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Charleston Community Sailing Coming of Age By Dan Dickison CSSA exists in a borrowed, remote corner of the Charleston City Marina, with a fleet of 17 420s, 10 Optimists, two Open Bics, and a gaggle of chase boats. Photo by Jessica Koenig.


f you drive from James Island to downtown Charleston, S.C.—or vice versa—an hour or two before dusk this time of year, it’s likely that your attention will be momentarily diverted by a cluster of small white triangles out on the Ashley River. With just a glance you can capture one of sailing’s quintessential vignettes: the intricate choreography of young skippers and crews maneuvering their small sloops through the glinting waters. Nearby, the watchful eyes of coaches monitor this activity from on board chase boats. What you’re glimpsing is high school sailing practice—six afternoons a week—and it’s safe to say that without the support of Charleston Community Sailing, most of these kids would be playing soccer, tennis or some other high school sport. It’s been 12 years since five area fathers got together to establish the Charleston Community Sailing Association (CCS) as a non-profit organization expressly dedicated to “providing access, facilities, and sailing instruction to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, skill levels and physical abilities.” For the past six of those years, the day-to-day leadership and management of CSS has remained in the hands of Jessica Koenig, an avid racing sailor and constant advocate for the sport who cut her teeth as a youngster cruising on the Chesapeake Bay. Koenig came to Charleston to run the junior sailing

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January 2012


program at the Charleston Yacht Club, a summer-only endeavor. It didn’t take long for her to get involved in competitive school sailing. A mere decade ago, she coached the fledgling sailing team at James Island Middle School. As those sailors moved on to high school, they formed the core of the James Island High School team, which made it to the national championship regatta in 2004. Soon, teams began forming at other area schools. CCS emerged at the epicenter of that growth, providing support in the form of boats and a shoreside venue. It’s only natural that Koenig would end up there as well. These days, Koenig keeps more than busy managing instructional and racing programs for youngsters and adults on nearly a year-round basis. With perseverance and insight, she and her organization’s board of directors have managed to wrangle enough support from the community to firmly establish their organization as the largest and fastest growing public sailing program in the Low Country. “We now have nine high school teams using our boats,” explains Koenig, “along with one college team (The Citadel) and a middle school team.” On any given afternoon, she says there are three to five teams out on the water practicing. The only day of the week they don’t practice is Saturday, which is reserved for regattas and other programs. And, adds Koenig, CCS also runs all the sailing programs for Charleston County Parks and Recreation. With a fleet consisting of 10 Optimists, 17 420s, two Open Bics and five chase boats, Koenig says the organization is finding itself “maxed out regarding boat usage… If I had 16 more boats, I could fill them tomorrow. So, that’s a good problem to have.” This past summer, she and her staff put almost 300 junior sailors through their programs. One of the highlights she mentions is the new Guppy program, which involves 5to 7-year-olds. “We were losing some of the older kids, and we saw a void in the community regarding summer programs for kids this age, so we stepped in. In the Guppy program, we teach the kids some of the basics, but mostly we just get them comfortable with being on the water. So far, it’s been really successful. Several of the kids signed up for multiple sessions last summer, and we got great feedback