Setting <i>Sailstice</i>

An evening on the water with Summer Sailstice founder John Arndt and family brings editor at large Herb McCormick to the source of this ubiquitous festival.

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John Arndt, under way with his family in Northern California, named his 33-foot Summer Sailstice after the event he founded, which has become a true labor of love.Abner Kingman

John Arndt loves to sail. I mean, he really loves to sail. It's his vocation-he's the advertising manager of the popular West Coast sailing magazine Latitude 38-and his avocation-he's also the skipper of the Ranger 33 Summer Sailstice, which he berths at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon, California. Last summer I had the distinct pleasure of sailing a Friday night beer-can race with John and his family: wife Leslie and daughters Sarah and Hannah, who share dad's love of twilight evenings on the sparkling waters of sensational San Francisco Bay. If my memory serves correct, we did pretty well, but what I most remember about the race was John's wide grin and sheer joy as he put his boat through her paces. It was a delight and a privilege to sail with the Arndts and enjoy a cool beverage or two afterward, just a wonderful, infectious experience all the way around.

The thing about John is, he wants everyone to feel the passion for sailing that he does (in the interests of full disclosure, John and I were brief colleagues last year at L38). He's an equal-opportunity enthusiast. Although he races and cruises aboard his 33-footer, he's thrilled by the fact that the sport encompasses so many disciplines and factions. Dinghies, kite boards, beach cats, classics: John Arndt has never seen a vessel he couldn't appreciate.

A few years back, however, it occurred to John that all the variety encompassed under the umbrella of sailing could also be, well, polarizing. Why, he wondered, wasn't there an event, or a regatta, or something, that brought all sailors together under a common cause?

And right about then, the proverbial light bulb clicked on.

"If someone says they're going to go out and play tennis you know exactly what they're going to do," says John. "But if somebody says they're going sailing, you don't know if they're doing the Volvo Ocean Race or jumping on a windsurfer or setting out on a wooden tall ship. There are just so many completely different audiences, but at the end of the day they're all sailors. So how do you make them feel part of the same thing?"

The answer John came up with was the Summer Sailstice, an annual festival of sail that takes place each June over the weekend closest to the summer solstice. The first year, in 2001, the event consisted of some friends and family on San Francisco Bay. Ho-hum.

But something about the idea resonated with sailors. Last year, more than 2,500 boats and an estimated 10,000 sailors participated in every state except dusty North Dakota. There were Sailstice sailors in reservoirs in New Mexico and Arizona. Thirty members of the Shanghai Yacht and Sailing Club got together, China being one of almost 20 countries that hosted a Sailstice event. In British Columbia, mariners celebrated with Sailstice burgers, and in San Diego a group said the hell with it and sailed the Sailstice sans a stitch, the closest thing ever to a real Nude Regatta.

"They were all involved in a random act of sailing," says John.

John's very proud of the fact that the Sailstice has introduced the sport to countless newcomers, but what he really wants is more participation from active sailors and boat owners.

"We in the sailing industry are always trying to figure out how to get people into sailing," he says. "But we want and need the people who are already into it and involved to use their boats more, make new friends, and really feel part of the sailing community. Racing does a great job of that. But so many sailors just go out of some marina or harbor or pond all by themselves. There's no real way to connect with them, or for them to connect with others. That's what the Sailstice is about."

This year's Summer Sailstice will take place on June 23 and 24, and it's easy to get involved. Just go sailing! But before you do, visit the website (www.summersailstice.com) and register the location you'll be sailing in and with whom. It doesn't matter if you're organizing a day of point-to-point racing with your club, or just piddling around the corner to drop the hook and have a picnic. Once you've registered, you'll be eligible for a raft of prizes ranging from a Moorings charter to an Achilles inflatable to a week of instruction at the Offshore Sailing School. And you don't necessarily need a boat to join the party. The site has state-to-state listings of Sailstice-related events and happenings, and contact info for how to participate. As John says, the Sailstice is all about inclusion.

For the 2007 Sailstice, John has also formed a partnership with the renowned environmental group Ocean Conservancy (www.oceanconservancy.org). The aim is to conduct a "virtual circumnavigation": if 2,600 boats complete a ten-mile sail, they'll have covered a collective 26,000 miles, the length of a round-the-world voyage. Furthermore, if each boat raises or donates just a dollar a mile, they'll put over $25,000 into the Conservancy's coffers. Talk about your win-win situations. For more details, check out the respective websites.

"The goal is to make it like a walkathon," says John. "It's an opportunity for sailors, who are already environmentally conscious, to give something back to their playground."

Obviously, we know what John's going to be doing on June 23, so why not make a plan to be on the water with your pals and family. It's a great excuse to do what we all love to do.

And if you're in North Dakota, that lone Sailstice hold-out, please call. Please. John Arndt desperately wants to hear from you.