Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Traverse Area Community Sailing – Connections for Success

Traverse Area Community Sailing (TACS) has come a long way in its first 20 years. This Traverse City, Michigan operation has grown from a small handful of passionate sailors and dedicated volunteer instructors to a full-service sailing center serving over 500 youth and adults each year with US Sailing certified instructors and a fleet of over 100 sail and powerboats.

TACS earned its foothold in community sailing through Youth Learn to Sail programs. Over the years, the all-volunteer Board of Directors has guided the growth of TACS to include Adult Learn to Sail, Advanced Sailing, Adaptive Sailing, Open Sailing, High School Racing Team, and Keelboat programs. In an effort to expand their creative programming to increase participation and introduce newcomers to sailing, TACS has recognized the demand for non-racing related programs for those more interested in experiencing sailing without competition or traditional buoy racing as the focus. They are in the process of launching a new series of programs that foster this type of community interest.

TACS Sailing Director Ben Ferris explained how the organization came to the decision to start this programming. “We all thought the idea was essential to helping youth fall in love with sailing. Most people around here are cruisers and it is this aspect of sailing that our youth need to see. We are going to offer a couple sessions and see how the community reacts to the program.”

They are planning to use their fleet of Interlakes at the Grand Traverse Yacht Club and take adults and kids on overnight trips to an island about eight miles out on Boardman Lake. Activities will include night sailing, races around the island, water fights, shore games, campfires, and other fun, camaraderie building events.

“We also have a chase boat that will help carry gear and ensure the safety of the group as they make their way to the island,” added Ferris. “I expect that our adventure sailing opportunities will sell out and that this type of program will explode in popularity.”

The strong partnerships that TACS has built and sustained over the years with the city and other local sailing and boating organizations has created a steady foundation for growth in opportunity and general awareness. Collaboration has been the key element to a local sailing network committed to working towards the same goals.

Their first and most lasting partnership has been with Traverse City. The city provided TACS with the location on the lake – property that was not affordable otherwise. Jim Sorbie, TACS Program and Curriculum Director, discussed the value of this partnership and others. “The city allowed to set up a temporary location, then partnered with us to ask for and receive a state grant for the office building and docks. The city then allowed us to raise funds from the community for additional docks and a boathouse. To that end TACS raised a bit more than $500,000 to build a boathouse that the city owns.” TACS has a management agreement with the city to operate the entire site that’s renewed each year.

Another partnership that was critical to the TASC mission was with the local public and parochial schools. “These schools allow us to visit their classrooms each year to pitch the summer sailing sessions,” said Sorbie. “We also provide each elementary school with a number of scholarships that the school administrators and teachers can distribute as they see fit. Some of these scholarships go to at-risk kids and others are distributed as rewards for academic accomplishments or community involvement.” Sorbie also mentioned that TACS also partnered with the schools to establish sailing as a club sport in the high schools and middle schools in Traverse City.

The Grand Traverse Yacht Club provides TACS with volunteers and access to the bay with a facility that easily supports regattas, small and large, including the 2014 Chubb U.S. Junior Championships - a US Sailing National Championship.

Their partnership with local sailboat charter company Great Lakes Sailing offers a pathway for their sailors to advance their skills after they have completed our Learn to Sail course.

“Other partnerships like the Great Lakes Children’s Museum and the Maritime Heritage Association have produced cooperative ventures that allow the organizations’ visitors access to programs they otherwise might not have been aware of,” explained Sorbie.

In January, TACS received the Outstanding Community Sailing Award at US Sailing’s National Sailing Program Symposium (NSPS) in New Orleans.

Learn more about these programs organized by Traverse Area Community Sailing.

by Kara DiCamillo

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