2009-08-20 / Front Page

Proposed sailing school remains grounded for now

By Phil Zahodiakin

The FAST Sailing Foundation has withdrawn its request for a sailing school partnership with Jamestown. The Newport-based group expects to resubmit a proposal eventually, but, for now, the deal is off the table.

FAST is currently based at the Sail Newport Sailing Center at Ft. Adams State Park. The nonprofi t group, which was founded in 2002, has sought to build a permanent home at Ft. Getty since 2004.

Under the terms of a proposed 20-year lease, FAST would fi- nance and construct the facility in lieu of rent. The group would run its programs during the spring and fall; Jamestown would use the facility to run a sailing school of its own during the summer.

The Jamestown Town Council recently decided to table a vote on the lease until FAST provided answers to additional questions. In response, “we decided to withdraw because we couldn’t currently answer all of the questions,” said FAST board member Robert Salk. “We are not dissuaded, and we would like to resubmit the proposal when we can answer all of the questions.”

Town Council President Julio DiGiando said he wasn’t particularly surprised by the withdrawal because “[FAST] didn’t have the council support that they were looking for, and they didn’t feel that [the council] was going to do anything until they provided more information and a more refi ned plan – and they should, going forward. It was hard [for the council] to support giving away town land for 20 years” without the requested information.

Town Council member Robert Sutton told the Press that the council “had some concerns about maintaining a building that would be like a one-design boat: a [racing] boat designed to do one thing and one thing only. It would be a relatively large, architecturally designed building that would cost the town quite a bit to maintain over time, and it wasn’t clear what the value back to the town would be for maintaining such a large building – other than to run a sailing program for two months of the year.”

Sutton added that the council was also concerned about the lack of “a focused plan for a town sailing program: How will the town and the Recreation Department accomplish a sailing program during the summer months? In my mind, at least, I would like to see more information on exactly what the program would involve in terms of how many boats [the town would buy], how many instructors and what the program would entail. That has all been a little vague.”

To address the one-dimensionality of the building proposed by FAST, Sutton said he would propose the addition of public restrooms.

“The restrooms at Ft. Getty definitely need to be reconstructed, and there isn’t any reason, in my mind, why a new building put up there couldn’t include a public restroom. That’s just one example, but, generally speaking, the building needs to be more inclusive of the things we do at Ft. Getty,” he said.

Salk described Ft. Getty as “an absolute gem – an incredible place for adult or junior sailing. You have protected sailing in Dutch Harbor, access to the bay and almost immediate access to the ocean.” The location is ideal, said Salk, for FAST to pursue its mission: to put young New England sailors in the top echelon of sailboat racing.

“We started out with the issue that New England sailors couldn’t succeed in national-level regattas,” Salk said. “Seven years ago, they were all finishing in the bottom half, and we figured out that what was going on was that the better sailors were sailing 12 months a year, whereas New England sailors – Rhode Island sailors in particular – were sailing eight weeks a year. They’d put their boats away in late August, and not sail again until the following June. So a group of us – three or four Jamestown families, a couple of families in Newport and Middletown, and some people from Connecticut – started the foundation to supplement the sailing opportunities provided by yacht clubs. We import the best coaches in the country to help young sailors achieve their personal goals, and we’ve been very successful at that.”

Just this year, Salk added, “We had one of our sailors, Nick Johnstone, place first in the National 420 Championship, and [last] week, we had a sailor take a second-place in the [singlehanded division of the] National Ladder Championship. We have so much enthusiasm for the kids – and seeing them sailing instead of possibly getting into trouble. We feel that how they do in regattas isn’t nearly as important as how they do in life.”

How the foundation does in its quest for a Ft. Getty home may, or may not, be affected by the results of the November election – when all five of the Town Council seats will be open for election.

As Sutton observed, if the refi ned proposal from FAST is not submitted until after the election, “there will certainly be new people [on the council], and they may bring a whole new dimension to the discussion. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

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