By Niclas Ericsson
At the Olympic Circle Sailing Club in Berkeley sailing is for everyone.
“We wanted to reinvent sailing”, said Anthony Sandberg, club owner and veteran skipper, who holds an open house every week.
It’s a Wednesday evening in June and Anthony Sandberg is showing Berkeleyside around the campus of the Olympic Circle Sailing Club (OCSC), while explaining the philosophy behind his life achievement.
“Many don’t think that they deserve sailing until they get to a certain point. It looks like it’s out of their class.”
It all started in 1978 when Sandberg needed to make a career choice. After leaving home at age 16 to sail around the Pacific, he was eventually accepted at Dartmouth to study political science and city planning. In the years to come he went from being “a skipper for rich people” in Europe to teaching hygiene and “pulling out teeth” in Nepal, working for the Peace Corps. Now he had to make a choice between a job in the insurance business and entering law school.
Sandberg took a two week time-out and lived on the beach, reflecting on his future. And he came up with something quite different from working in law or insurance.
“I just got the idea that I’m going to take sailing and make it as accessible as tennis,” Sandberg said.
He started looking for the best possible location for a sailing club on the West Coast. Back then the municipal garbage dump was located north of the Berkeley Marina. But the spot seemed perfect: the winds, the spectacular views and the fact that larger ships would stay out of the way in the deeper water further out in the Bay.
“Everything pointed at this dump,” said Sandberg.
The city of Berkeley was about to close the facility and Sandberg was able to lease the property in 1979. The first six months he lived in his van and only had one boat. Thirty-two years later, he and his business partner, Richard Jepsen, employ 85 people in high season and own 12 of the 50 boats in the three docks next to the club house. The remaining 38 boats are private investments and the owners rent them out through OCSC to other members of the club.
While we are talking, people are starting to gather for the Wednesday Night Sail, a weekly event from April through September. Some are members and have brought friends along to go out in a chartered boat. Others are newcomers with no sailing experience and pay $40 to be set up with a group and a skipper. Sandberg is taking out a company of twelve friends on a catamaran, with long-time employee Ray Wichmann as the skipper.
Between 20 and 25 boats will be going out this afternoon, according to Wichmann. But, as it is an open house, the number of boats vary, and as many as 45 boats will sometimes be going out on Wednesdays. ”Every Wednesday is a new adventure”, Wichmann said.
The core activity at OCSC is teaching people how to sail and they have over 45 courses to choose from. The club has a chartering service, including skippered charters for non-members. Adventure
sailing trips to destinations all over the world is another part of the business, as well as numerous social activities.
The Wednesday Night Sail in itself is not profitable, said Sandberg. But to OCSC it’s an alternative to marketing themselves through advertising. ”It brings people to the club. And we make friends”, said Sandberg.
Sandberg says it is an opportunity to show that sailing can be an alternative to the values of everyday society. ”Americans are consumers today, as opposed to participants. We live in a world where people want pills, they want quick action. Sailing takes time to master”, said Sandberg.
He sees it as his mission to make as many people as possible discover sailing in general, and especially sailing on the Bay. ”The Bay is one of the finest water areas in the world. It’s a playground.”
Niclas Ericsson is a columnist, novelist and freelance journalist reporting from the Bay Area for several Swedish media. He is currently interning at Berkeleyside.