If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Boston during the summer, chances are you’ve seen the bright pink sailboats and kayaks dotting the Charles River. If you’ve been lucky enough to take a ride on one, you’ve also donated to a special cause with the nation’s oldest sailing center, Community Boating, Inc. (CBI).
CBI started in 1946 with a mission of “Sailing for All.” “We do that today by making sure we reach out to every community we can within Massachusetts,” explains Charlie Zechel, who’s been the Executive Director at CBI for over 16 years. “Our junior program is core to the original mission and continues with the intention that no one is denied the ability to sail. We’ve been a launching pad for dozens of high school teams for the Boston and Massachusetts area.”
In addition to teaching young people, CBI offers adult sailing programs and—perhaps most important of all—the Universal Access Program (UAP). The UAP is a first-of-its kind program that offers people with physical and cognitive challenges the opportunity to learn how to sail as part of their therapy programs, or simply the chance to go sailing with the use of specialized, accessible boats, transfer equipment, and dedicated staff assistance.
Charlie explains that the UAP got its start from a simple idea. “We had a few individuals who came down to the boathouse, they used a wheelchair, but were good sailors—they would go sailing in our keel mercuries. The culture of CBI was that if someone rolled through the front door and asked to sail, we’d simply say, ‘we don’t see any reason why you can’t!’ We also learned that our program could do much more.”
Over time, Charlie learned more about the process of adaptive sailing by attending conferences and meeting sailors who had physical challenges. “I just got to know some of them and learned what was involved with adaptive sailing,” Charlie says. “It was really simple—it became immediately obvious that with our location on the Charles River, the scope and size of our facility, and the safe environment—we could become a home of sailors with disabilities. Our mission of ‘Sailing for All’ would be more fully realized.”
With initial funding from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Genzyme Corp. and others, the UAP was created in 2007. “The DCR provided us with some feed money. We built a couple boats, an extra safety launch, and we were off and running,” Charlie says. “Right out of the gate, boom, we saw hundreds of people go sailing. It clearly showed there was a real need here.”
In 2014, EF partnered with CBI to “sail pink” in support of this program, with the commitment to donate $5 to the UAP for every mile sailed in a pink sailboat. Now, in the fifth season of the partnership, the EF UAP Endowment Fund has positioned CBI to pursue new sources of funding, including grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The funds have allowed CBI to purchase new adaptive boats, like the RS Venture Connects, and other specialized equipment.
Charlie says that—out of all the great things CBI has done—it’s the Universal Access Program that he’s most proud of. “There’s nothing that compares to the UAP because, for the folks who are able to use the program, it’s such a profound opportunity,” says Charlie.
“When they come in the door, we just welcome them in. I personally take some pride and joy in the culture we have here at CBI. Everyone is a sailor here, disabled or not,” Charlie says. “It always cheers me when I am reminded that CBI is unique as a welcoming, civil, and—thankfully, relatively Internet-free environment!—where sharing something as simple and beautiful as sailing serves as a profound basis for friendship.”