When the wind catches the sail of Trish Ribaudo’s Precision sailboat just right, you feel nature’s power start to pull you along, bouncing over the waves like a stone skipping across water.
But on a smaller craft, like Ribaudo’s nimble Sunfish, the feeling is different.
“Even at 15 miles an hour, you feel like your hair is on fire,” she said.
As a former Commodore of the Creve Coeur Sailing Association and currently a sailing instructor for the YMCA, Ribaudo wants everyone to find the sailing experience that feels right for them.
“One of our goals is to make sailing more accessible for St. Louis,” Ribaudo added. “The lake’s location in St. Louis County, free Try Sailing events, and low membership fees allow families to get involved without having to make a huge investment.”
Seventy miles east, area sailors can enjoy an even bigger sailing experience at Carlyle Lake in Carlyle, Illinois. The 26,000-acre lake dwarfs Creve Coeur Lake’s 350 acres, allowing it to offer an overnight sailing camp for kids, a permanent dock, national sailboat races, and more.
However, the Carlyle Sailing Association shares the Creve Coeur Association’s passion for increasing sailing accessibility and awareness in the Midwest.
“We are on the site of an Illinois state park, the Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area, which provides members with access to a pool, kitchen, store, camping, and other amenities,” said Melanie Halley, Commodore of the Carlyle Sailing Association. “Plus, we don’t charge to use our club boats, so any member can use one, as long as they can show that they can sail whatever boat they are requesting.
“And if you’re a little rusty, we offer refresher lessons and will have a check ride in the boat before you head out,” Halley continued.
More serious aspiring sailors can take formal classes through the association’s Junior Sailing Program or Adult Sailing Program. Classes can be tailored for different classes of boats. The association also offers a Kinder Sail class for even younger students.
“I wish I’d learned how to sail when I was a kid,” said Halley, who didn’t start sailing until she was an adult. “The kids have no fear. They’re just out there to have fun.”
At Creve Coeur, the association currently is not able to provide classes itself, but Ribaudo has forged a relationship with the St. Louis County YMCA that provides access to sailing classes in St. Louis.
“The Edward Jones Family YMCA offers private and small group lessons, and parents can sign up with their kid, too,” Ribaudo said. “Also, we are planning another Try Sailing Day for the fall.”
Ribaudo notes that exposure to sailing can even open young people’s eyes to college scholarship opportunities. More than 30 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer varsity sailing programs, and more than a third of them are in the Midwest, especially in Michigan and Wisconsin.
“I wish I’d known it when I was choosing colleges, but female sailors often have even more athletic scholarship opportunities in sailing than men,” Ribaudo said. “Title IX requires women to be equally represented in college athletics, but because football is so big at some schools, they are especially interested in female student athletes for other sports, like sailing. But I think sailboat racing is just as exciting as football.”
Indeed, Ribaudo — who has been sailing herself since she was 4 and racing when she was 10 — constantly challenges her mind and body to maneuver her boat through one of Creve Coeur Sailing Association’s friendly races. The association holds informal races every other Sunday during the season, competing for the best time through a fixed course.
The boats at Creve Coeur are smaller and race on a handicap system — the clock starts at the same time for all, but each class has a sailing standard they should be able to achieve. Boats are then scored by shortest time in each class.
But at Carlyle, races consist of three separate starts.
“The idea is for the boats to finish at the same time, so the start times are staggered,” Halley explained. “The Open class starts first. This consists of San Juan, 470s, and Lightnings. Then follow the Flying Scots. The last class to start is the Catamarans. The staggered start helps everyone to finish about the same time. We also have other races with different formats.”
But no matter the boat and level of competition, the main goal is to have fun. Other family-oriented events like brush-up courses, breakfasts, and lunches round out the day, along with the activities county parks like Creve Coeur Lake or a state parks like Carlyle and the Hazlet Recreation Area provide.
Each association considers themselves tenants of the government agencies that support them. All Creve Coeur sailing activities require coordination with St. Louis County’s other planned activities at the lake. The Carlyle Lake Association works with the Illinois Department of the Interior.
And, of course, the associations collaborate with each other, and Ribaudo and Halley are always looking for ways to further heighten awareness of sailing, especially among young people.
“Sailing may not be for everyone, but we’d like everyone to have the chance to try it if they want,” Ribaudo said. “Some people like to go fast, some like to go slow, and sometimes you just want to find a shady spot and drop anchor.
“There’s all sorts of sailing around the world, and we just want people to know about it.”
Sail on Over
For more information about the Creve Coeur Sailing Association, visit sailccsa.com. The Carlyle Lake Association c be found at csa-sailing.org.
Author: Tim Fox is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Sailing at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park. (Dan Gill)