A handful of longtime sailors are trying to keep the tradition of sailing alive and well as economic strains have taken a toll on the southern Illinois sailing community in recent years.
“This is kind of what we do to keep it from dying,” said Bob Winston, commodore of the Crab Orchard Lake Sailing Association, during a biweekly Sunday race of four boats on Crab Orchard Lake.
He said he can remember when the lake was full of boats and the university had a thriving collegiate sailing club.
Winston, 45, of Carbondale, who learned to sail through the Southern Illinois Collegiate Sailing Club in 2005, said the then club had a “hoard of boats.”
“We had a whole bunch of boat stored and the university basically cleaned it up,” Winston said. “There was no response from folks involved in the club. … I was always picking through the bone yard there looking for parts and what boats are in there to resurrect or whatever and saw it going on – it’s too bad. They trashed a lot of boats and got rid of a lot of stuff.”
Winston said sailors involved in the collegiate club separated from the university in roughly 2011 and renamed the club the Southern Illinois Community Sailing Group in 2013.
“The sailing times have changed a lot even since then,” he said. “[The club] was a great resource to get to come out and sail for almost free and be around other sailors. That’s how that club worked, sailors taught other sailors.”
Amanda Chahalis, a graduate student studying social work who recently joined the sailing club, said she is surprised more students are not involved in the sailing community.
“I guess overtime the club has been losing members, not being able to collect members and it kind of just fell apart,” she said. “It would be nice to see [the club] come back together again.”
Winston said the sailing association still has roughly 30 members although the numbers have decreased over the years.
Ian Thompson, a graduate student studying curriculum and instruction secondary education who recently joined the club as well, said it is common for registered student organizations to lose members over time
“RSO clubs fall up and then out all the time,” he said. “If you can’t pass a club on to somebody it dies out immediately.”
Chahalis said the sailors consistently teach people who want to learn to sail for a $30 club membership for the season, which is from April to October.
Winston said the club holds four individual races every other Sunday, which last between 20 minutes to an hour. He said sailors use a system that compares boats raced to the individual’s finish time to depict who won, so the first finisher of a race doesn’t necessarily win.
Winston also said he remembers how he originally became interested in sailing and hopes more people become interested in the sport.
“How I kind of started was I took two canoes and stuck them together to make a big platform, just a swimming platform, and I had a tent on it,” he said. “I caught wind one day and I took off down the lake. … It was great.”