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Catch the Southeast breeze

Local sailing club kicks off season with beach gathering, race May 8

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2010

With weather turning warmer by the day, the waters of the Gastineau Channel are looking appetizing as members of the Southeast Alaska Sailing Club get set for the opening of sailing season in Juneau.

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Photo By Wade Rogers
Photo By Wade Rogers

SEAS is a nonprofit recreational sailing club founded in 2009 with roots going back 30 years to the Juneau Sailing Club.

The club was formed by sailors, whose interest in sailing brought them together, in an effort to get more people out on the water.

"We're about getting people out sailing," said SEAS Commodore Brian Lieb. "We try to do a bunch of races and cruises all season long to get people out on the water in Southeast Alaska on sailboats. It's about having fun, primarily."

Last year, several members of the Juneau Yacht Club decided to form SEAS with the idea of getting out of the clubhouse and onto a boat more often.

"We started a new club with the goal of being more involved in community activities that centered around sailing, and less around the actual clubhouse," Lieb said.

Originally, the JSC, formerly known as the Juneau Cruising Club, had a different identity in the early 1980s.

Former JCC Commodore David Dierdorff said he arrived in Juneau in 1982 and quickly became involved with the group. He said the sport was slightly different at that point.

"The reason it was called the Juneau Cruising Club was because most of the sailors here in those days were people with cruising and off-shore capable sailboats," he said. "They were taking a break to cruise around and get a job to earn money so they could keep cruising, or they had decided to get a boat, stay here and make money until they could afford to go cruising."

At that time, a person had to own a boat to be a member. Dierdorff said the focus then wasn't so much on racing, with the exception of some races in the harbor.

But on the 25th anniversary of statehood, the group celebrated by organizing a race around Admiralty Island, which is still the club's biggest race to this day.

"It was a rather challenging race with one stop in Baranof. It would go from Mayflower Island, to Baranof, then from there back around Point Retreat, around Douglas Island and back to Mayflower Island," Dierdorff said. "So it was a complete circumnavigation in and out of Gastineau Channel. Boats came from all around Southeast (to participate)."

Around 1990, the JCC became the JSC, and members were no longer required to own a boat. Dierdorff said the change came because club numbers were dwindling, so the group adjusted its requirements in an effort to boost membership.

At the same time, the JYC, a formal, recognized club in Juneau, was interested in absorbing the JSC, but the sailing club decided it wanted to stay independent.

"There was a lot of talk about joining the (JYC), but we decided we had saved enough money to do something with it," Dierdorff said.

But Dierdorff, who left Juneau for a period of time in 1995, said while he was gone, the JSC decided to merge and become a branch of the JYC. They became a sailing fleet within the JYC.

"It went along fine for while, but sailors found they really wanted the freedom to act on their own again," Dierdorff said. "So they became Southeast Alaska Sailing."

"Motor-boaters want to go out and get somewhere fast. They want to get to a destination and hang out," said Joel Osburn, a club board member. "Sailors love the voyage, and that's really what sailing is all about. When it's prime sailing season, that's what we want to do."

Osburn said the sailing season in Southeast Alaska runs from mid-May to early September, and the SEAS Club is kicking it off with a party on Saturday at the Sandy Beach shelter at 5 p.m. in celebration of the first race set to take place on May 8.

The season will run through Labor Day, which is when the group's last race of the season will take place.

Additionally, Osburn said SEAS is doing a lot this year to expand the club, including marketing races to other Southeast Alaska sailors, as well as sailors "down south." Additionally, the group is looking to contribute to the Juneau Youth Sailing Club to help teach the basics of sailing and boat maintenance. SEAS has also planned outreach to other community organizations.

"What we're really focused on is educating people on sailing and getting more people out on the water," he said. "

SEAS will put on at least 10 races this year, most of which are weekend day races. But the featured race, the Admiralty Island Rally, will run June 19 through June 25 and will be timed with the summer solstice so sailors are provided as much sunlight as possible. The club's website provides information on all races as well as membership requirements.

So if you are interested in getting out on a sailboat this summer, partying with the SEAS Club Saturday at Sandy Beach may not be a bad place to get started.

• Contact reporter Matt Tynan at matthew.tynan@juneauempire.com.



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