James Thomson in his treatise "Sunday Up The River" wrote "Give man a boat he can sail." That is exactly what Belle Haven Marina did last Saturday. Only it was not limited to "man," either as student or instructor.
In honor of the Fourth National Marina Day, George Stevens, president, Belle Haven Marina, Inc., offered free one-hour sails as well as free "do-it-yourself" kayaking on the Potomac River. And there were plenty of takers.
"National Marina Day is an annual celebration of the important role marinas play in waterfront communities all across America. Each day this country's marinas serve as safe, family-friendly gateways to boating and stewards of the environment," Stevens said.
"Now, more than ever, Americans need clean, safe and relaxing locations where they can spend their leisure time. National Marina Day gives us the opportunity to remind our customers and the community that Belle Haven Marina is a local, environmentally-friendly destination serving as a gateway to one of our great natural resources, our waterways," he said.
TO MAKE HIS POINT, Stevens offered a series of free events throughout the day that included one-hour free sailing lessons with an instructor, and free hour kayak and canoe rentals. There were also paid weekend sailing lessons for more serious and dedicated want-a-be sailors.
"We've actually been doing this for about 10 years. It used to be known as Discover Sail. It's our way of giving back to the community," Stevens said. The marina is owned by the National Park Service. Stevens is the head of the management company that operates the facility.
"We have more people signed up this year than we have ever had. Usually, there's either no wind or no people. This year we have both," said Chip Johnston, dockmaster at the marina for the past 20 years.
"We also have about 15 people coming to our learn-to-sail class today. They will actually sail all weekend. Our 10-hour program works perfectly. By the end of the weekend they will be sailors," he said.
That was verified by Fred Wilson, chief instructor for the learn-to-sail class. "Today we will be using a boat known as the Flying Scot. Once you learn the fundamentals of sailing you will be able to sail any boat," he told those assembled for his 15-minute flip chart explanation of what constitutes a sailboat and how it operates.
Following their land instruction the students would head out for a full day on the water. Each boat held four students and an instructor.
DOWN ON THE SOUTH DOCK, groups of twos, threes and fours were boarding some of those same Flying Scots to enjoy an hour out on the river on a morning when the August temperature was escalating by the minute. Two of those enthusiasts were Claire Maddrey of Greensboro, N.C., here visiting her friend Rachael Mangum of Arlington. Their instructor for the hour sail was Mary Matthew. She specializes in teaching children the art of sailing.
"I've thought about taking up sailing as a hobby. So we decided this would be a good opportunity to try it out," Mangum said.
"We do regular children's classes of about 18 children at a time divided nine to an instructor," Stevens said. "We also run special Boy Scout training classes."
In addition to free sailing experiences last Saturday, Belle Haven Marina at Dyke Marsh, just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway, was also offering a free hour of kayaking and canoeing. The Whalen family of Alexandria decided on exploring the Potomac by kayak rather than sailboat.
"We don't really supply instructors for kayaking. It's pretty self explanatory and most people get the hang of it in a couple of minutes," Johnston said.
Each student enrolled for the weekend sailing class received a 13-page manual outlining not only the basic aspects of sailing but also details of the Flying Scot sailboat and what to do in case of an emergency. At the conclusion of the course they are urged to take the written Red Cross certification test that is recognized worldwide.
"I'm very glad we're having a good turnout this year. It's a shame to have all these boats and no one using them," Stevens said just as the next group of free sailors began arriving.