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Learn Sailing with the Santa Barbara Sea Shells

Understanding the Sea and Life with the West Beach Organization Founded in 1948

Photo: Paul Wellman/file photo Santa Barbara Sea Shell Association.

Before becoming experts at seamanship, generations of sailors have participated in the Santa Barbara Sea Shells Association, a program that could be described as both sea-kidship and sea-kinship. It introduces youths ages 7-16 to the rigors and joys of sailing with the support of their families while making new friends.

The Sea Shells are entering their eighth decade this spring. They were founded in 1948. “You’d be hard-pressed to find any kids’ sports organization that’s been around here for 71 years,” said Shea Lovan, the 2019 commodore. He added, “It’s the only place a 7-year-old can be given a vehicle that’s under power.”

The inner harbor off West Beach is especially picturesque on Sunday afternoons when the Sea Shells are in action with three classes of small boats — US Sabots, RS Teras, and RS Fevas — plying the waters. Beginners learn the rudiments of sailing before they begin to race.

“It’s so fun to watch the process,” said Sally Gilmour, the 71st and newest lifetime member of the Sea Shells, one for each year of its existence. “It started when I was 2. I was playing in the sand when my older sister started sailing. Then it was my turn. The Sea Shells is all about the family.”

Gilmour’s daughter Molly, 14, is now an avid participant. “Being on the water, it’s an amazing environment,” Molly said. “I make great friends of all ages.”

“It can be intimidating the first year,” said Margherita Scussat, 13. “We have a little buddy program at the beginning of season. Older skippers help out the little buddies. We have instructional days when you get in the boat with somebody who’s already a sailor.”

Photo: Paul Wellman/file photoSanta Barbara Sea Shell Association.

There are no gender barriers to the sport. “Sailing is mostly about strategy,” said Margherita’s brother Gabriele Scussat, 11. “You can go against boys and girls.” 

“Sailing is a really great metaphor for leadership,” Sally Gilmour noted. “Being the skipper on a boat, when you’ve got factors like wind and sea, teaches you skills that you’ll lean on as an adult. No other sport has that kind of context.”

Lovan, the commodore, is the grandson of an Oklahoma rancher. “I spent my childhood on horseback in Kern County,” he said. “I learned all about taking care of a horse. Now my daughter [Julia, 11] is learning all about taking care of a boat.”

And they take care of each other, in a way that was sensational on September 3, 2017. The parents were enjoying one of their occasional opportunities to race the boats while their children were on the beach. A sudden, freakish microburst with 80-mph winds and a torrential downpour hit the coast.

“The older kids went into protection mode,” Sally Gilmour said. “They huddled underneath towels and boats with the younger kids. They had instinctive care for each other.”

The powerful but brief storm capsized all the boats, but the only injury suffered by a Sea Sheller was a parent’s minor bump in the head. “Everybody kept their cool,” said Lovan. Early on, all sailors learn how to bring their boats back up after flipping.

Would-be sailors are welcome to join the Sea Shells at any time. Annual fees for membership and storage are about $250. Boats can be purchased or rented. The 2019 season gets underway with three instructional Sunday sessions (April 7, 14, and 28) at 1 p.m. at West Beach. Everybody will be pitching in to help maintain the storage sheds on April 21. Information: sbssa.org.

MARCH MADNESS:  One-and-done does not get it done in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That was the lesson Sunday after Duke and Kentucky, studded with NBA-ready first-year stars, were ousted by Michigan State and Auburn, two teams top-heavy with seasoned veterans. The winners will join Virginia and Texas Tech, who also lean heavily toward experience, in the Final Four. My bracket (dubbed “Redemption”) is busted except for Virginia, which I picked to become national champion a year after the Cavaliers’ ignominious first-round exit.

A noteworthy coaching performance was turned in by Cori Close, who took UCLA into the women’s Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year. The Bruins, who started the season 3-5 in a rebuilding mode, went 5-2 in March, losing only to a pair of Final Four teams: Oregon, 88-83 in overtime, and Connecticut, 69-61. It was the second time Close was on the scene when mighty UConn averted a serious upset bid in the Sweet 16. Fifteen years ago, she was associate head coach at UCSB when the Gaucho women fell eight points short in Hartford, 63-55. That was the most spectacular of 10 NCAA playoff appearances that Close made as a player and, later, as top assistant to former Gaucho head coach Mark French.

ON TRACK:  There is a lot of baseball yet to be played, but UCSB is beginning to resemble the team that made it to the College World Series three years ago. After taking two out of three games at Cal State Fullerton last weekend, the Gauchos achieved the same record (19-5) they had at this stage in 2016. They will entertain Stephen F. Austin from Nacogdoches, Texas, in a three-game series this weekend.

STROKING HER FIRE:  Pratima Sherpa (featured here March 21), the only amateur golfer competing in the women’s IOA Championship at the Morongo Golf Club in Beaumont, missed the cut after shooting 79-83 last week. The SBCC student, who will play on the Vaquero women’s team in the fall, saw what it takes for her to become the first female pro from Nepal.

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