By Rich Jepsen, President of the US Sailing Board
Yes, there is sailing in Arizona! That’s the answer Arizona sailors at several Arizona yacht clubs often have to give their out-of-town friends.
I recently traveled to Arizona to speak about all things US sailing, at the invitation of Bob Naylor, Commodore of the Arizona Yacht Club, and on the advice of my dear friends (and volunteer leaders of US Sailing), Ed and Debbie Huntsman . I asked the three if I could meet with local guides to see what sailing means to them and the challenges they face when sailing in the desert. They were very happy to arrange my two days accordingly.
Bob Naylor is a smart, fun, kind, enthusiastic retired businessman; a liaison and comedic talent that delights everyone he speaks to. He escorted the Huntsman’s and I to several local sailing organizations for me to visit and tour. He also hosted the monthly YC members meeting in Arizona and got the crowd laughing!
Ed and Debbie are avid cruise sailors, members of the Arizona Yacht Club and dedicated volunteers. Ed has spent several decades in boating security jobs including the US Coast Guard and the State Boating Law Administration. Debbie is past President of the National Women’s Sailing Association (NWSA) and remains on the Board. You and the NWSA have done incredible things for girls and women in sailing. They picked me up at Sky Harbor (lovely name) Airport, PHX, and took me to a wonderful nearby restaurant for an early lunch. Bob joined us and shortly after that our tour started!
First stop was Tempe Town Lake. Arizona YC and the Arizona Sailing Foundation, a community sailing center, are co-located on a reservoir in Tempe. The sailing area is small, but very suitable for dinghies. They have a large inventory of powerful and basic sailing dinghies in a beautiful boatyard that has easy access to the reservoir.
Arizona YC is the epitome of grassroots. They call themselves a “paper club” that focuses on relationships and camaraderie rather than a brick and mortar building. They rent club space from a local golf club to hold their monthly meetings/speaker series.
The Arizona Sailing Foundation educates adults and children in the community on a bootstrap budget with an all-volunteer teaching and administrative staff. Great!
The next stop was a meeting with local leaders from AYC, ASF and Lake Pleasant YC where they presented their missions, challenges and strategies for the future. I have learned that the challenges and plans are similar to other local sailing organizations across the country. I am optimistic that bringing them closer to US Sailing will pay off as they tap into the reservoir of best practices available.
Lake Pleasant YC is also a paper club, sailing more on the larger Lake Pleasant reservoir, named for the engineer who designed it rather than its very, very pleasant atmosphere. Small keelboats are the coin of the kingdom on Lake Pleasant. Lots of Catalinas, from 18′-36′ and lots of PHRF races. Members also regularly participate in organized cruises to Catalina Island, utilizing member and charter boats from Southern California.
As you might imagine, there is significant membership overlap between AYC and LPYC, although AYC is primarily dinghy racing and LPYC is primarily small keelboats for day sailing and cruising.
We traveled to Lake Pleasant itself to visit three commercial operations that are doing great things for desert sailing!
tiller and kite
Owned by Victor Felice, (pronounced Fel-ee-che), a Swiss-American sailor, Tiller and Kites is a commercial sailing school based in Lake Pleasant with all types of boats, from the venerable Star Boats and Flying Scots to Melges and J24s up to three Nacra 17s! And they have 10 Etchells! Tiller and Kites loaned a J24 to an all-female Argentine team to sail 13th at the World Championships in Corpus Christieth and winning the trophy for best female crew. It sponsored and endorsed the efforts of Michelle Lee, a blue water rower who is halfway from Baja to Sydney, Australia, as I write.
Tumbleweed Sailing Club
This operation shares a co-ownership model with the Catalinas at Lake Pleasant. It has enough Catalinas that the boats are available to members almost as if they own one themselves. Bruce the owner also offers a concierge service so many of the chores an owner has before and after a sailing is taken care of. He has big plans to expand the computerized reservation system to other underserved lakes and reservoirs in the West and Midwest in the coming years.
Sailboat shop at Scorpion Bay Marina
Tom Errickson was at this 2nd in the chapter business for 30 years and rides a portable electric bike around the massive marina in Scorpion Bay to give his knees and back a break. But he teaches basic and advanced sailing and as always it was fun to compare the observations of the sailing school owners and discover how similar our opinions are on safety, seamanship and the art of teaching, even though SF Bay is very different from Lake Pleasant .
In the two days I gathered a lot of great data and realized that these were all exceptional organizations tackling challenges that businesses in more traditional places don’t face. Water levels vary by several feet depending on local agricultural needs and available water from the Colorado River, daytime high summer temperatures up to 115 degrees but rarely below 100 degrees, a population in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, Tucson area which is one of the largest in the country but with a population that didn’t grow up sailing and doesn’t realize it’s possible in Arizona. And the immense difficulty of getting instructors properly certified in an area with fewer organizations and sailors than more well-known sailing locations.
The monthly meeting had the energy of most annual meetings with awards presented, the issuance of US Power Boat Course Certificates as well as the issuance of Basic Sailing Certificates. One of the joys of my position is sharing these milestones with seafarers. The grand prize of the night went to a woman who crewed her family to win the ‘Female Drivers’ regatta, named after Arizona YC founder Ruth Beals, 65 years ago! An amazing legacy started by a woman when women were almost invisible in sailing. Lori Lorenz won the regatta on her brother Dave Newland’s sailboat and I was allowed to present her with the eternal trophy. Very cool.
I was incredibly well received and enjoyed my speech and the wonderful questions and suggestions I received from the audience on Tuesday night. My hosts had a nice glass of wine waiting for me at our table after the speech and I had great conversations with sailors, one a graduate of my old sailing club and another the son of a good friend of the late Bob Billingham. Olympian, sailing guide on the San Francisco Bay and beloved teammate of so many including Paul Cayard.
We all plan to host each other sailing and sailing regattas. I can’t wait to return to the land of the saguaro cactus to sail under its silent gaze.
Chairman of the Board, US Sailing