Lanier Sailing Academy in Pensacola
office, an older couple was getting a desk lecture from one of the instructors. Struchen believes that his students need to know how to walk before they try to run, and that includes discussions of what makes a sailboat go, what makes a sailboat stop and what keeps a sailboat upright. He said that the dynamics of sailing are just simple physics but that putting the package together By Morgan Stinemetz requires a nimble mind and incipient curiosity. While some sailing schools have ohn Struchen, 53, is living the life come down in favor of one teaching he wants in Pensacola, at the regimen over another, Struchen said western limits of Florida’s that Lanier has found that teaching Panhandle. He and his wife Kathy both the American Sailing are the owners of the Lanier Sailing Association’s (ASA) syllabus and Academy in Pensacola. Lanier that of US Sailing allows his stuSailing Academy also has branches dents to put heavier emphasis in Atlanta, South Carolina and where their preferences lie. John Struchen. Photo by Morgan Stinemetz. Alabama. “The US Sailing program has a litStruchen’s life can be hectic tle more depth and is geared more because teaching sailing is a totally hands-on business. As toward racing than the American Sailing Association prohe sat for this interview, the direction we were heading in gram is; ASA is more about cruising,” Struchen commented. was short-circuited countless times by incoming telephone Once trained and certified, sailors with the necessary calls, questions from employees, questions from students skills can sail as far east as Apalachicola or as far west as and day-trippers. If Struchen had been a fuse box, he would New Orleans. I asked if they could sail down to the Dry have looked like the finale of a July Fourth fireworks disTortugas, a voyage which would be rather epic from a play. He handles it, though, because he has 10 years of pracPensacola Bay start. Struchen said it might be possible but tice, and also because he comes from Minneapolis. unlikely; his boats are not allowed to be sailed after dark. People from Minnesota are capable of being what he Insurance requirements mandate that all cruising boats— called “Minnesota Nice.” It’s typical of residents of that they have several in the 35-foot range—have the hook down state, this ability to be self-effacing and pleasant under difwhen the sun goes down. The caveat is not unusual in the ficult circumstances. sailboat chartering business because it keeps people from The day I was at Lanier, three guys whose yachting hurting themselves and the boats in conditions where visiattire could have been obtained at a feed store were in one bility is poor. 22-foot training boat, ready to go out for a lesson. The boat I asked him what he considered to be the biggest chalnext to it—about the same size—had a young man from lenge to successfully teaching sailing. “Everyone learns difHawaii about to go out for a solo sail. He had enough expeferently and, as an instructor, you need to find the key that rience to be entrusted with a boat on his own. Back at the opens up that area of knowledge to each student. Teaching is, in part, being both a tutor and psychologist. The biggest problem is that people overthink it too much,” he said. “Our students do well at the initial level and they do well at the next level, too,” Struchen continued. He added that some schools are in such a big hurry to get the student “qualified” on a big boat, which the company can then charter out at several hundred dollars a day, that they skimp on the basics. “When you have muscle memory, you are good to go.” He said with conviction that when he signs off on a student, he is positive that student has the physical skills to sail the boat and the mental discipline to captain the boat as well. “When the wind gets up, things come at you a whole lot faster, and you slow down your environment with less sail and astute judgment,” he added. Works for me.