Seattle’s community boating center weathers a storm of change

Morgan Collins states it matter-of-factly, as if such a deal is unremarkable.

“It costs a dollar for a kid to sail here for a year,” said Collins, the executive director of Sail Sand Point, the nonprofit community boating center at Magnuson Park in Seattle. “Our mission is to get anyone who wants to sail sailing. Everyone’s welcome.”

Sail Sand Point is a bit of a legend for those in the know. It began as a youth program run by the Corinthian Yacht Club at Leschi, but was so successful that within two years it had outgrown the premises and needed to move elsewhere. Experienced sailing instructors Jonathan and Marcy Edwards founded the center as a nonprofit at Sand Point in 1998.

“It was much more dilapidated back then,” Collins said. “This whole side of the park was desolate. It was challenging … and all they had was seven Optis” and a volunteer staff.

Today, the center has more than 100 boats, including Optimists, Flying Juniors, Lasers, Hobie cats, Hunter 140s, E-Scows and 420s. There are two sailboats over 19 feet, a dozen safety boats, a new fleet of kayaks and some seriously speedy outrigger canoes. Also new this year are six 2.4 Metres, Paralympic class keelboats for disabled sailors: the center is hoping to extend its outreach to include veterans and families with disabled children.

Sail Sand Point is no longer the pocket-sized operation it once was. While that one dollar still gives kids under age 15 the use of an Optimist all year, a wide range of paid classes and camps is also offered. This year, the center is expecting 500 kids to attend one- or two-week summer camps and 200 adults to take beginner classes. Some 2,500 experienced sailors will also turn up for Open Sailing, through which a single payment and a quick test provide unlimited access to the facility and boats for a year.

The organization’s nine full-time paid instructors, who can all boast U.S. Sailing Certification, are instrumental in making Sail Sand Point a high-quality place to learn. “I don’t think you can get any better basic instruction anywhere in the country,” said Collins. Then he adds, with a mischievous grin, “Most of my staff are kids that Jon and Marcy taught … I have pictures of them as 8-year-olds.”

Sail Sand Point's fleet now includes more than 100 boats ranging from Hobies to outrigger canoes.

The organization's fleet now includes more than 100 boats ranging from Hobies to outrigger canoes.

As positive as all this development sounds, Sail Sand Point has had an uncertain few years. The buildings at Sand Point originally belonged to the Navy, and when the city of Seattle took them over it was clear that drastic improvements were needed to bring them up to code—so drastic they were vastly beyond what the city could afford.

The process of deciding who would renovate the buildings and how they should be developed was lengthy and fraught with issues. There were concerns among some in the neighborhood that this part of Magnuson Park could lose its public-access character or become overdeveloped.

Several years ago, the buildings were deemed so badly rundown they would have to be closed and likely demolished. After considerable input from boaters, the city concluded that the only economical way to preserve public access would be to lease the buildings to a private company for redevelopment, with strict stipulations about the public benefits that must be offered. That lease has now been signed and the development is awaiting approval from federal agencies.

The company in charge of the redevelopment, Building 11 LLC, has proposed to renovate one of the existing buildings as a mixed-use facility for active recreation, with businesses targeting both water- and land-based activities, and a public-benefit ethos it would be hard to fault.

The organizations the company hopes to house include Sail Sand Point, the Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Raft and Kayak, Microplanet Energy Efficient Technologies, Hobie Cats Northwest and the Surfrider Foundation. There will likely also be a daycare center, a coffee shop and a restaurant or two.

Bill Fuller, the architect in charge of the redevelopment, said the aim is for the area to become “a new hub for active recreation.” The new Mountaineers clubhouse, just a quarter-mile from Sail Sand Point, started the trend and Fuller hopes the planned development will draw more sailors to the area.

“There are lots of people who would love to get involved (at Sail Sand Point) but just don’t know about it,” he said. “We’d love it to be more visible.”

Sail Sand Point offers sailing lessons for beginner through advanced levels.

Sail Sand Point offers sailing lessons for beginner through advanced levels.

This is great news for Sail Sand Point, although after four years of negotiations the organization’s leaders aren’t ready to relax until everything is settled. They’re arranging a new lease directly with the city for Sail Sand Point’s pier, boat storage area and their smallest classroom, located across the meadow from the main building. This ensures that if the Building 11 plans should for any reason fall through, Sail Sand Point will still be able to survive.

For now, Sail Sand Point is carrying on as normal. With the economy down, it hopes to give out more scholarships for summer camps—$50,000 is the goal this year, up from $30,000 last year, to be divided up into at least 10 full scholarships and 200 partial ones.

The organization is hosting the University of Washington sailing team, both for practice and for inter-collegiate racing regattas. It’s diversifying its outreach program and gearing up for large numbers of rambunctious kids to start arriving next month for summer camp.

And of course, Sail Sand Point’s leaders are crossing their fingers that the development of Building 11 will finally go ahead.

“It could be a really cool place to come,” said Collins, “like the small boat center of Seattle.”

Emily Mansfield is a freelance writer and the former editor of Pacific Yachting PNW magazine.

4 Responses to Seattle’s community boating center weathers a storm of change

  1. andy hooper July 12, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    Hello – I just bought a used 16′ hobie cat and was wondering if you offer any lessons or instructions with that particular boat. I also need to see how to rig my boat – raise the mast , rig the lines , hoist the sail, etc. I have a fairly good idea , but I would like to learn the correct way. Thanks , Andy

  2. andy hooper July 12, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Hello – I just bought a used 16′ hobie cat and was wondering if you offer any lessons or instructions with that particular boat. I also need to learn how to rig my boat – raise the mast , rig the lines , hoist the sail, etc. I have a fairly good idea , but I would like to learn the correct way. Thanks , Andy

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  1. Global Sailing & Boating Center. | 7Wins.eu - May 27, 2009

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  2. Seattle’s community boating center: Sail Sandpoint - May 20, 2009

    […] A great profile of Sail Sandpoint by Emily Mansfield (hiya Emily!) over at Three Sheets Northwest: Morgan Collins states it matter-of-factly, as if such a deal is unremarkable. […]

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