Go Sailing With the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association

By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper

Photos courtesy LWSA

“Our goal is to introduce people to the sport of sailing regardless of financial means, age or ability,” says Al Posnack, a member of the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association (LWSA) in Gilford, NH. Al serves as Youth Sailing Chair for the LWSA Sailing School, and if you happen to talk to him for just a few minutes, it becomes clear that he is very dedicated to introducing kids to the sport of sailing and making sure they enjoy it in a safe manner.

The goal of getting people of all ages interested in sailing might seem a simple one. After all, who wouldn’t want to get out on Lake Winnipesaukee in the summer? Who wouldn’t want the freedom of being in charge of a graceful, beautiful sailboat? Who wouldn’t want to compete in a race as a heat wave summer’s day gives way to a balmy evening in July or August?

Indeed, many people love to sail. If you are interested in sailing, no matter if you are a young person or an adult, the LWSA can help you “get out on the water.” 

However, the Association has a special interest in getting kids involved in sailing and to that end, they run a well-respected sailing school that teaches the basics of sailing – and a lot more. The goal is to teach kids how to sail safely and to have fun but it doesn’t end at that. The Association has crafted all sorts of programs (and generates a lot of encouragement) to keep kids interested and involved in sailing as they mature. Once students reach the teen years, there are opportunities to become teaching assistants for the summertime youth sailing program and eventually nationally certified senior instructors.

The Association was founded in 1988 as the Lake Winnipesaukee Yacht Racing Association. From the start, the main focus has been on youth sailing education, as well as promoting sailboat racing on the lake. 

Al smiles as he recalls the start of the sailing school. “At first there were just four sailiboats, a motorboat and one instructor for the school. Now we have 35 sailboats, six motorboats and eight nationally certifided instructors and five junior instructors.”

For many years, the sailing school was generously hosted at Fay’s Boatyard by Merrill Fay. they also used space next door at property owned by the Winnipesaukee Yacht Club, but as they grew, LWSA leaders and members dreamed of having their own location. 


Eventually, the LWSA realized a long-term goal of expanding capacity and reaching more young sailors when it moved into a permanent space on Smith Cove in Gilford near Fay's Boatyard. Generous donations from large benefactors and small donations from many, many donors enabled the Association to turn a lakeside cottage with dock and beach into the Dave Adams Memorial Sailing Center. (The center is named after a local person who started out sailing at LWSA, but sadly, passed away as a young adult.)

Al’s eyes light up as he speaks of the Center, which was formerly a modest-sized cottage. “It has space to launch several boats side by side. And it gives us the room we need for our programs.”

The cottage has been transformed into classroom and gathering areas for students and sailing school staff. Smith Cove is very protected and provides a great place for beginning sailboat students to get a feel for being in a small sailboat.

Overseeing the entire youth sailing program is Amy Tripp, who serves as executive director. A non-profit board of directors works with Amy to coordinate all that the Association accomplishes. 

“We have the sailing school, adaptive sailing programs and we run the J80 Fleet races on Thursday evenings in the summer and mixed fleet racing on weekends,” says Amy. And the Association hosts Camp Resilience in the summer as well. (Camp Resilience offers sports and life skills to wounded warriors.)

The Youth Sailing program saw 175 children participating last summer, with 225 overall enrollments. Programs are geared for 8 to 10 year olds and 11 to 16 years olds. “People tell us it is a great program, and we have certainly grown over the years,” reflects Al.

Lest one assume sailing is an expensive hobby/sport, Al says, “We want to change people’s idea that it is a rich man’s sport. We have scholarships, so any student wishing to learn to sail can do so without worry about affording the lessons.”

Al recalls students who have learned to sail with LWSA; some have made careers of sailing, such as a boy from a family of five kids. He had not sailed previously, but he took youth sailing lessons in Gilford and now, has been accepted at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. 

“The sailing lessons are life changing for kids,” Al says. “Another of our students came up through our sailing program and eventually became a head instructor. Now he is part of an America’s Cup team on the engineering side. For so many people, sailing becomes part of their lives. We have seen a family where a child saved up and got a sailboat and now the whole family enjoys sailing.”

The sailing school now offers a springtime after-school sailing program for ages 8 to 16. All students are welcome and are divided by age and ability in the after-school program. Says Amy, “We are hoping this offering allows a lot of kids with no boating exposure try out the sport of sailing!”  Nationally certified instructors teach the classes using Optimist dinghies, 420 collegiate boats and O’Pen Bic sailing dinghies.

For all sailing programs, safety is first and foremost in importance, Amy stresses. There is a swim test the first day. “All students must wear life jackets at all times. If any student does not have a life jacket or the means to purchase one, a jacket will be provided. 

“Students will use Optimist dinghies when they start out,” says Amy. “Session one for the after-school program is May 28 and 29 and June 3 and 5 from 4 to 7 pm at the Dave Adams Memorial Sailing Center at 25 Davis Road in Gilford. The second session takes place June 10, 12, 17 and 19 from 4 to 7 pm at the Sailing Center.”

Students in any of the sailing programs learn a lot, including, on the first morning of lessons, how to recover from a capsize (they must also take a swim test). Two kids are launched in each sailboat right in Smith Cove, and instructors are close by on the water. “We keep the beginners in Smith Cove, because it is an enclosed area. Under the right conditions, we will go out on the open lake,” says Al. Instructors are nearby at all times, often in kayaks to coach their students one-on-one. 

There also is a lot of teaching done right on the lawn of the Sailing Center; kids learn how to rig their own boats, which is part of responsible sailing. Al says they are purposely overstaffed in order to be prepared for all contingencies. 

At the end of each week of summer youth sailing classes, there is a Friday school outing to Ragged Island or other destinations on the lake. “We also have a Friday ice cream bar and treats!” Amy adds.


Other sailing programs at LWSA include private and adult sailing lessons. For ages 16 to adult, LWSA offers hands-on group classes for beginners and intermediates. 

This is a great way to try out sailing and master essential skills. Whether you want to try sailing for the first time, giving the gift of sailing lessons to a family member, or you want to get back into sailing after many years away from the helm, LWSA can help you meet your goals. Many adult group participants are new boat owners of small sailboats and find this the perfect way to safely gain confidence. Others want to brush up on skills before getting involved in the yacht-racing scene on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Classes include Adult Learn-to-Sail Level One for ages 16 and up. Four three-hour classes are geared for those with little or no sailing experience. They will be taught in small groups in stable and comfortable 23-foot Sonar keelboats and a 26-foot J/80. The Adult Learn-to-Sail Level Two for ages 16 and up offers four three-hour classes for adults with some sailing experience. It will be taught in small groups in stable and comfortable 23-foot Sonar keelboats and a 26-foot J/80. Students will gain the skills needed to explore local waters with confidence. 

The LWSA is quite excited about their growing Adaptive Sailing program, which removes barriers to enjoyment of the sport of sailing. Says head instructor Ben Crosby, “We believe that sailing can foster water safety, self-confidence, teamwork, honesty, positive sporting values, and an appreciation for our environment. Therefore, LWSA has reached out to various community organizations over the years to provide opportunities for people who are physically or mentally disabled or recovering from trauma to experience and enjoy sailing.”

The Association’s website explains, “LWSA also has the goal of developing greater capacity and permanent programs that it can offer to people of all abilities, regardless of limitation or adaptation. Adaptive sailing is something that we aspire to and we believe can play an important role in the life of our community.”

The LWSA’s various programs come with expenses and people are stepping forward to donate boats that LWSA sells to offset the costs of the program. 

It seems, at Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association, everyone, no matter age, ability or physical limitations is encouraged to experience the joys of sailing. 

If you have spotted the colorful sailboats on Winnipesaukee on a summer’s evening, and marveled at the beauty and grace of the boats, you likely saw the Association’s Thursday evening races. LWSA provides three pathways for kids, adults or families to participate in racing and group sailing:

A fleet of J/80 type boats sail against and with each other in single class events. Whether you are an owner of a J/80 or wish to volunteer as a crewmember on someone's J/80, there is always lots of action from spring through autumn.

The Mixed Fleet brings together different types of sailboats to sail together and race against each other utilizing a handicap system known as PHRF. Whatever type of boat you have, there is a way to join the fun.

The Youth Racing Club offers Lake Winnipesaukee racing as part of courses at the sailing school. There are also youth regattas that LWSA young sailors participate in every summer in New England, a few of which are in New Hampshire, including the Winnipesaukee Annual Regatta.

No matter your age, ability or whether you own a sailboat or not, the members and staff of LWSA urge you to learn more about the sport. There is nothing like being out on Lake Winnipesaukee on a summer’s day or a foliage-bright and sunny autumn afternoon in a sailboat.

Once you try sailing, you will surely see why, for the LWSA members and staff, the goal is to get everyone out on the water.

For information about the many programs of the Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association, visit www.lwsa.org or contact sailing-school@lwsa.org.

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