“Sailing for all”. Community Boating celebrates its 75th anniversary
“I can say unequivocally that anyone who walks through the front door will be able to board a boat,” Executive Director Charlie Zechel said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
The program was inspired by Joe Lee, a wealthy Bostonian concerned with social justice, who wanted to give working class children of the West End the opportunity to experience sailing, an activity often defined by elitism and exclusivity. Lee’s program began in the 1930s and sparked the official creation of Community Boating Inc. in 1946.
Now operating from a boathouse built on the Charles in 1941, the volunteer-run program is defined by its vibrant and diverse community of around 3,000 adults and 1,000 young people, some with physical disabilities.
“I love that it’s so diverse here and that there are so many different levels that anyone can do it,” said Liam Abarca-Gresh, 10, of Somerville on Friday. He meets kids from different schools, he said, and he enjoys it – especially meeting older kids.
“It’s just fun,” said Tamerat Edelstein-Rosenberg, 14, who lives in the North End, as the two phone numbers exchanged. “You can do whatever you want here.”
Like Edelstein-Rosenberg, many sailors appreciate the independence and freedom that comes with operating their own boat.
“I loved independence. When I started I immediately felt like an adult, ”said Evan McCarty, 21, of Lexington, as he cruised the water in the staff speedboat.
McCarty has been a member of the community for 10 years, first as a young sailor and now as a volunteer. His father also learned to sail at Community Boating, he said.
Last season, due to the pandemic, youth and adult programs had to be suspended and the organization could only offer rentals. He lacked the energy to have ‘playful’ kids all day long, McCarty said as he stepped up to use his EMT certification to help one. boy who had injured his foot.
Growing up, McCarty said, he was one of many to pay next to nothing for a summer pass, which was a huge relief for him and his family.
Community Navigation offers memberships on a sliding scale, with some paying as little as $ 1 per year. And its universal access program offers people with disabilities the opportunity to operate sailboats independently.
Daniel Scher, 47, of Mansfield, suffers from multiple sclerosis, which has forced him to retire from his job as a doctor and return to many of his hobbies. When a friend suggested he try sailing, he thought it was a “weird” idea.
“Me? Learn to sail?” He said, adding that he had never been on a boat smaller than a ferry.
But he was quickly excited about the physical and mental challenges of being on the water.
“Learning new things can be very difficult for me,” Scher said in a telephone interview on Friday. “The instructors have adapted to that… Some of them have made it their mission to get me as many certifications as possible.
For two years, he has been sailing at least once a week. In September, he will participate in a regatta on Long Island, which he never imagined doing.
The community also includes blind sailors and paraplegic sailors, Zechel said at the boathouse on Friday. And several couples fell in love on the boathouse docks, he said.
“Sailing is a wonderful activity,” said Zechel. “It’s a refreshing, invigorating and rejuvenating experience. It puts people in touch with nature … But community is the more important of the two words.
Zechel said Community Boating, which operates annually from April through October, provides people with experiences and connections they couldn’t find anywhere else.
“When you step on the water there is that euphoric feeling of ‘life is good again’,” he said, looking at the water through his office window. “That’s the reason people like me hang out here so long.”
Julia Carlin can be reached at [email protected]