Classes, Charters and Community at OCSC
Everyone Can Learn to Sail at the Popular School and Club
When Anthony Sandberg came to the Bay Area in the late 1970s, he was searching for what to do with his life. An avid skier — he had been on the national ski team and started a cross-country ski school back East — he became passionate about sailing growing up in Hawaii. Although San Francisco Bay is widely known as being one of the top sailing areas in the world, only a small minority of people could afford the cost to purchase, dock and keep up a boat.
“I thought sailing was too good to be kept a secret, too good to be kept exclusive,” Sandberg says. Looking out at the marinas, he was struck by how few boats were out at any given time. People didn’t have to own a tennis court to play tennis or their own mountain to ski. “Why should you have to own a boat to sail?” says Sandberg, the president and founder of OCSC Sailing at Berkeley Marina. “I wanted to reinvent sailing. How can we share boats?”
With a borrowed 24-foot sailboat, Sandberg started giving lessons in the Oakland estuary, then moved two years later to the current location in Berkeley, which offers quick access to the Bay. The small one-man business evolved into today’s OCSC, one of the largest and most respected sailing education centers in the country, with a six-acre campus and a10,000-square-foot clubhouse complex. Named one of the Best Places to Work in the Bay Area for several years, it also made Outside magazine’s list of the 10 Best mid-sized places to work in the United States. In 30 years of operation, OCSC (the former full name, Olympic Circle Sailing Club, refers to a patch of water off the Berkeley shore that is popular for racing) has taught some 25,000 people how to sail. In addition to structured classes, OCSC offers boats for charter and social events for meeting sailing partners and new friends.
Class Focus: Educate, Instill Confidence
OCSC’s curriculum begins with a half-day Intro to Sailing taster for students who don’t know the bow from the stern or why sailboats can heel so far over without flipping (secret: the huge lead keel below the water). Foul-weather clothing designed to keep sailors warm and dry is available so novices can arrive with tennis shoes on and not have to invest in gear until they choose to.
Courses beginning with basic keelboat provide tutorials in classrooms on land and practical sessions at sea. The curriculum is designed to prepare students to get U.S. Sailing certifications that demonstrate they have the skills necessary to skipper a boat and do bareboat charters in the Bay Area and exotic areas such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Advanced classes cover navigation, racing techniques and offshore passage making. Students begin on J-24 – a well-respected 24-foot make that Sandberg refers to as the “Porsche Boxster” of boats.
OCSC brings in an educational consultant each year to train the instructors on the importance of different learning styles. “Engineers might want to read up on everything first, while liberal arts majors may want to show up to get a feel for things,” says Sandberg. “Some people want to be talked to, some people are more visual, some are more tactile.” More important than passing the U.S. Sailing certifications, Sandberg says, is that the training helps students feel more comfortable on the water and assured of their ability to handle the boat. Hence, OCSC’s marketing tagline: “Inspire Confidence.”
Max Fancher has been an instructor at OCSC since 1997, teaching levels up to performance/racing. “While I love the advanced courses, there’s just something extra special about teaching someone a new skill for the first time,” says Fancher, who lives in Montclair. “Watching someone in a beginner, basic keelboat course get it is just awesome.”
Charters in SF Bay and Beyond
Sailing isn’t just about collecting certifications, of course, but certifications allow OCSC members to charter boats for their own adventures. OCSC’s fleet of 50 boats available for daily rental by members ranges from the J-24s to larger boats more suitable for comfortable cruises with friends who are new to sailing. Karen Baumgartner, a mechanical engineer who lives near Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue, started with an Intro to Sailing afternoon class in February 2009 soon after she moved to the Bay Area. She quickly ticked off certifications for basic keelboat and basic cruising last summer, and completed a course in sailing at night in the Bay. Baumgartner says she been on the water almost every weekend since that first intro to sailing class. “The Bay is set up for daytrip destinations — picnics at Angel Island, lunch at Sam’s in Tiburon, explorations of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, beers at The Ramp,” Baumgartner says. “And even if you don’t stop anywhere, the scenery is fantastic: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, San Francisco shoreline. It’s been interesting to sail under the Bay Bridge over the course of the last year and watch the new bridge take shape.”
OCSC also organizes flotilla holidays where club members sail in foreign seas on individual boats that travel together, meeting up at port to exchange stories and tour the local town. One of OCSC’s trips to Greece was profiled in Outside magazine. This year’s flotilla will explore Turkey’s Lycian Coast. “Buddy boating” gives new skippers access to the expertise of more experienced sailors — and also makes for instant parties at port. Carla Radosta, an Oakland resident who works for the city as a graphic designer, joined an OCSC flotilla adventure to Croatia. “It was a great way to explore this country and I also had the fortune to meet two of my best friends on that trip,” she says.
Community in a Home Port
Many OCSC students don’t have friends or family who sail, so finding people who want to join them on the water is a goal. OCSC helps provide informal crew matching services, including an online crew list for people looking for crew or boats to crew on. The club also hosts barbecues that attract some 200 to 300 people, seminars and special events. For those wanting a break from all the salt air, the club organizes local hiking and biking outings, as well as the occasional in-land excursions to places such as Machu Picchu.
What are the demographics of the OCSC community? Not the stereotypical Captain Morgan, as in an older white male. The club has a 50/50 split of men and women, with most in their 30s, 40s or 50s. Many are from the East Bay, including Oakland and Alameda, but others come from much farther afield. “We get people of all descriptions, ages and backgrounds coming to OCSC,” says Kate Arnold, an OCSC instructor who lives in Rockridge. “I’ve taught 13-year-old kids and people in their 70s.” She has taught every profession imaginable — neurosurgeons, airline pilots, firefighters, police, business people — as well as retirees, students and ordinary folks who just want to try something new. “We also get people from all over the country and the world who are on vacation. I taught a young man from China who could barely speak English and a woman from Iran,” Arnold says. “They see our school as providing an opportunity not available to them elsewhere.” For those lucky enough to live in the East Bay, OCSC helps vacations happen every day.
OCSC Sailing has given more than $250,000 dollars in cash and in-kind donations to Alameda and Oakland organizations, including the Alameda County Community Food Bank, Alameda County Health Care Foundation, Girls Inc. of Alameda County, Island Yacht Club - Women’s Sailing Seminar, Jack London Aquatic Center, Lake Merritt Rowing Club and the Alameda Food Bank.
OCSC.com (800) 223-2984
Campus Tour: Free
Two-hour intro to sailing class: $40
Courses: Many are available. The basic keelboat (one week Monday through Friday or two weekends Saturday and Sunday) is $995 but currently discounted to $750.
Club Fees: $59 a month club fees (provides discounts, mandatory for charters), with a one-time initiation fee that is currently $495.
Classes: OCSC is a sailing school that has taught some 25,000 people how to sail. Corporate teambuilding classes are also available.
Charters: With a fleet of 50 boats ranging from 24’ to 82’, OCSC allows members a way to rent boats of various sizes and types. Boats are shipshape, and include all necessary safety gear. Nonmembers can opt for skippered charters.
Community: OCSC’s social events put sailors in touch with each other, for outings at sea and parties on land.