CORNELIUS – On a recent Wednesday evening at the North Carolina Community Sailing and Rowing Center, an 8- to 10-mph breeze welcomed 15 sailors, ranging from their mid 40s to mid 70s, onto the waters of Lake Norman.
The crews boarded seven of the center’s nine Flying Scot sailboats and ran six “round the buoys” races a mile offshore from Ramsey Creek’s Blythe Landing.
Along with the staccato “pop” of flapping sails, the racers’ hearty calls for “room at the mark” and “starboard” only added to what would appear as mayhem to most folks but was part of the thrill of racing for these sailors. At the dock afterward, the competitors enjoyed enthusiastic discussions of tactics, rules and “go fast” tips, and the old adage never seemed truer: “An average day on the water is better than a good day at the office.”
Chilly weather is almost over, and the boating season is about to start with an expanded presence of sailing and rowing at the N.C. Community Sailing and Rowing Center, perched on two acres of the county park, less than five minutes from exit 25 (N.C. 73) on Interstate 77.
Larry Vitez, founder and president of the nonprofit center, long time Flying Scot sailor and member of the Lake Norman Yacht Club, had a vision in 2005 to bring more of the public into sailing, and he has worked tirelessly raising funds, recruiting volunteers and partnering with Mecklenburg County and the Town of Cornelius.
“Our work has resulted in a 30-year, rent-free lease on the land and many individuals donating money, materials or services to bring about the (sailing and rowing center) facility,” Vitez said.
N.C. Community Sailing and Rowing gives sailors “access to the lake without the expense of mooring and maintaining a boat or belonging to a private club,” Vitez said.
The center opened in the fall of 2009 and has introduced more than 1,000 people to sailing or rowing, quite a feat for an operation run largely by volunteers. This spring, the center is adding a new $100,000 dock, “completely paid for with private donations,” Vitez said.
This year’s season began in mid March with an expanded fleet of nine Flying Scots (a rugged, stable boat that comfortably carries four adults), 15 420s (a two-person racer, primarily used in the youth program), 10 sunfish (a one- or two-person single-sail boat), seven open Bics (a modern single-sail design), three Access Dinghies (a new single-sail boat designed for special-needs sailors) and 14 rowing shells (one is 60 feet) or boats for one, two, four or eight people.
Membership fees are modest: $75 for young adults 18 to 25 years old, $225 for adults 26 to 64, $150 for seniors and $350 for a family. Members can sail the Flying Scots during the nine-month season within the Ramsey Creek area. Youth classes meet one day a week for eight weeks, and adults new to sailing usually require nine hours of instruction to earn a season pass.
Members also are welcome to join the informal round-the-buoys racing every Wednesday, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
“I am proud of the fact that the addition of (the center) has improved Blythe Landing by about $200,000 at no cost to the taxpayer,” Vitez said. The money came equally from donations, the sale of donated boat and season passes and programs. Aquesta Bank, Great Outdoor Provision Company and Rowboat Dock & Dredge have provided sponsorships.
“Few community centers have married sailing and rowing” as the one at Blythe Landing, Vitez said. “It will grow rapidly, attracting youth and adults from Charlotte and the surrounding area, not just Lake Norman residents.”
Vitez said he was surprised by complaints about the center mooring sailboats in the cove, which the staff did to open up slip spaces for public boaters at Blythe Landing. “We were unaware we were breaking any rules by mooring boats in the cove but have moved the boats to trailers,” he said.
When the new dock opens in May, rowing operations currently held at the YMCA will move to Blythe Landing, and the sailing schedule will expand. Rowing Director Bridget Blair said 28 students have enrolled in the center’s scholastic rowing program.
“Rowers are different,” Vitez said “They are more athletic – typically joggers, bikers, runners or swimmers.”
“The youth rowing program is actually quite demanding, physically, and the youth love it,” Waterfront Director Will Pascal added.
The 2011 sailing season is off to a great start, with 60 children enrolled in its after-school programs, Vitez said, adding, “The public is invited to come out and look us over.”
Want to learn more?
Find more information on N.C. Community Sailing and Rowing at its website, www.nccsailrow.org.