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Sunbury might get sailing school

A permanent sailing school may soon be in place in Sunbury.

The Liberty County Board of Commissioners heard a proposal Thursday for the school, Coastal Georgia Community Sailing, which would use the Medway River.

Savannah Sailing Center board members Carrie Rohde and Debbie Tillman asked the board for guidance and advice in their endeavor to provide an ideal sailing spot for students.

Rohde said that in 1996, when the Olympic Games came to Georgia, Savannah was chosen as the sailing venue. Three years before the Olympics, the Savannah Sailing Center was formed to train volunteers and prepare the venue for the international event. The center became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community-outreach program after the Olympics were over, and some of the equipment was left behind.

The sailing center is a coed program that provides high-school and college sailing. It also provides boats and coaches, all of whom are certified.

The center is in the South Atlantic Interscholastic Sailing Association, which includes teams from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are 70 active teams teams.

“We’ve run a little satellite operation in your backyard for the last eight years,” Rohde said. “We have 12 boats that sit adjacent to the Sunbury ramp. We actually run high-school sailing out of the facility.”

Rohde is also the coach of the Richmond Hill High School sailing team. She said that the team was looking for a place that was more challenging than Lake Mayer in Savannah, where the team usually practices.

Rohde and her teams were setting out to St. Catherines Sound and, on the way, saw that the Medway River was a perfect spot for sailing. They were able to raise money for the 12 boats and have been practicing and holding events in Sunbury.

Programs at Coastal Georgia Community Sailing would include current programs at the Savannah Sailing Center and Lake Mayer, such as summer-camp programs, Saturday lessons, middle- and elementary-school programs, high-school and college sailing, and open sailing for members.

Rohde and Tillman said a facility in Sunbury will allow for other activities the school isn’t able to do on a lake. The facility will allow for larger sailboats, water sports, sailing for the disabled and the Wounded Warrior Project, and STEM (science, technology, education, mathematics) education for schools. Rhodes said she would like to rent kayaks, sail boats and operate advanced racing clinics for children.

“Sunbury is very centrally located. There’s nothing obstructing the pathway for the sea breezes to come. This would be the first public facility in all of Georgia to offer these kinds of activities. By making it an open water site, it will allows us to do more than we’re able to do today,” Rohde said. “Our strategy is to secure a permanent footprint and build quality teams, to manage that and work within the 10 coastal communities, and put sailing back on the map.”

The sailing school’s board of directors is considering three sites: where the sailboats are currently located, at 3295 Fort Morris Road near Sunbury Crab Co.; a parcel of land located a short distance upriver from the Sunbury public boat ramp; and Fort Morris State Park.

“We have an architect and marine engineer who are volunteering to make this happen. We talked about the possibility of classrooms for STEM education, a nice area for family reunions, weddings and meetings for corporate teams,” Tillman said.

Tillman said the construction of the facility will include docks, launch ramps, electric boat lifts, boat storage, classrooms, offices, conference rooms, overnight accommodations, kitchen, dining area, locker rooms, covered pavilion, parking and boatyard.

“Sailing schools in Atlanta that sail on lakes want this to happen for us because they want to come to the coast and sail on coastal water. We have lots of rivers in Georgia, but not anything like this,” Rohde said.

Commissioner Eddie Walden asked Rohde and Tillman if they received any complaints from neighbors when the sailing center hosts events and tournaments in Sunbury. Tillman answered that the neighbors will come out and watch the sailing. Rohde said many neighbors have welcomed and embraced the teams. Some have allowed vehicles to park on their property. She also mentioned that the sailing school could be a good tourist attraction.

Commissioner Justin Frasier said to the other commissioners, “Let’s do whatever we can for them.” Frasier liked that the sailing school will provide STEM education and help disabled children and the Wounded Warrior Project.

County Administrator Joey Brown suggested that the county help with grant applications and for Rohde to talk with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Rohde said she just wants to keep the momentum going for the proposed school.

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