Celebrating 67 Years of Teaching Sailing

Since 1952, the nonprofit Venice Youth Boating Association has seen more than 5,000 young people participate in its sailing program. They have gone on to study at prestigious schools including Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, Bowdoin, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy and Florida universities, as well as enjoying success in life and careers. Founded one year after the charter of the Venice Yacht Club in 1951, VYBA was originally known as the “Pram Fleet,” named after the small boat its participants first sailed.

“A plank of the founding charter of the Venice Yacht Club,” explains John Sammet, VYBA’s chair emeritus, “was that the club would always educate youth in the art and science of sailing. A few months after the yacht club received its charter from the state of Florida, members built small sailboats in a warehouse at what is now the Sarasota airport. They were seven feet long, had flat bows and sterns, were small enough to be handled by one sailor and were called ‘prams,’ based on a 1947 design created by Clark Mills of Clearwater for the Florida Optimist Club. Now called ‘Optis,’ these are the world’s premier beginning sailboat.”

Volunteers coached the first Pram Fleets. The program grew so quickly that it soon became an expensive operation. In 1969, it was incorporated separately from the Yacht Club, and in 1972, it became the nonprofit it is today under the VYBA name.

VYBA employs a full-time executive sailing director, Tara Foster—a U.S. Sailing Certified Instructor Trainer—and pays part-time coaches, who are required to be at least U.S. Sailing Level 1 Certified. Some coaches are current college students and recent graduates of VYBA themselves.

VYBA offers many types of programs for ages 6–18, as well as sailing for adults. The one-week Pollywogs course for children ages 6–8 introduces basic sailing concepts and introductory experiences, as does the Adventure Sailing course for ages 7–15. Programs for high school students introduce larger boats, longer sailing adventures and a greater understanding of safety on the water. One-week courses cost $180, and two-week courses cost $340, with a diverse array of courses offered in the summer, and a longer program for those who want to participate all school year. As part of its goals, VYBA makes its programs available to all children in our region. Working with its sponsors and donors, VYBA offers partial or full need-based tuition scholarships. 

“The VYBA philosophy in teaching sailing,” John says, “is ‘Right side up in the water and in life.’ Every new sailor first takes a swim check for safety and swimming ability, then they learn to capsize a boat, right it and climb aboard again. When a young person comes to sail for the first time, they often have fear in their eyes. But by day five, they have learned the basics of sailing. This boat that seemed like a mystery just days before now begins to respond to them. They’ve learned the wind and the water and how to steer the boat where they want it to go. It’s an ‘Aha!’ moment. They suddenly become the captain of their boat, and this is long before they can vote or drive a car.”

Safety is always the first priority. A strict code of conduct with zero tolerance for bullying and discrimination is an important part of the program. VYBA sailors also participate in environmental cleanup, winning awards for those efforts three years in a row.

“The best part of VYBA is seeing the absolute life changes that occur in a youngster,” John says. “The sailors quickly achieve high levels of self-responsibility, self-reliance and self-confidence that continue to develop as they grow in the program. It’s the remarkable impact of learning to sail.”  

Young Sailors Race on the Gulf

The sixth annual Venetian Cup Regatta took place April 27, launching from the Venice Yacht Club. Younger sailors competed in Optimist Green Fleet and Optimist RWB Fleet in Roberts Bay. Club 420s and Lasers sailed in the Gulf. Certified a “Green Regatta” by Sailors of the Sea, no plastic straws or plastics of any kind were allowed at the event. Participants received commemorative shirts, and winning sailors were presented with awards at the end of the day’s racing. 

The Mission: Changing Young Lives

The Goals

1. Providing partial or full need-based scholarships for all aspiring sailors.

2. Teaching sailing, a progressive and competitive life-lasting sport.

3. Encouraging fun on the water with safety as the first priority.

4. Providing knowledge about navigation on our waterways.

5. Sharing knowledge about marine life and natural resources.

6. Enhancing STEM knowledge, integral to the sport of sailing.

7. Emphasizing teamwork and sportsmanship.

Venice Youth Boating Association

1330 Tarpon Center Drove, Venice

941.468.1719, VeniceYouthBoating.com