Become a Sailor in One Weekend III, or The Annapolis Way

Sometime in the 80s we started using “The Annapolis Way” to describe our approach to teaching sailing. It was a convenient mantra for the sales people to use to answer the question “Why should I come to your school?” The Annapolis Way described our introductory course we called 102, a program with small classes, a four to one ratio of instructor to students in the boat and four hours classroom instruction and eight hours of on water instruction in one weekend.  It worked. Despite growing numbers of competitors and imitators, our numbers continued to increase, although not as dramatically as in the 70s.

But the biggest event of the early 80s was the completion and opening of our permanent marina building, housing class rooms, office space, a maintenance shop and bathrooms! We no longer needed the portapotties at the marina. The effect on the weekend program when we opened in April was profound. We still checked students in at Sixth St. But now we had enough classroom space at the marina that the caravan to Bembe Beach only had to run once, not four times in a weekend. The senior instructors still met their students at check in, gave them a simple map (printed in our own print shop) to find their way to the marina and the rest of the weekend was all instructional.

The expansion of available classroom space lead to speculation as to how large a group we could accommodate on a weekend 102 class. It turned out to be over 120 Rainbow students in mid-summer of 1986. The weather cooperated. We set up temporary registration in the Sixth St. parking lot and used all the class rooms and the patio there as well as the new building, even cleaning out the shop and turning it into a temporary class room. That many students required thirty boats. We had about fifteen Rainbows, two Rainbow knockabouts and three Rainbow Weekenders. That got us to twenty boats. We had eight Annapolis 25s which used the same hull and rig as the Rainbow and borrowed two Rainbows from friends. At the marina we rafted three deep on both docks and rafted two boats on each mooring buoy on each side of the channel. We towed in and out all weekend. It was a long and challenging weekend, but the weather was perfect and we pulled it off!

Later that year we played host to a movie production company filming for a movie Called “No Way Out” starring Kevin Costner and Shawn Young. That was quite a week! Rumor has it that there may be a screening of the movie this summer, but that’s a different story.

While all this was going on the Sailing School continued to expand. In 1980 we phased out the franchise in St. Thomas and established a company run branch in Christiansted on St. Croix, with several Rainbows and four O’Day 37s. We rented and finally purchased the property and built a dock. There was some concern about hurricanes, but we were assured by the local experts that St. Croix had not experienced a major hurricane in eighty years. In the spring of 1981 we established a seasonal branch in Charleston, South Carolina. This was a small but active location with several Rainbows and one O’Day. We experimented with a one boat branch at The Lake Of The Ozarks in Missouri and a one boat cruising Operation out of Greenport New York, on Long Island Sound. The Lake of the Ozarks did not work very well and was the first branch that we closed.

In spite of our optimistic approach, there were many warnings that the good times were ending. Enrollments began declining, slowly at first but this soon became a trend. This decline affected all of the outdoor leisure market, camping, golf, and skiing as well as boating. Jerry and I attended many meetings with other leaders in these industries to determine what we could do to reverse the downward trend, unfortunately it appeared that there was not much. The country was in the midst of many drastic changes; deregulation, deindustrialization, plant closings and runaway inflation to mention only a few. Many of these changes directly affected our middle class market. Not too surprisingly. we did not hear anything more about our excess leisure time problem.

As the 80’s drew to a close we decided to update our big boat fleet. The O’Days had served us well, making many trips back and forth from the Caribbean with no problems. We decided on a new Morgan design, the Morgan 44. We purchased two, equipped them with everything they needed for an ocean trip and sent them to St. Croix with students aboard. After a fast, uneventful passage they arrived in Christiansted Harbor during the first week of September 1989. Unfortunately, the island had another visitor later in the month; Hurricane Hugo.

There is only one good hurricane hole on St. Croix and that’s Salt River. The Rainbows were either out of the water or scuttled at the dock to prevent damage. The Morgans and our Bertram 31 chase boat were taken to Salt River and securely anchored. The anchorage was crowded as was to be expected. When Hugo arrived it lingered over the Island for nearly eight hours with winds approaching 200 MPH. The storm destroyed 85% of the homes and businesses on the island. The anchorage was faring well when a barge, one of the last boats to arrive, parted it’s anchor line and drifted through the anchorage like a bulldozer. Our Bertram was rammed and sunk. The Morgans were hit and had their anchors carried away. They wound up in a mangrove swamp a half mile from water deep enough to float them. One had a six inch tree through it’s bottom. There was a complete communication blackout that lasted four days, civil authority broke down, looting was rampant. One of our instructors managed to jury rig a cooling water pick up to run one of the Morgan’s engine to keep the battery charged. He was able to communicate with me via single side band radio in the evenings with a phone patch through the Baltimore Marine operator. He and I spent the communications black out forwarding messages to worried families Stateside. He’d communicate with a cruiser via short range VHF, then give me the message and a phone number via the single side band so I could call the family on my office phone and pass it on. Our damaged boats were barged back to the states for surveys and ultimately declared total losses. The Bertram was eventually repaired and returned to Annapolis.

But Hugo wasn’t finished with us yet. A few days later the storm came ashore at Charleston and destroyed the marina where the Sailing School was based. Cruising courses had never worked well at Charleston, so we had already decided to bring the O’Day home. She sat out the storm on a trailer alongside the road. With the widespread damage and loss of our marina we decided to close the Charleston Branch after a nearly 10 year successful run. On the bright side, we suffered only property damage, none of our people or students were injured. By the time Hugo got to Annapolis, all we got was a little rain and a desire to rebuild.

 * Editor’s note – “The Annapolis Way” has evolved to “Seriously Fun” — still embodying a philosophy of learning by doing, of hard work but in a relaxed manner. Annapolis Sailing School’s very prominent 102 served as the basis for ASA 101. Indeed for the longest while, there was no ASA 102 to prevent confusion with the School’s foundational keelboat course. The course now has a maximum of three students per boat — more “Seriously Fun” the Annapolis Way!


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