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"It's just a struggle:" Punta Gorda sailing non-profit faces headwinds after Ian

Read on to learn how you can make sure kids keep sailing the waters of Charlotte Harbor
Posted at 6:53 AM, Jun 11, 2024

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — Gulf Shore Sailing, formerly Learn to Sail, is a not-for-profit sailing school based in Punta Gorda that is still feeling effects from Hurricane Ian, nearly two years later.

Hundreds of young sailors have learned the ropes from the school since it was formed officially in 2015. Co-founder and board member Tom Cavanaugh said it was a way to get the next generation of sailors on the water.

“Punta Gorda is always talked about as a boating community, as a sailing community, and we looked around the water and there just didn’t seem to be that many kids out there learning how to sail,” said Cavanaugh. “We thought it was important to teach them and get them interested in it.”

Young sailors work through a capsize drill at the Gulf Shore Sailing School.

The organization was headquartered in the Bayfront Center in Gilchrist Park, but it was destroyed by Hurricane Ian in 2022. Since then, the number of students, volunteers and donations at the organization haven't recovered to pre-hurricane levels.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that people think we’re out of business,” said Luca Vaast-Petrovick, a 16-year-old volunteer instructor. “So it's just a struggle trying to get back.”

Currently, the organization rents space from the nearby Punta Gorda Boat Club. It has adapted with its lack of a classroom and even converted a dumpster guard into a storage shed for its equipment.

“We need donations, we're in a financial hole,” said Vaast-Petrovick, “Mostly because we don’t have enough kids signing up, that's our main income.”

Vaast-Petrovick learned to sail with the organization in 2016 and has been volunteering as a junior instructor ever since.

Luca Vaast-Petrovick speaks to Fox 4's Charlotte County Community Correspondent Alex Orenczuk.

“It was natural to me, I loved it,” said Vaast-Petrovick. “Great sport and now I have a huge passion for it.”

As for increasing their volunteers, Vaast-Petrovick said there is not much more rewarding than sharing a passion for sailing with rookie shipmates.

“It's a great feeling, it really is,” said Vaast-Petrovick. “Looking at what you’re teaching these kids and you’re seeing the faces on them, their emotions of how excited they are, how thrilled they are, they’re having a good time. It's a good feeling.”

Young sailors take their first voyage on the Charlotte Harbor with the Gulf Shore Sailing School.

To learn more about how you can help kids learn to sail on the waters of the Charlotte Harbor, click here to visit the Gulf Shore Sailing website.