Sailing and Rowing Center Coming to Blythe Landing
by Joyce Deaton
A fun-loving but serious bunch of sailors in the Lake Norman area is partnering with the Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation Department to provide instruction and team competition in sailing and rowing beginning this spring at Blythe Landing Park on the lake in Cornelius.
“We want to offer people the opportunity to learn, experience and enjoy the mental and physical challenges associated with the lifelong sports of sailing and rowing,” says Larry Vitez, a passionate sailor who has been sailing on Lake Norman for 30 years.
He’s board chairman for the new center, which will be operated by the volunteer North Carolina Community Sailing and Rowing organization. The group is also partnering with the Cornelius Park Department, which will handle registration for its classes.
“We’re trying to make these sports more accessible to the public,” Vitez explains.
“Lake Norman is such a great place to sail, but there is such limited access at the three public parks on the lake – and no way for people to learn sailing. We’re bringing programming to the park at Blythe Landing to remedy this.”
The center will have both paid staff and volunteer instructors, all certified through the U.S. Sailing program. Sailboats including 420 dinghies, 13-foot Sunfish and 19-foot Flying Scots, and rowing shells will be used for lessons and will be available for use by the public. Classes will be available in rowing and sailing for youth and adults. A special curriculum will teach disabled individuals to sail in Access dinghies, and people who own a sailboat can hire instructors for individual lessons aboard their own boat. Classes especially tailored for women and seniors will also be offered. “We think middle-aged adults, especially women, will really take to rowing,” says Vitez. “It’s done in groups, and it’s excellent, low-impact aerobic exercise.”
The center will sponsor competitive sailing and rowing instruction for high-school-age youngsters and will form teams for league events. “We have a number of volunteers who are very talented in rowing and have been varsity rowing coaches, so we think this will be a real opportunity,” says Vitez. “We think there will be a lot of interest in these teams, both in sailing and rowing.”
Here’s how the center will work: If you want to learn to sail, you can register for lessons without buying a season pass. Fees for a series of lessons will range from $185 to $295. If you already know how to sail or row, you can buy a season pass to the center for a fee of around $250. Youth passes will be available for less than $100. You’ll have to pass a test showing you’re qualified to operate the center’s boats safely. (If you don’t pass, you can sign up for lessons.) With a season pass, you’re entitled to use the boats any time for a year.
“This is the system being used in many other cities, and we think it will work here,” says Vitez. “In Milwaukee, for example, they usually sell 700 to 800 passes a year, and in Boston they sell 4,000 to 5,000.”
NCCSR volunteers are renovating the old caretaker’s house at Blythe Landing for use as the center’s headquarters, and the group will use existing docks at first. Sometime in the future, the group plans to apply to Duke Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to install a dedicated floating dock for its sailboats and rowing shells. In addition to obtaining permits, NCCSR, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, will need to secure funding to build the dock.
To help raise funds for the new docks and to operate the center, NCCSR welcomes contributions and also has launched the Donate-a-Boat program, through which boat owners can donate their used boats. “This started because we got calls from people wanting to donate sailboats to us,” Vitez explains. “We really couldn’t use them because we need only certain types of boats, and for teaching they all need to be the same. But we could sell the boats and use the funds for our program.”
With the recession straining their budgets, many boat owners now find it difficult to handle the cost of maintenance, insurance and monthly storage, he says. “We have people in our organization who know what these boats are worth and who know how to sell them. Recognizing these are difficult times for many, it makes sense for us to creatively use our resources to relieve boat owners of a burden and also meet our mission of underwriting sailing and rowing programs for youth and the disabled,” says Vitez. The NCCSR program pays for any necessary marine surveys and completes the transaction within a few days. Last year NCCSR earned $23,000 from the sale of boats, and this year the group hopes to raise that figure to about $50,000.
Vitez says NCCSR welcomes not only donations, but volunteers to help with the new project. To donate a boat or to volunteer, see the group’s web site at www.nccsailrow.org or call 704 947-SAIL. “We welcome anyone who’s interested in helping us, and we want everyone in the public to know that the programs of this center are definitely for them,” he adds. “We want them to experience the joys of sailing and rowing. These sports are so quiet and peaceful, and at the same time, you’ve never felt like you’re going so fast at just 10 miles per hour.”