For most, sailors or landlubbers, the words “yacht club” bring to mind visions of wealthy, elite, like-minded people gathering over martinis to discuss their stock portfolios. The Coconut Grove Sailing Club (CGSC) is the antithesis of this.
Coconut Grove, just south of Miami, is the boating mecca for Miami. The latter has miles of beautiful beaches for swimmers, sunbathers and revelers, but no sailing. The Grove, with its safe harbor and turquoise beauty of expansive Biscayne Bay, provides what Miami is missing.
Enough geography. Back to sailing. Just down the road from the tony Coral Reef and Biscayne Bay Yacht Clubs, the CGSC defies preconceptions. Instead of a long and elaborate membership application process, as is the norm, CGSC membership is focused on sailing interest, whether the applicants have their own boat or not.
Started in 1946 (this is their 75th anniversary) by locals equally interested in volunteerism as in sailing, the first iteration of the club had no moorings and no clubhouse, both standard accouterments elsewhere. Instead, members moored their boats in the calm lagoon provided by Dinner Cay.
Today, the club has 1,100 members from all walks of life, an attractive two-story clubhouse with waterfront dining, moorings for members and transients, a 24/7 on-demand launch service (an unheard-of amenity) and an active sailing program for children and adults, beginner to advanced. They have a fleet of small boats (Optimists, Lasers, RS Teras, Flying Scots), mid-sized keel (Ensigns) and larger keel (Catalina, Beneteau) boats that are available to everyone who joins. As ex-Commodore and sailing instructor Bud Price told Worth, “We’re the only club in town that’s truly a sailing club.”
Classes are too numerous to list but range from “Learn to Sail” for six to 13 year olds to “Bareboat Cruising Certification” and “Coastal Navigation & Coastal Passage Making” for adults who have completed basic cruising certification programs. According to general manager Lauren Simpson, “The year before COVID-19, a whopping 334 people graduated from the basic cruising program.”
Adult sailing student Catherine Montgomery, CEO of a medical technology company, who came to Miami to wait out COVID-19, found herself commuting several times a week from her rental in South Beach to the CGSC, about 30 minutes south. “I wanted to learn something new and, since I have a house on the water in Long Island, I thought sailing would be a good fit for me. I did some research and found this club. I’ve never been so happy. It’s a great community.”
But what about the volunteerism that was a part of the original mission? As a waterfront tenant of the City of Miami, the club must offer $10,000 in sailing scholarships to local children from poorer neighborhoods. They’ve doubled this number, and each year provide $20,000 worth of lessons. Simpson added, “Over the years, we’ve established close relationships with community centers, churches and groups that work with less-advantaged kids.”
Watching children single-hand a boat in less-than-ideal weather is a window into how to teach self-reliance and confidence, something children who have been denied the chance to test themselves need. Montgomery, who volunteers to help with weekend races, added: “Seeing the kids on Saturdays is heartwarming. They’re learning a skill they’ll carry for the rest of their lives.”
For some children, learning to sail can be life-changing. An example: One of their scholarship students, who had never been on the water before, did so well that he went to the Olympic trials before receiving a scholarship to the University of North Florida, an institution that would have been out of his reach without the financial assistance.
Unlike the Northeast where sailing is seasonal, programs are active year-round and frequently have participants from Europe and South America.
For “après” sailing, Coconut Grove is a neat place to be. It’s one of the few spots in Florida where a car is unnecessary if you stay in the downtown area. The buildings are mostly still low-rise, lending a small-town feel to the streets, which are lined with numerous interesting restaurants, many with expansive outdoor dining on walk streets (no chains except a Starbucks), and small shops, plus a thrift store that is well worth a visit.
Full-spectrum gastronomy provides global culinary travel, again within walking distance. Options include Thai, Indian, Italian, vegan Asian, wood-fired pizza, Latin American and burgers.
Two large food markets are nearby. On Saturdays, there’s an all-organic farmers market.
Most people rent condos, but there’s a Cipriani (Mr. C’s) for high-enders and Hotel Arya, Mayfair and Mutiny for everyone else. Out of the downtown area, there are 100-year-old charming homes (also for rent) on streets so verdant you know you’re in the tropics.
Finally, there’s even a waterfront historic house and grounds, The Barnacle, built in 1891.
All of this is a long way of saying that if you envision spending post-COVID-19 lockdown time in the Coconut Grove/Miami area and would like to learn to sail or have your kids learn to sail while there, CGSC is an ideal place to do it.