club of a different shape – an umbrella shape, to be precise. Under the umbrella of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, and within the nine-acre property boundary, a host of “silent” water sports affiliations coexist and thrive, including kayaking, paddle boarding, one-design racing, casual cruising, youth racing and adventure sailing, adult learn-to-sail programs, big boat beer can racing and more.

The Sarasota Sailing Squadron provides the clubhouse, the dockage, maintains the schedule, offers boat rentals, maintains the facilities and hosts the parties – with the help of a small army of volunteers.

The City of Sarasota provides an affordable lease on the site in return for affordable educational, recreational and competitive water sports. Family membership is the only membership option and roughly 750 families are members today. Some contain a family of one and others have as many as six. Craig Bridges, Operations Manager, isn’t sure exactly how many individual people belong, but it doesn’t seem to matter. A yearly membership costs $140 and, according to Bridges, is the most inexpensive activity in greater Sarasota. The club sees, on average, 100 new memberships every year.
Great value isn’t the only attraction. Many Sarasota Sailing Squadron members are also members of more traditional, and far more expensive, yacht clubs in the area. People of all ages and economic backgrounds are members for the same reason:  to have fun and be active on the water. 

Sarasota Youth Sailing
Located under the umbrella of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, the non-profit Sarasota Youth Sailing Program consistently launches national and world champion sailors. But, it hasn’t always been this way.

“Starting from scratch in the late ‘70s, without trained coaches and no formal program, we didn’t win a national championship for eight years,” said Bridges. “Then we finally figured it out. All we had to do is outwork them.”

Today, the youth sailing program offers adventure sailing and racing taught by highly qualified instructors that are all US Sailing certified. Many are certified at the highest level as Level 3 Coaches.
Bridges said, “Our instructors are the kids who grew up in our sailing program. They are proud to be part of a heritage that started with nothing and now produces world-class sailors.”

The Chris Branning Story
“I was that kid – too fat, too tall – always at the back of the fleet,” said Chris Branning, remembering his early days sailing at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. 

Today, the 29-year old native of Sarasota, FL has amassed more than 22,000 offshore miles navigating in races including the Transpacific, Transatlantic, and Rolex Fastnet Races. Chris has also navigated in the Caribbean 600 and, in 2011, he won the Rolex Middle Sea Race. He was featured in the Disney film “Morning Light” as Co-Navigator. Chris graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2009 with a BA in Logistics and Intermodal Transportation. Currently, Chris is an active-duty rescue helicopter pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Chris vividly remembers what it’s like to be young.

“Everyone is always telling you what to do, where to sit, what to eat, when to speak,” he said.
Chris remembers rigging his own boat and casting off alone.

“It’s an amazing moment – you’re in 3rd grade and you’re in command!”

“Chris’ schedule is crazy, but he always makes time to talk with our kids,” said Bridges. “They are in awe of him because he’s done so many cool things. However, they can see that, as a kid, he was just like them.”

Every dollar invested in US Sailing’s First Sail campaign is a dollar invested in a new sailor and the promise of a growing, vibrant future for sailing. Please join us in supporting each newcomer’s First Sail by making a donation to US Sailing’s First Sail.


  1. yay for SSS.....glad to FINALLY see it getting the recognition it so deserves KB

  2. We love the Sarasota Sailing Squadron and so will everyone else after reading this great article.