Test the Waters with a New Sport

Captain Joan Gilmore, second from left, with students Jim Pettinger, Kevin Shinler and Karl Ledergerber.

With summer in full swing, it’s prime time to embrace the sunshine and serene lakes. Sail Away Sailing School, LLC, with the Upper Minnetonka Yacht Club (UMYC) offers the perfect opportunity to take on the adventurous hobby of sailing. From sailboat racing to classes, there’s something for everyone.

The two organizations became partners in 2007. UMYC was “looking for a way to increase membership by giving more sailing lessons,” says captain Joan Gilmore, founder of Sail Away. “We’ve been doing the adult sailing lessons [with UMYC] ever since.”

Sail Away has class options from novice to advanced. Sessions can be done in groups of three students per boat, or private lessons with an instructor. Lessons are on Lake Minnetonka, White Bear Lake and in Hudson, Wis. Since the school is affiliated with the American Sailing Association (ASA), students receive ASA certification with each successfully completed course.

For starters, there’s the ASA-101 basic keelboat class, which consists of four three-hour sessions. “The minute they step on the boat, the students are doing everything,” Gilmore says. When students finish the class, they have the opportunity to take the next two consecutive courses (basic cruising and bareboat chartering) in the British Virgin Islands or on Lake Superior.

Sailing classes go from May to late September, but Gilmore also teaches coastal navigation classroom courses in October and November. “It’s all chart work, so kind of like trigonometry,” she says. After the course, students are qualified for Advanced Coastal Cruising, a night sail from the Apostle Islands to Grand Marais, or the British Virgin Islands to St. Croix, using manual navigation methods.

Sail Away offers an impressive curriculum that sets high standards for its instructors. The school currently has nine part-time teachers who have been sailing for a number of years. Gilmore herself has had a remarkable career.

“I got into sailing in my 30s, and it took my life over.

I just kept sailing more and more,” she says. After getting her U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license and being a live-aboard captain teaching teens how to sail on Lake Superior, among many other feats, Gilmore founded Sail Away in 2006. She’s been sailing full-time for 20 years.

For Gilmore, the partnership between the school and UMYC offers a unique experience. “We have a relationship with the yacht club so that our students have a place to practice sailing,” Gilmore says. Students get to meet UMYC members and are invited to participate in club sailboat races.

Located on Enchanted Island in the upper lake area, UMYC has been a place for people to come together to share their love of sailing since the '60s. The club has social events in the summer, with sailboat races every Wednesday and Saturday. Boat racing types include Kona Windsurfing, E-Scow and MC-Scow. The upper lake “is really nice for sailing. It’s more quiet and peaceful,” Gilmore says.
With Sail Away teaching 100 to 150 students each sailing season, and 30 to 40 families as UMYC members, the two organizations always welcome newcomers. Gilmore hopes sailing classes and yacht clubs spark an interest in sailing. “It’s a cool thing to do … I encourage young people to get into the sport,” she says.