Let all your cares sail away by joining the downtown crew

Novices to competitors welcome at sailing center

Outside: sports, activities, events

April 29, 2004|By Elizabeth L. Piccirillo | Elizabeth L. Piccirillo,SUN STAFF

Batman had the Batmobile, Bonnie and Clyde had a Ford, and Roy Rogers had Trigger. But for anyone who is merely seeking a relaxing and enjoyable way to escape, the Downtown Sailing Center is ready to provide the mode of transportation.

With a fleet of more than 40 boats, from 10-foot Access dinghies to 22-foot Catalinas, membership and instructional programs, the center provides accessible sailing to the community.

Established as a private organization in 1990, the Downtown Sailing Center, located on the Inner Harbor waterfront, turned nonprofit in 1993 and is now home to more than 650 members. Anyone interested in joining can choose a membership level best suited for them, whether as a student or a skipper who can compete in races.

Steve Gross, active member and past president of the center, didn't even know how to sail when he came to the center five years ago. Today, he sits on the board of trustees and accompanies others as they learn to sail. "These boats don't have engines," he said. "So you really learn how to sail."

Classes are offered to adults and youth in a variety of experience levels and are taught by certified sailing instructors.

The opportunity to join the center and take classes simultaneously drew in Baltimore resident and adventure-seeker Cynthia Shellkopf. "It got me out into the world to start mingling," she said. "Instead of just going to work and going home."

Shellkopf, currently a crew member, can even stop by after work, when the center offers its boats to members for recreational use. "If you had a stressful day, it can really help you unwind," she said.

However, in many instances, the work has just begun when Shellkopf and others visit the center for its work parties. Members help with tasks like prepping, dock maintenance and boat repair.

"These are my boats, too," says Dr. Joan Ordman, an experienced skipper. Ordman joined the center with some basic knowledge about sailing, eventually turning it into an activity she can't get enough of. The patients at her practice in Owings Mills know not to make appointments on Wednesdays, she says, because that's when she's at the center. "It's set up in a way that encourages people to get involved in sailing and enjoy it."

Ordman also participates in the center's outreach programs, including the Special Olympics Regatta and SuperKids Camp for inner-city children. The Paralympic Sailing program provides a 23-foot Sonar, which they modified for handicapped sailors. "It's an amazing thing to think about," Ordman says. "And it's an even more amazing thing to see."

Sailing really can provide an escape, according to Gross: "You go out on a boat for a few hours, and it's like a two-week vacation."

The Downtown Sailing Center provides accessible sailing to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it, don't know how to do it or just can't find a place to keep a boat.

"People ask me if I have my own boat," Shellkopf said. "And I say, `Well, technically, I have 40.' "

The Downtown Sailing Center, 1425 Key Highway (at the Baltimore Museum of Industry) will have an open house from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Information on classes, membership, volunteering and an opportunity for a free 20-minute sail will be provided. Call 410-727-0722 or visit www.downtownsailing.org.

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