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Fletcher: Power of economic thinking

June 13, 2012
Stephen Fletcher , The Alpena News

Economic thinking and capitalism are wide ranging because economic thinking is pervasive in all parts of our lives.

In 2000 I was running through yet another set of kids of high school and college age who had been racing with me on long courses on the Great Lakes and short courses in the local Yngling fleet on Thunder Bay. The completion of college was sending my crew "into the world" and I was again looking for a new group to crew with me.

Simultaneously, some of the other Ynglings were looking at the same thing happening to them. The local skippers needed more crew and sought an easier way to obtain them other than raising another family. All we had to do was look into the future to see we were running out of bodies eager to sail on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

It really was all about us. We wanted to sail; we needed crew. It was a good demand but a diminishing supply for crew. We stimulated supply.

I talked to Pete Wilson who spoke to his brother Steve and the idea of a youth sailing program was launched in the spring of 2001. We obtained nonprofit status for Alpena Youth Sailing Club (Sailing School) and had no money, personnel, nor boats.

Our organizational chart was Pete as scrounger, Steve Wilson as bookkeeper, Dr Mark Upham for stability and gravitas, Pete Simpson and me as repair and a whole bunch of day-to-day helpers. As a note about the helpers, I'm going to mention people's names and I apologize in advance for leaving you off the list.

The first order of business was boats. The Scrounger said: "Lots of people all over the area have Sunfish which they no longer use. Let's just ask them to give them to the Sailing School." Whoa! I'm thinking: "What a lot of gall." It worked and we got over a dozen boats donated and some more purchased cheaply.

So where did we get the money? Well, the Scrounger put the bite on Alpena Power Company for a $5,000 donation to the AYSC and quite a few others have been faithful donors over the years. The program is largely self-sustaining through charging for lessons and local support.

We needed to train folks to be instructors and luckily U.S. Sailing, which is the national organization for all sailboat racing in the United States, had professional training programs for instructors offered across state.

We had cash, personnel, and boats that first year. We had so much to learn, such as these kids are really hard on boats. There are no brakes on sailboats and Pete Simpson and I began carrying fiberglass repair tape and resin in our cars as it was sometimes daily repair on the bows of those Sunfish.

The program got popular and the boats, after just a year or two, were really starting to show the effects of training at beginning skill levels. We were wrecking our fleet.

The Scrounger says: "We really need to buy a fleet of Optis." Optimist Dingys are the most common sailboat for kids to start sailing in. I, of course, am thinking: "Where are we going to get the cash for this."

Well, we don't get cash - we got boats. All of the dingys in the river program have a name on them. Pete approached a dozen or so individuals and companies who generously donated a new boat. Want to know who? The donor names are on the sides of the boats. As you are watching the little darlings this summer, take a look at those local names. They really underwrite Alpena youth.

So how are we doing? Well, we have about 100 kids involved in lessons for each of the last three years and have trained over 750 kids since 2001 in our three programs.

We run five weeks of Day Camp, three weeks on the river and two weeks at Grand Lake. Usually the kids are eight and up in these programs. They learn to sail, swim, tie knots, and play sailing games. Of course, we provide a snack.

For the older and somewhat stronger sailors we have a five to six Yngling program accommodating 18 teens in a six-week racing session taught by volunteers and led by Mark Upham. Ed Kavanaugh, Pete, and I assist Mark on the water and in class.

The school now has 19 sailboats, two Boston Whaler coach boats, an enclosed equipment trailer, and a floating dock.

Did the capitalistic thinking on how to develop future sailing crews work? If we measure success by the number of teens racing with us on Wednesdays and Sundays we have about 15 people from the program on the boats. We have had collegiate sailors at Hope, MSU, Michigan, St Mary's, Hobart-William Smith and the captain and "Most Valuable" sailor of the McGill University team come from this program. In addition, two of our previous instructors have gone on to establish community sailing programs in their adopted communities.

It seems like everyone who has participated is "first across the finish line." Cooperation from the whole community has been nothing short of marvelous.

It all started with economic enlightened self interest and today it is a "blown away" success.

Stephen Fletcher was graduated decades ago from Cornell University with an A.B. in Economics and from Michigan State University with an M.B.A. He has lived and worked in the decades from graduation until now in the Alpena area. He thinks economics is fun and interesting.



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