Yacht Club youth program will teach new generation to love to sail

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 7 June 2021 at 11:00 am

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Bob and Mary Lu Hodgins, who started the first sailing classes 32 years ago, stand in front of the Oak Orchard Yacht Club, where he is commodore.

WATERPORT – The couple who started the first sailing classes at the Oak Orchard Yacht Club say they have literally raised their kids here. It would be safe to say boating is in Bob and Mary Lu Hodgins blood.

The Batavia couple first joined the Yacht Club 35 years ago, and 32 years ago they started the youth sailing classes.

This year, Bob is commodore, and he and Mary Lu are thrilled to see the classes still an important part of the yacht club’s sailing program. The two oldest of their three children were in the first class and then went on to become instructors. This year, Bob and Mary Lu’s grandchildren will be in the class, which starts July 2.

Oak Orchard Yacht Club commodore Bob Hodgins and his wife Mary Lu sit in the fly bridge he constructed in the playground for children to enjoy.

“These are the first second-generation students in the program,” Bob said. “We are thrilled.”

The Hodgins’ son Ken and his wife have two boys and live in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands, where he is a boat captain.

“I was introduced to sailing as a child, first in a rented Sunfish on a family vacation, and then my dad bought an old wooden Lightning sailboat which provided years of fun for my parents and all six of us kids,” Bob said. “I bought my first sailboard, a homemade plywood boat, when I was single and 20 years old. I had visions of sailing to faraway places, and over the past 45 years, I have been fortunate to be able to do that.”

The Hodgins started the sailing program so many years ago because they recognized the need to involve children and families in the yacht club, Bob said.

“Children need their own activities and the ability to form their own group of friends, in an environment that is safe and positive,” he said. “For the yacht club to have a playground and activities for children is essential to the future of the organization.”

Bob said the sailing program starting from nothing and took a few years to build.

“We had to raise funds, buy fleets of boats, hire and train instructors and get the club members to agree to support the program,” Bob said. “After 32 years of the program, we have had hundreds of kids learn to sail, but more importantly, they have formed their own lifelong friendships and been introduced to a sport that is an active, healthy lifestyle.”

Young people from age 9 through high school are eligible to enroll in the sailing classes. The program this year is run by John Zimmerman of Medina. Information can be found on the Oak Orchard Yacht Club website, where enrollment can also be completed.

Students in the class learn how to rig a sailboat, how to solo in a small sailboat with both a mainsail and a jib, rules of the “road” while boating, basic race skills and safety rules for sailboats.

For the Hodgins family, sailing has been a way of life. They had a boat at OOYC for 26 years before leaving in 2008 to sail the Caribbean. They sold that boat and bought another ocean boat to sail across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They once spent an entire year sailing, home schooling their children on the boat, Mary Lu said.

Last year, they sold their ocean-going sailboat in New Zealand. They had bought another sailboat for Oak Orchard River three years ago, and in January this year bought a power boat in January, which they took to South Florida for the winter.