Person of the Week
A Year of Firsts for SAIL LAST
As growth director of member-supported, non-profit SAIL LAST, Harland Christofferson spent the summer on Branford waters helping junior and collegiate sailors gain instruction in the sustainable, environmentally responsible sport of keelboat racing while also building STEM skills. (Photo courtesy of Harland Christofferson )
You could say 2020 has been a year of firsts for member-supported, non-profit SAIL LAST. With its first boat, a donated Henderson 30, SAIL LAST capped a summer’s worth of keelboat racing with Branford’s Around the Buoys with the wind in their sails and high expectations for the future.
This week, SAIL LAST’s 30-foot Henderson racing keelboat left Branford to winter race in south Florida. She’ll come back to Connecticut in early spring 2021 to resume racing here and to continue the mission of SAIL LAST (Lead Advance Strengthen Teamwork), a FL 501c3, says Harland Christofferson, a Guilford resident and director of Growth Programs for SAIL LAST.
“The mission of SAIL LAST is to facilitate keelboat racing for junior and collegiate sailors,” says Harland, referring to the mission statement at saillast.com, which also notes the program seeks to provide “competent and quality access to single handed dinghies, keelboats, and regattas. The purpose of SAIL LAST is youth development through sailboat racing instruction for junior sailors.”
SAIL LAST was founded by Harland’s sailing friend and UConn Sailing co-alumnus Tom Hansen, who serves as SAIL LAST director. The organization is supported by donations, grants, and full members who pay a monthly membership fee to sail with a mix of junior and collegiate sailors, who sail for free with the program.
The organization collaborated this year with UConn Sailing, with several UConn sailors coming out on the water with SAIL LAST this summer to work on upping their dinghy sailing skills to keelboat racing. Harland gained his competitive dinghy sailing experience when at UConn and says finding opportunities to broaden that experience into the world of keelboat racing is not something many will likely encounter out of college.
“Unless you had a boat in the family, or a family friend who had a boat and raced, it was definitely difficult to find a well-run program coming out of college,” says Harland.
This was the first season SAIL LAST raced its first boat, a donated Henderson 30, which sailed out of Safe Harbor-Bruce & Johnson’s Marina in Branford beginning in spring 2020. Harland says SAIL LAST also found a great opportunity to get in weekly race training by joining up with local enthusiast group Around the Buoys. The group organizes free sailing events in Branford waters Wednesdays during the summer and Sundays during the fall.
Sailing Around the Buoys provided a good start for SAIL LAST sailors this year, says Harland.
“Since we’ve had the boat, we’ve only done Around the Buoys in Branford,” says Harland. “The intent was to do some Eastern Connecticut Sail Racing Association [ECSA] races with it in the late summer and fall, but with the level of competency, there just wasn’t enough experience on the boat to go after the larger races, yet.”
At its website, SAIL LAST lists plans to join a number of regattas and other types events in 2021 in Florida, Connecticut and elsewhere as part of its goal of “promoting leadership and teamwork through sailing and marine adventures worldwide.”
In addition to promoting sustainable, environmentally responsible sailing in junior sailors, at least 50 percent of SAIL LAST’s interaction involves using the sport of sailing to enhance skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“They’re learning sailing skills, boat handling skills, critical thinking skills, team work and leadership skills. All of these kind of come together, just in handling the boat competently and safely,” says Harland.
The success of SAIL LAST’s hands-on teaching extends to online verification examinations of its junior sailors. SAIL LAST puts any grant investments into educating its junior sailors, both in the sport and in providing STEM skill experiences to them.
The program is racing toward success. Each time the boat took to Branford waters this summer, it was pretty much at capacity with a mix of full members and junior sailors, says Harland.
“We have 35 members as it stands now, and we’re getting to the point where we definitely have a full boat,” says Harland.
Harland anticipates growth of the program will soon allow for more experiences.
“I think we’ll have a deep enough membership that people who want to go out on the weekends can do ECSA races, and then people who want to practice, or don’t want to be as competitive, can go Around the Buoys on the Wednesday nights,” says Harland.
Currently, many SAIL LAST members hail from Connecticut, he notes.
“Since this is the first year we’ve had a boat, everybody that’s participating now is largely from Connecticut,” says Harland.
When SAIL LAST’s Henderson 30 arrives in Florida to winter in Hansen’s hometown of Fort Lauderdale later this week, Harland said his friend will continue the effort to grow SAIL LAST’s roster of full memberships and junior and collegiate sailors.
“He’s going to try to build momentum down there, also,” says Harland.
The SAIL LAST budget plan includes expanding its fleet in order to benefit many more students in the future.
At present, “we’re trying to obtain another Henderson 30 or something [else] that’s 30 feet in a sport boat, because it’s a manageable size. It’s not intimidating and it’s not overwhelming for people who are just stepping up to keelboat racing,” says Harland.
Adding boats to the SAIL LAST fleet is part of Harland’s work on behalf of the non-profit.
“We’re a charity and we’re always seeking donations, both in-kind materials and cash donations to pay the bills,” he says.
Tax-deductible donations can be made online at saillast.com.