New Orleans’ Community Sailing program sets course for inclusive waters
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In a city surrounded by water, the sport of sailing has long been seen as a privilege reserved for the wealthy due to its high costs.
However, a new initiative at West End is set to change that perception and make sailing more accessible to everyone. The program, known as the New Orleans Community Sailing Program, has been gaining momentum and drawing in participants from all walks of life.
On a Wednesday evening at West End, the waterfront comes alive with dozens of sailboats. Boat owners and their friends, just off from work, gather to indulge in a mid-week race. Typically, the experience of gliding through the water with the wind in their sails and the brackish air filling their lungs has been limited to a small group of passionate enthusiasts. But now, thanks to the New Orleans Community Sailing Program, the joy of sailing is within reach like never before.
The community sailing initiative offers a wide range of courses catering to diverse groups. From individuals with disabilities to students from both public and private schools across the area.
“I learn a lot of new things when I come out here. I feel like he’s giving me another opportunity,” said Warren Easton High School student Cy Smith.
“We would love to have kids from every corner of New Orleans - every neighborhood,” said program organizer Margi Sunkel.
The program not only imparts essential sailing skills but also incorporates valuable lessons in boat design, construction, sales, and navigation, often overlapping with the fields of science and technology.
The origins of this groundbreaking program can be traced back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. John Manard, a member of the Southern Yacht Club, was determined to turn his dream into a reality.
He noticed that numerous cities across the country had community sailing programs, yet New Orleans, despite being surrounded by water, had none.
Menard took it upon himself to establish a board and reached out to various foundations for support. With the assistance of funds and resources, he founded the community sailing program, capitalizing on the newly built floating docks that replaced the Municipal Yacht Harbor destroyed by Katrina.
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Participation in the New Orleans Community Sailing Program has been steadily increasing. The number of participants tripled from 425 people in 2021 to a staggering 1,300 last year. The program’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down, with expectations of doubling participation numbers by the end of 2023.
“Professionals come out and talk to the students who are captains, maritime lawyers, marine biologists to talk about what they do and how they got involved,” said instructor Khari Parish.
“I feel like it’s therapeutic, but the potential job opportunities we’re being informed of is useful,” said New Harmony High School student Liam Haas.
Community sailing also offers a family access pass to provide year-round sailing for just a couple hundred dollars a year.
If you would like to learn more, visit nolacommunitysailing.org.
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