Every Sunday from April to October, the gaggle of little white sails flutter from the sands of West Beach out past the Santa Barbara Harbor, their hulls manned by sailors who are sometimes just 7 years old. These are the Santa Barbara Sea Shells, a 68-year-old regatta of young students whose families — some now reaching back three generations — bring them down to the harbor weekly to learn about both sailing and life.
“We feel that it’s a good opportunity to build their character and their sense of respect for nature and the ocean,” said Marco Scussat, whose son and daughter have learned team building and ways to help others, and have even come out of their own shells by participating in the program. “We use those races to train the kids how to sail, but we’re not trying to make the next America’s Cup sailor. The kids have to have fun and enjoy it. Those are the priorities.”
For families with kids ages 7-18, now is the time to learn more, as the Sea Shells are holding a clinic this weekend to answer all questions, from cost ($235 for the whole season, which covers rental space) and required parental experience (none) to whether, with short cruises, sailing is scary or makes you sick. And this is the best year to get involved, as the nonprofit organization recently purchased 13 boats that families can rent; in the past, families had to own one of the small boats to participate.
“The idea is to simply reduce what appears to be the biggest obstacle to attracting families with little to no sailing experience,” said Scussat, who explained that the Sundays involve rigging and practice in the morning, lunch around noon, and then four races each afternoon, pretty much taking all day. “I shouldn’t lie: It’s time-consuming, and it’s tiring,” he admitted. “But it’s a very nice organization, and we have seen the friendships become very useful for the kids as they get older.”
The S.B. Sea Shells host an informational meeting on Friday, February 26, 5:30-7 p.m., in the Harbor Meeting Room and a free sailing clinic on Sunday, February 28, 1-3 p.m., at West Beach. See sbssa.org.