Charlie Porter, from Half Moon Bay, teaches Georgiana Fields, of Alamo, how to steer upwind using the joystick and mainsheets. Photo courtesy Half Moon Bay Yacht Club

Recently, the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club hosted kids with disabilities for free sailing lessons in Pillar Point Harbor. The kids and their families were encouraged to show up for a day in the harbor, learning sailing skills and enjoying the beach. 

During two adaptive sailing days, the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club brought in about two dozen young sailors.  

The June 23 event was the third and biggest adaptive sailing day at the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club. Representatives from the Yacht Club visited similar programs around the Bay Area, including the Half Moon Bay Surf Club’s autism surf camp, to learn more about how to make the event a success.

“We had recently built a new building … that was (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, so we figured we have an ADA accessible facility and this really nice site, how can it be of service to this underserved disabled community,” said Kelly Pike, the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club Foundation president. “Getting access to the water is something that is difficult for people with disabilities to accomplish.”

California Inclusive Sailing provided an adaptive boat designed for sailors with disabilities and it was used along with traditional sailboats. A beach-accessible wheelchair was also available, on loan from Francis State Beach. The Half Moon Bay Yacht Club has an accessible entrance as well as ADA-compliant bathrooms and a shower.

The junior instructors assessed what the sailors were able to do and constructed a lesson around those abilities. Scouts from Troop 255 also volunteered to help direct sailors and their families. In the first event, 10 sailors attended along with 30 family members and California Children’s Services therapists.

“The parents and siblings could sail in one boat and the child was in another with an instructor, and they could follow them around,” said Pike “The kids were having a good time, and their families could experience the same fun.” 

The sailors learned about the boats and about sailing, but also saw marine wildlife like seals and birds while out on the water. “All boats were kept busy sailing until it was time to go home,” said Pike. “This was a big success.”

Georgina Fields who had never sailed before enjoyed a day out with her family. “We had a fabulous time and Georgina enjoyed having this hands-on experience. She loved learning the terminology, the process of sailing, and she got to steer the rudder and see the boat move in the water,” said Georgina’s mother, Karla Fields. 

“We really appreciated the opportunity for children with different abilities to have this experience.”

The event was made possible by donations to the Half Moon Bay Yacht Club Foundation during the Coastside Gives campaign in May, Pike said. 

“It was hugely successful, but now it’s a matter of scaling the infrastructure for the growing numbers,” said Pike.

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