of Community Sailing Club:
Unique resource beckons sailors
(Appeared on the front page of the
Fairfield Sun 4/21)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Southport, CT – You can imagine the transition as one ship entering the harbor while another pushes out to open waters. That was the image conjured up by the recent appointment of Christian Von Ancken as the Community Sailing Club of Fairfield’s new president, who replaces outgoing president Lou Schueler. The Fairfield resident served for eight consecutive years since 2003.
In a recent meet with the Sun at Ye Yacht Yard in Southport Harbor, where the Club keeps its equipment and houses its sailing vessels, the two men provided background about the group, their own experiences and thinking about the Club’s future direction.
A Local Treasure
Schueler, 74, is often asked if Community Sailing is a sailing school, and is quick to correct the notion. “We’re a non-profit club that was put together by old-time sailors back in 1991,” he said. “Anyone interested in sailing and has some sailing experience can join. Per the new harbormaster’s suggestion, new members must have a Connecticut Safe Boating Certificate and experience sailing. We accept anyone that meets the qualifications.”
Schueler was raised in a small town just below New Bedford, MA, and said he started sailing when he was a kid. “I ultimately became a pilot with United Airlines and moved to Fairfield in 1965, and always wanted to someday get back on the water. I had to wait until I put my three kids through college, which made sailing financially impossible at that time.”
In the late 1990s, a newspaper item caught his eye and resulted in his returning to his sailing passion. “I read about an open house Community Sailing was having at Ye Yacht Yard and thought, ‘Gosh, this is the best kept secret in Fairfield, and I joined.”
With regard to taking on leadership roles, Schueler became a board member at first, then president in 2003, excited to govern what he finds to be a very eclectic group of people. “Members are from all walks of life, and enjoy being together and sailing together,” he said. “We’re different from private clubs, which look for financial status. This is open to the general public and people of most any means.”
Schueler said that one of the most remarkable highlights of his tenure was involvement with the Fresh Air Fund, which gives children living in urban environments the chance to enjoy experiences in suburban areas. “In the summer immediately following 9/11, we hosted four families at Ye Yacht Yard,” he said. “One little girl and I were standing on the dock looking out on the Sound and she said she’d never seen so much open water. Then she pointed across to Long Island and asked, ‘What country is that?’ Later, a large yacht, with an American flag flapping behind it, motored out of the harbor and, seeing the flag, she put her hand on her heart and started singing ‘God Bless America.’”
A New Captain
At a certain point in his presidency, Schueler felt he was getting stale. “It was time for a change and I indicated to our board that I’d like to step down,” he said. “We looked around and noticed that Chris had done a lot of sailing and also taught sailing. We convinced him to take the helm.”
Van Ancken, 47, a SVP in the commercial real estate sector for People’s Bank United, said he hopes to continue Schueler’s good work. “I have been thinking about having middle school children from around Fairfield come and experience sailing, as a first step to being on the water,” he said. “Learning to sail as a kid lasts throughout your life.”
Van Ancken is a prime illustration of that theory. “I grew up in Queens and Long Island and started sailing with my dad on small boats,” he said. “One of my fondest memories was sailing to Bermuda as a boy of 13, on the open ocean. We had a huge storm when we started out, then the rest of the trip was smooth sailing. It was incredible, particularly at night seeing the stars reflecting off the water. It was like you were in space. You couldn’t distinguish the difference between the water and the horizon.”
He said that he was steering large boats at ten and learning the proper terminology. “I sailed all through my teens on a Hobie Cat, and even taught myself to windsurf,” he said. “In college, I taught sailing at the marina in Three Mile Harbor in Easthampton, NY. My last year of college, I opened up Hampton Charters, a sailboat chartering business, with three large sailboats I rented out for bare boat charters. My job was to generate the business, give clients a sailing test and clean the boats each week.”
Right after college, Van Ancken married and started a family, raising two daughters. “When they were young, we began taking sailing vacations together,” he said. “The early trips were local, traveling from the Sound to Block Island or Newport. Later on, we would take trips down to the Caribbean islands. The boat we had was an Irwin 41 with a center cockpit, which we actively used for more than 10 years. We sold it in the mid-90s and began chartering boats as we wanted to expand our sailing vacations to more exotic places. Some of those destinations included Spain, Greece, Croatia and the coast of France.”
He said each trip brought a new experience. “Coming to the ports, you get a whole different perspective on a country. Arriving in a small fishing village like Menorca, Spain, and eating the local food and exploring the culture is very eye-opening.”
Staying the Course
Van Ancken heard about Community Sailing in 2005, through a newspaper article like Schueler. “I immediately thought it would be great for me and my family to have access to the water and a community of people that love sailing.”
All the members were very welcoming he said, and reflected a common love of sailing. “When I joined, it was exciting to me to use my skills to get out of the harbor, which can be a challenge. Once you do get on the Sound, it’s serene, with the water slapping against the hull and no sound of traffic. It’s just you, the wind and the water. There’s an empowering feeling of harnessing the forces of nature.”
Van Ancken started bringing his daughters, now 18 and 22, out sailing and passing his passion on to them. He also began taking out less experienced sailors and got involved with the cleaning and maintenance of boats as well as financial aspects of the Club. His participation caught the notice of senior Club members, which led to his being tapped this past December.
Looking forward, he said, “I want to keep the Club on the same track, the boats maintained and members informed. The key is to open up the water to people that would not normally have the financial means to own or even maintain a boat. Community Sailing is a priceless local resource housed in a spectacular and historic harbor.”
Community Sailing of Fairfield: An overview
Operating primarily out of Southport Harbor, the Community Sailing Club of Fairfield boasts a current membership of 58 families, encompassing about 150 people. Members must have experience sailing though part of the Club’s mission is to enhance knowledge through the promotion of safe boating practices, general boating education and training in areas related to sailing and water safety through special workshops, on-board sailing instruction and demonstrations.
The Club operates two 18-foot long, open-cockpit sailboats, each with a main sail, jib and spinnaker, which are used for racing and pleasure sailing. The group also maintains four two-man kayaks and two one-man kayaks for Club use. Through a computerized reservation system, members can schedule boating time in two-hour increments any day of the week during the hours 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Club offers three free annual seminars, this year being held on April 28, May 5 and May 12, focused on sailing safety, rules and techniques. Three additional dockside clinics are devoted to hands-on rigging, determining wind direction and maneuvering in the harbor.
With regard to social activities, the Club typically holds a late winter/early spring potluck dinner, which renews connections between members that haven’t seen each other since the close of the sailing season. During the June/July summer months, the Club reserves the Jacky Durrell Pavilion at Penfield Beach and hosts a clambake for members and their entire families.
Said outgoing CSF President Lou Schueler, “We’re not really a party group, but we hold great events meant for the family. We’re just good people.”
Two membership packages exist – one for weekdays only and the other a full week. Dues cover the use of the boats, insurance and cost of mooring/berthing in Southport Harbor.
For more information about membership and the CSF’s free annual seminars, email firstname.lastname@example.org.