If you've never skimmed the water in a sailboat, here's your chance. The city of Ventura is showing off its sailing fleet during an open house Sunday, and free rides are part of the deal.
The open house, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Marina Park, is a chance for visitors to check out the sailing classes offered by the city, see a sailing demonstration and hop in a boat for a spin around the harbor.
"We take them as far as the Ventura Yacht Club," said Leo Robbins, who started the city's sailing program 23 years ago. Since then, the fleet has grown from five eight-foot sailboats to 25 boats, including a 30-foot sloop and a couple of 27-foot Soling racing sloops. Instructors now number 20.
For the open house, instructors will use five of the boats--ranging from 22 to 30 feet long--to ferry riders into the harbor for a taste of sailing. Kids, especially, are welcome. Everybody gets a life jacket.
The sailing demonstration will be put on by beginners with only five weeks of instruction. They'll cruise in formation around the marina.
Robbins believes in starting lessons early for children. He has a peewee class for kids 5 to 8 years old. Meeting twice a week for an hour this summer, kids learn to tie knots, identify parts of the boat and learn some basic sailing skills. The three-week class costs $35.
Robbins also has weeklong, $65 summer classes for kids 9 to 14. A similar class for intermediate sailors, 11 to 16 years old, costs $75 and gets into competitive sailing.
For adults and kids 12 years and older, the beginner series is a 2 1/2-hour weekend class for six weeks costing $75. They learn how to tie knots, rig the boat, hoist the sail and put it away, and how to act as a crew member and helmsman. They also learn nautical terms and how to sail a triangular course in either an eight- or 14-foot boat.
It isn't always smooth sailing, according to Robbins. Students make all kinds of mistakes, like bumping into rocks or capsizing. Eventually, they learn to follow the leader or navigate around buoys.
More advanced classes venture into ocean waters to learn how to handle a spinnaker and race Olympic-class boats. They also learn about coastal navigation.
Summer classes begin as early as mid-June.
Since the sailing program began in 1972, nearly 7,000 people have signed on for lessons, Robbins says. For the last nine years, Sail Ventura, a nonprofit sailing organization, has helped the city by donating sailboats to its fleet.
Robbins, originally from Newport Beach, worked for Southern California Gas Co. for 25 years before taking an early retirement. He has raced boats in the past, but he gave all that up after launching the city's sailing program. One of his earliest pupils was Kevin Hall, a 6-year-old whose family insisted that he was old enough to sail.
"He grabbed onto it," Robbins said. "It wasn't long before he was telling the adults how to do it."
Hall grew up to become a world-champion Laser racer. Still a Ventura resident, he's training now for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
* WHAT: Ventura sailing program open house.
* WHEN: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.
* WHERE: Marina Park docks at the end of Pierpont Boulevard in Ventura.
* HOW MUCH: Free.
* CALL: 658-4726.