“Geographically, Anacortes is the cream of the waterfront crop. I’ve never seen another place with such perfect access to rowing, sailing, paddle boarding, etc. Our mission statement is to enable people to have a meaningful interaction with our community's waterfront through the preservation of public access and the development of inclusive programs.”— Kevin Pratt, Director of the Anacortes Waterfront Alliance (AWA)
By Kathleen Kaska
I knew from an early age, I wanted to live near saltwater. I think it comes from my family’s vacations to Galveston when I was a child. There was something about the smell of salt water and seaweed, the feel of sand under my feet, and the flow and tug of the surf as I waded into the water. My geographical limit was to be not more than a half day’s drive to the beach, other than that, I was open to almost any locale. Little did I know I’d end up living on an island in the Pacific Northwest. The first time I visited the area was in 1999. I remember having dinner at the Captain’s Place at the marina and, even thought it was summer, enjoying the coziness of the wood-burning stove. The shanty feel of the place left an impression on me.
That restaurant is no longer there, and the waterfront has changed considerably in the last nine years since I’ve moved here. During that time, I’ve been content with enjoying a cup of coffee on a bench overlooking Fidalgo Bay, having a picnic on the lawn at Seafarers Park, or jogging over the trestle to March’s Point. From the hilltop in my neighbor, I’ve noticed a small fleet of sailboats on the bay now and then. I often wondered who these sailors were, and over time, I became a bit envious of their chance to be on the water—an activity I’ve had to enjoy vicariously. That was until I met Kevin Pratt. Kevin was my guest on the second episode of my podcast, “Waggoner Insiders Boating Banter.” I asked Kevin to share with me, a non-boater, what AWA had to offer.
I learned that the AWA is a local nonprofit organization founded to facilitate community boating and build new boaters on the water by providing resources and opportunities. Kevin became AWA’s director in 2016. Since then, he has helped develop several programs to accomplish those purposes. I asked him to give me a highlight of these programs.
The Learn to Sail Program
Kevin began by telling me about the Learn to Sail program - a partnership between the AWA and the Anacortes Parks and Recreation Department. Learn to Sail actually began before Kevin came on board. The AWA has taken on the role of structuring the program, providing resources, setting schedules, and providing the staff to make all this happen. Park and Rec still parents the program and sees to the administrative side of things. Learn to Sail has grown considerably and just in 2019, participation increased by 100%. “This is our largest program,” Pratt says. “We offer a five-day curriculum which includes all the fundamentals needed for sailing. The classes are offered between June to September and are designed to teach basic sailing, but we also offer intermediate and advances courses.”
The Learn to Sail program gave rise to the middle- and high-school sailing team.
The team initially started about eighteen years ago. It was founded by sailors and parents who were interested in passing on their love of sailing to future generations. The team competes in the Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association’s sponsored regattas, along with student teams from Bellingham to Portland. “It’s a demanding program, requiring a lot of time and commitment by the students,” Kevin says. “Our Anacortes team is doing exceedingly well in these competitions. Not only are they honing their sailing and racing skills, they are also improving their life skills and learning to become leaders and responsible adults.”
AWA’s Open Sail Program
Learning to sail is still a prospect for me, so I asked Kevin about the next step. I don't own a sailboat, and if I did, I'd have to figure out how to store and maintain it. That part doesn't appeal to me, but the Open Sail program does. “Up until the launch of Open Sail in 2019, someone who has learned to sail had to then either join a yacht club or buy a boat,” Kevin says. Anyone who has completed this program or who has previous experience, which earned them the credentials, can check out a boat and go sailing. “This is one of the most satisfying programs for me. When you drive down R Avenue and see the sails on the bay, we want you to think, ‘that’s the AWA doing their work.’”
“How do you get a non-boater on the water for the first time? Or, as I like to say, how do they get their feet wet?” — Kevin Pratt
AWA’s Stand-up Paddle Boards
If learning to sail seems a bit daunting at first, as it does to me, you might consider the Stand-up Paddle Board program. Almost no previous experience is needed. It’s safe, affordable, simple, and as Kevin says, “culturally on fire.” I interpreted that as meaning culturally “cool.” The AWA has assembled a fleet of stand-up paddles boards that are available to the public, and offers basic instruction on how to use them. You can sit, kneel, and take your time learning to stand. The section of Fidalgo Bay that laps at Seafarers Memorial Park is considered a level one zone, which means it is protected by a breakwater that separates it from the rest of the bay. I asked Kevin if it's possible to end up in the water. "That is a possibility, but we facilitate a high level of risk management for all our water programs. We provide PFDs, have VHS radios, and keep chase boats on-site,” Kevin says.
AWA’s Lido 14 Racing Fleet
Since I’m attuned to the excitement of outdoor competition, such as running marathons, maybe one day, I can take on the water. The Lido 14 Racing Fleet is a multi-generational racing program. Members race 14-foot sailboats called Lidos. Thanks to the AWA, the community can get involved in racing by either using their own boat, or crewing with other racers, or chartering Lidos. The racing schedule runs from the first week in May to the last week in August. Experienced sailors who are members of this program meet on Thursday between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. AWA members can participate for free; nonmembers pay $20.00 per season. If you’re into competitive sailing, consider joining Anacortes Lido Fleet 78.
Classes and Speaker Series
During the offseason, the AWA keeps boaters engaged in maritime education by offering classes and opportunities to hear guest speakers. The AWA works with the Anacortes Public Library in scheduling maritime speakers. One of the most popular classes is “Introduction to Knot Tying” and “Rope Splicing.” Go to AWA’s website for updates on classes.
At this point, you may be thinking that these programs and activities might be beyond your budget. The good news is that in October 2019, the AWA started an affordable-membership program. For $25 a month, members have unlimited access to the Open Sail, Stand Up Paddle, and Lido Fleet Racing programs. Members can also attend educational classes, seminars, potluck events, and receive discounts on certain boat storage facilities. The purpose of the AWA membership is to bring local boaters together to create a strong maritime community with a voice in its development. And what would any membership be without a T-shirt and tote bag? For more information on the AWA membership visit their website.
Until I visited with Kevin, I had no idea what I was missing. For me, the AWA means I no longer have to enjoy the water from the sidelines. And I don't have to own my own boat. But the best thing is, I can be part of a unique, innovative boating community. There’s more to Anacortes than its spectacular forestland trails. After all, you’re living on an island, so why not get your feet wet?
To learn more about the AWA’s programs and memberships, listen to my upcoming podcast interview with Kevin Pratt, coming in April 2020. Joining him are three members of the Anacortes High School sailing team: Sam Hardesty, Kirsha Khile, and Elizabeth Koals.
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