Volunteer-run cooperative allows lower-cost access to sailing

By Paul M. J. Suchecki

The Blum & Poe art gallery gifted Generosity to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice sailing program Photo by Paul Suchecki

The Blum & Poe art gallery gifted Generosity to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice sailing program
Photo by Paul Suchecki

October marks the 50th anniversary of Fairwind Yacht Club, an all-volunteer nonprofit sailing cooperative based in Marina del Rey and Channel Islands Harbor.

Sailing enthusiasts founded the club to get out on the water without the high cost of boat ownership. True to that mission, the club offers its members year-round access to more than 30 sailboats, and from the start members can enjoy day sails and cruises to Catalina and the Channel Islands.

“Fairwind is a beautiful thing because it allows poor people like me to sail,” said membership secretary Sean Comstock, whose annual dues top out at $960.

Longtime sailor Stephen Smith, who as a local teen bought his first boat before his first car, describes the joy he gets from sailing as “a little bit of all right.” What Smith appreciates most about Fairwind is the sense of community he’s found in the club, a sentiment echoed by several other members.

“It’s a small, tight-knit group of 250 of my best friends,” said Smith, who joined Fairwind 16 years ago.

Aside from the fun and camaraderie, Fairwind offers incentive for sailors to improve their skills.

The clubs boats, 14 to 40 feet in length, are divided into three size classes. Members who want to move up the ranks must train and get checked out by club instructors, pass written tests and log time on the water. The club’s education program is certified by the Del Rey-based American Sailing Association and has been recognized as an ASA Outstanding Sailing School.

Although Fairwind Commodore Richard Windebank has been sailing since age 15, he credits the club with making him a better sailor.

“I think I learned as much from being a Fairwind member as I knew before I joined the club,” he said.

The club also operates a summer sailing program for kids with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice.

“We like to give back to the community,” Windebank said. “We teach at-risk kids to sail, along with leadership skills, teamwork and how to look after the environment.”

Because it’s a nonprofit, the Boys & Girls Clubs can accept tax deductible donations. Those have included two boats in the past five years, including one from art gallery Blum & Poe.

Fairwind makes it all possible by providing the slips and maintaining the boats.

“It’s a synergistic relationship,” past Commodore Marc Levine said. “We hire professionals when we need to, but 75% to 80% of the maintenance on all the boats is done by members.”

“We have about 30 people that meet every Tuesday to do the more complex maintenance on the boats,” Windebank said. “I like to think of it as a group of retired engineers that are frustratedly looking for something to fix.”

Even though Fairwind doesn’t have a clubhouse, it’s a full-fledged yacht club — a member of the Southern California Yachting Association and the Association of Santa Monica Bay Yacht Clubs, offering reciprocity with more than 90 yacht clubs.

“It’s the best deal in town,” boat chief and sailing instructor John Quickley said. “However, there is a caveat. We’re a volunteer club. We like people to volunteer when they come in — to help clean boats, work on boats, teach if they can and bring their expertise. If people don’t want to do any work, they need to get their own boat.”

The club helped both Quickley and Levine transition from powerboat skippers to sailors.

There’s only one small catch.

“We have a waiting list, because we’d like to keep the club at the same size it is now,” Windebank said.

Nonetheless, he encourages prospective members to attend one of the club’s monthly open houses to get on the list.

Fairwind celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 1 with a champagne gala at Santa Monica Windjammers Yacht Club. The next club open house is on Oct. 8, also at Santa Monica Windjammers (13589 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey). Visit fairwind.org /openhouse.html for more information.

Suchecki is a member of Fairwind Yacht Club and Single Mariners of Marina del Rey.