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Promoting the Joy of Sailing

Thomas P. Caldwell - April 25, 2014

These youngsters find that sailing is fun.

These youngsters find that sailing is fun.

It is apparent in the faces of the youngsters who take to the water for the first time in a sailboat, without an adult on board. Sailing is fun, and they can do it!

The Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association has been giving youth sailboat lessons since 1988, and this year will be expanding the sailing school’s offerings to include youths from seven to 18 years of age. Director Anthony Sperazzo said the school provides 250 student-weeks of instruction each summer (some students participating for multiple weeks) and has taught more than 2,200 sailors during the program’s existence.

With the purchase of a .75-acre lot adjacent to its historical location at Fay’s Boat Yard in Gilford, the non-profit association plans to expand its offerings with a long-term goal of adding adaptive sailing for those with disabilities.

Since its inception, the LWSA has provided recreational and competitive sailing opportunities as well as the instructional component. Each year, the association sponsors a sailing regatta which last year attracted a record 30 sailboats. Sailing clubs from Lake Sunapee, the University of New Hampshire, and Northern Lake George are among the regatta participants. LWSA also participates in the regattas that others put on.

But it all begins with the youth sailors. The sailing school provides a half-day program for seven-year-olds, then Level I and II classes for those 8 – 10; and Level I, II, and III for those 11 – 16. New this year, the program is offering keelboat sailing clinics to those 16 – 18 — ages the association formerly did not serve. “We wanted to keep these kids we were losing,” said Sperazzo. That class is taught on 23-foot Sonar keelboats, going over skills learned in prior classes, such as navigation and chart reading, weather, compass readings, identifying marks and hazards on the water, boat handling, spinnaker handling, seamanship, and anchoring, along with more advanced skills.

The youths start out in Optimist sailing dinghies — small, eight-foot boats which work well as instructional boats. Older students also get experience in two-person Vanguard 420 sailing dinghies which are 14 feet in length.

Instruction begins in the classroom but quickly moves onto the water to grab the students’ interest and to build their self-confidence right away. They learn sailor’s knots in order to rig, sail, and steer their boats.

Prior to owning their own land this year, the association staff has been able to utilize Fay’s Boat Yard for the program. Situated on a protected area of Smith Cove, they are able to work within the cove when the wind is too strong to venture out on the Big Lake. The new property sits adjacent to Fay’s so they still have that protected area to conduct classes regardless of the weather.

The association will be converting a house on the new property into classroom and office space, but the lot already is right on the water, making it a perfect spot to continue and expand the existing program.

Many of the students who go through the program remain with the sailing school as junior instructors and, eventually, full-time paid staff members. “We have a phenomenal staff,” Sperazzo said, “most of them coming back each year.”

There are six full-time instructors and five junior instructors for the sailing classes. Before they can teach, instructors have to gain certification from US Sailing, the national governing body for the sport of sailing. To gain certification, the instructors must demonstrate sailing and teaching ability as well as completing safety awareness training.

While the youth sailing program is a major focus of the LWSA, it is not just for children. The association also offers adult classes in sailing on Meredith Bay, in association with Mill Falls and Ekal. It also offers private instruction for adults and children.

Al Posnack, chair of the Youth Sailing Committee, said, “As a non-profit, we see our role as introducing the sport of sailing to as many as possible. With our own property now, we have more flexibility to do even more.”

The regattas provide the next step for sailors wanting to go into racing. The LWSA sends students on to “ladder events” in which they can compete in regional, state, and national championships. Some of those students have gone on to become world-class racers and one crewed on an America’s Cup boat in Australia. Others have simply made sailing an important part of their lives.

Posnack said it is gratifying to see students gain confidence and take what they have learned into their adult lives. Many of the students now own their own boats, or bring their families into sailing.

He also noted that the association offers scholarships to see that no one misses the opportunity to sail because of the cost of instruction. Through cash donations and the donation of boats which the association can sell, as well as some grant funding, the LWSA is able to provide partial or full scholarships to those who want to take part. “We want to get kids out on the water,” Posnack said.

For further information on the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association, go to, call 603-589-1177, or email

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