2018-07-12 / Front Page

COME SAIL AWAY WITH ME

New center offers voyages, lessons for all ages, levels
BY RYAN GIBBS


Instructor Evan Swain and student Hailey Haberman, 14, hoist the mainsail Tuesday during a lesson at the East Ferry docks. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Instructor Evan Swain and student Hailey Haberman, 14, hoist the mainsail Tuesday during a lesson at the East Ferry docks. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN In the same season that welcomed a nautically themed gift shop to East Ferry, a second storefront with aquatic aspirations is open for business.

While All Ashore Cottage Outfitters is focused on the aesthetics, the New England Sailing Center is committed to grooming the next generation of boaters.

Both businesses operate from 47 Conancius Ave. The sailing center, owned by Gina DeVivo, opened its doors in mid-May following its relocation from downtown Newport.

“The first day we moved into our office, at least 20 people popped their head in to say hi,” DeVivo said. “Never once did I get that in Newport.”

Although tourists are the foundation of her customer base, DeVivo said it’s important to connect with the year-round residents. Her business had trouble forming that intimate relationship across the East Passage.


Students, like Matthew Watts and Maria Belenikina, learn the ropes from instructor Evan Swain in the classroom before they set sail on the sea. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Students, like Matthew Watts and Maria Belenikina, learn the ropes from instructor Evan Swain in the classroom before they set sail on the sea. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN “We love Newport Harbor, but it just never really felt like we were connecting with the community there, which is important to us,” she said.

The sailing center offers basic lessons for landlubbers looking to get their feet wet while providing chartered excursions for students comfortable with the ABCs of boating. The fleet of skippered yachts takes customers along Rhode Island Sound, from Block Island to Martha’s Vineyard to Cuttyhunk. Longer voyages, such as Nantucket, are reserved for advanced students.

When DeVivo decided to relocate, she picked Conanicus Avenue because the company’s four yachts are homeported across the street at Conanicut Marine. She can see the fleet from her office.

“You can just walk across the street to get onto the boats,” she said. “Everything’s right there. It’s an ideal location for foot traffic. It’s very visible.”

The New England Sailing Center opened in April 2015 at Long Wharf. After two years there, DeVivo moved to Gurney’s Marina on Goat Island for the 2017 season. Conanicut Island is her third location.

Before founding this venture, DeVivo co-operated Swain Sailing School in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, for 17 years. She opened a branch of that company in Portsmouth in 2008, relocating to Waites Wharf two years later. The New England Sailing Center was spun off from the Swain business.

A native of Massachusetts, DeVivo began sailing 24 years ago while living in the Caribbean. That hobby, however, turned into her livelihood.

“I fell in love with the sport,” she said. “It went from there.”

DeVivo administered a doctorate program in biophysics at Harvard Medical School before moving to the British Virgin Islands and working for Swain. When she returned stateside, she decided to continue sailing instead of reverting back to academia. Looking for the perfect place to start her sailing company, she chose Narragansett Bay.

“I didn’t want to go to Florida or any other part of the country,” she said. “Rhode Island was our number-one choice. From there, we began moving closer to Jamestown.”

Although Swain and the New England Sailing Center are independent companies, DeVivo describes them as “industry partners.” When visiting the Caribbean, clients of the Rhode Island firm receive discounts from Swain.

In addition to the chartered yachts, DeVivo offers technical courses for beginner sailors. The two-day basic keelboat course is taught on the center’s J/22 sailboat. It acts as an introduction to sailing, covering topics from nautical terminology to rescue procedures for a man overboard.

“It’s all hands-on,” she said. “That will get you qualified to go to any other charter company that rents small daysailers. You are able to take one out on your own after you complete that course.”

Its cruising courses are conducted on three larger boats: a Beneteau 39, a Beneteau 43 and a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 439. These classes are for sailors who have completed the basic courses; graduating from this advanced curriculum will internationally certify students to charter anywhere in the world, operated by any company. Aside from the classes, the center also offers courses on coastal navigation, offshore passage making and VHF radio operation.

The entire fleet can be chartered by graduates for both skippered and bareboat voyages. DeVivo, however, said sailing instruction was the initial intent of her operation.

“That was our focus for many years,” she said.

Then came demands from her students.

“Once they completed their courses, they’d ask, ‘Can we take your boats out?’ We started letting our boats be chartered. That grew into a full charter company.”

Although the sailing center opened in May, the wet weather delayed the inaugural classes until Memorial Day weekend. DeVivo said business has been good, especially with the popular keelboat course.

“We’re definitely doing more of the intro courses,” she said.

So far, customers mostly have been tourists from outside Rhode Island, but DeVivo hopes the new location attracts students from the island. The charter season is scheduled to end in mid-October, although that depends on weather and water conditions. The center also will be open through the winter offering indoor classes.

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