Editor's Log: Boys and Their Boats

Young or old, we're all fascinated by things that float. Editor's Log from our September 2012 issue.

Leadership 44 editor's log

Cadets aboard a pair of Leadership 44s trade tacks.Courtesy of the Coast Guard Foundation

Down at the wharf the other night, the fellows had their racing simulator pulled out and set up on a picnic table. It’s a square sheet of wood with four wooden cutout boats complete with little masts and plywood sails. Seeing two of the sailboats arranged in a T-bone hinted at a juicy story. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. No, this little tale concerns the gaggle of kids who suddenly appeared and, of course, went straight for the simulator and started pushing the boats around, playing with them.

Young or old, we’re all fascinated by things that float. Boats tug at our heartstrings—and our wallets—and often as not, we gladly open both.

Here in Newport, Rhode Island, we live in sailing heaven. Each spring, the smartest-looking yachts in the world appear on our doorstep. Renowned racers haunt our docks. Varnish is ordered by the barge load, carbon fiber by the mile.

Eyebrows, though, do occasionally still get raised at how the world of sailing dominates the landscape. Mine did one day this summer when I read that the International Yacht Restoration School raised $700,000 in one evening at their annual summer gala, held at the school’s Newport campus. Dinner, cocktails, dancing, and an auction brought out the faithful, and apparently they came with checkbooks in hand. Again. According to IYRS president Terry Nathan, the school raised a similar amount last year, up from the half-million or so it typically netted at galas not that long ago.

The very hands-on training school was founded in 1993 and today, at campuses in Newport and Bristol, Rhode Island, offers degrees in Boatbuilding & Restoration, Marine Systems, and Composite Technologies. About 55 attend the school at any one time; upon graduation, 85 percent either have jobs already or are soon to take one. Nathan said that nationwide, the trend had been away from practical experience in higher education, but now the tide has turned at four-year colleges and universities, and interest in the trades is growing once again. Schools like IYRS are leading the way in the re-emergence of hands-on education, and that attracts donors. At this year's gala, IYRS presented a video in which students and industry employers "talked about outcomes," said Nathan.

“What we’re trying to do, and the progress we’re making is resonating with people,” he said.

Just down the coast, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, education and boats are ringing some bells with people, too—to the tune of $5 million and counting. Parents, alumni, and the Coast Guard Foundation launched a fundraising drive in the darkest days of the Great Recession and are about to realize their goal of $5.5 million to launch a fleet of eight David Pedrick-designed, Morris Yachts-built Leadership 44 cadet-training sailboats. Hulls three and four were due to be christened at midsummer, five, six and seven should be completed this fall, and by next summer, hull eight will have been delivered.

“Sailors understand that sailing isn’t just about the sailboat,” said the Foundation’s Jennifer Fyke. “It’s about the leadership skills that come out of these vessels and how the cadets work together as a team.”

Sailboats. We all love them.

           Mark Pillsbury

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