Fauquier County Parks and Rec offers lessons on Germantown Lake
By Katie Fuster
We humans have been putting ships to sea for thousands of years, but sailing still holds a certain mystique. There is something about harnessing the wind and coasting across the water that makes sailing feel like equal parts science and magic. Plus, the practice provides proven health benefits. Sailing increases your body’s muscular strength and endurance, betters your cardiovascular fitness, and improves your agility, hand-eye coordination, and levels of serotonin, the brain’s “happiness chemical.”
Sailing can also be an absurdly expensive pastime to start. I probably should have picked up the hobby in my tiny hometown of Vero Beach, Florida; boats are as numerous as cars there, and weeks of beginning sailing lessons would have put me back just $250. But the sailing bug didn’t bite me until years after I traded Florida’s sand dunes for the Blue Ridge foothills.
Beginner sailing lessons at most facilities in Northern Virginia take place on the Potomac, and prices start around $500. Balking at that price tag, I next tried county parks and recreation departments, which often offer many sport and hobby lessons for a fraction of the price of private facilities. But despite the fact that the Potomac snakes for miles along their borders, neither Fairfax, Prince William, nor Loudoun County’s parks and recreation departments offer sailing lessons.
In fact, landlocked Fauquier County boasts the only parks and rec department in our area that offers sailing lessons. This is in part thanks to David Symington, the recreation program coordinator for the southern region of Fauquier Parks and Recreation. “I grew up on the water,” Symington says. “I taught canoeing at Crockett Park, and my grandfather used to take me out on the Shenandoah.” Symington learned how to sail at Woodbridge Sailing School, where he’s worked for five years in addition to his position with parks and rec.
In the summer of 2016, Symington took part in the 753-mile Annapolis to Bermuda Ocean Race. “I was on a crew of seven on a 46-foot sailboat,” he explains. “It was four hours on, four hours off, going to bed at ten and getting up at two or three in the morning to sail until the light came up.” That milestone event was worlds away from the novice Symington had been just a few years before.
“The third time I went sailing, the motor fouled and there was no headsail [wind], so I was going around in circles in Belmont Bay,” he laughs. At several points, the water was shallow enough for him to have jumped out and dragged the boat to shore by its bow line. Instead, he decided to stick it out overnight and learn what he could from the experience.
“It was because sailing is about knowing what to do when something goes wrong,” he explains. “I take people out who’ve never gone sailing before, and at the end, most people can sail. They just need to feel the boat, feel the water, and know what to do when the wind changes. Holding the shape of the sail and keeping the tiller in place comes naturally. The real art of sailing is knowing what to do when something fouls.”
Symington’s home base at the Parks and Rec Department is C.M. Crockett Park in Midland, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The gem in Crockett Park is Germantown Lake, created when Licking Run was dammed up in 1985. “No gas-motored boats are allowed on the lake,” Symington says, “so when you’re sailing, you don’t get interference from the powerboats. It’s a good size, too—over a hundred acres. It’s the largest recreational lake in Fauquier County.”
The park offered sailing lessons sporadically during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. “A guy named Julian was driving all the way from Maryland on his motorcycle to give the lessons,” Symington says. “It was just because he loved sailing so much and he wanted to share that with other people. But after a while, it got to be too much for him to do.”
Symington knew when he started at Crocket that he wanted to shore up its sailing program. “Being able to navigate the waterways is a vital thing that everyone with a boat needs to do,” he says. But attracting and keeping talented teachers remained a struggle after Symington accepted his post. “To be a sailing instructor here, you need to have a lot of knowledge and flexibility in your schedule and you also have to be willing to do this for not a lot of pay. Teaching sailing has to be one of its own rewards,” Symington says.
Enter Lauretta Neihnke, a mom and nursing student who works with Spotsylvania County Schools. Neihnke grew up sailing the Chesapeake with her father. She found out about the sailing program at Crockett park by chance, then contacted Symington about becoming an instructor. “That was a gift,” Symington says. “During the previous session, I taught all the lessons and they filled up.” With Neihnke on board, “we’ve been able to start offering private lessons at $65 for two hours of instruction.” In addition, Symington has scheduled Crockett’s first sailing summer camp, which starts July 31st.
“Sailing teaches kids responsibility, respect, and appreciation for the environment,” Symington explains. “It also teaches them how to think for themselves, and how to think on the go. Working with these kids, teaching them how to harvest a natural resource like the wind to create energy, that’s important to me.”
As for the future, Symington hopes to get word about Crockett’s sailing program out to interested children and adults. He also hopes to attract additional experienced sailing instructors so that he can expand the park’s class offerings. “And I’d love to start a sailing club,” Symington says. “Imagine getting a bunch of people together on the lake on a Wednesday night during the summer, holding a little regatta, a little stage-to-stage race…” He grins and gives a self-deprecating shrug. “I guess people who sail just really like to be around other people who sail.”
The Sailing Mini-Day Camp
July 31 through August 4, 9 a.m. to noon
C.M. Crockett Park offers two-hour sailing lessons for one to two people
Cost is $65 for county residents; $88 for non-county residents.
Lessons are currently held on weekends and times are flexible. Anyone under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult who is also registered in the class.
Register for camp or schedule lessons by contacting David Symington at 540-422-8874 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org