Upland resident charting a state-wide course to coastal boating
By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Ashford - posted Wed., Nov. 21, 2012
Ashford resident Chris German sails boats for a living. He lives on Lake Chaffee, but he practices his craft on Connecticut's coast. Recently, from aboard a boat in Bridgeport, he shared an interesting statistic – that only residents of Connecticut's 39 coastal towns have boating access from Connecticut's shoreline.
This number does not sit well with German, and a few years ago he set out on a journey to change this situation. He traded in his job of teaching sailing at a yacht club, and has charted a new course to make coastal boating available to everyone in Connecticut. Several times per week, he makes the one-and-a-half-hour trek to Bridgeport, where Connecticut Community Boating's dock – which was donated – is located directly down the steps from the Amtrak station in Bridgeport.
“The mission and purpose of Connecticut Community Boating is to be able to create a mechanism in this state so that you didn't have to live in one of these towns along the coast, and be able to access this resource which all of our property taxes go to pay for,” said German.
Getting CCB up and running was no easy task, said German, describing the process as six years of negotiations and political wrangling that were no less than a “bureaucratic nightmare.” By example, German explained that if a person wants to put a mooring in the water for a commercial purpose, it costs thousands of dollars in fees. “There are so many government fees associated with trying to do that, which is one of the reasons why boating is so expensive... because there are so many government regulations and fees and hurdles to jump through,” he said. “Other states are much more inclusive.”
German said that overall lack of access to the water is a factor that has caused Connecticut to lose its boating culture. In conjunction, boating's nature began to take on an aura of luxury, he said. “Boat stands for 'Bring Out Another Thousand,'” he quipped, adding, “which is why community boating is such a cool concept and why it's growing so fast around the nation,” because it “collectifies” the cost. For instance, CCB has a membership program whereby individuals pay a monthly fee. In exchange, they have the option to take sailing lessons or take a CCB boat out on the water. Another option is for boat owners to launch from or sail into Bridgeport and dock at CCB, for a contribution. “It's a two-way street - boats can leave, but they also can come in [to Bridgeport],” said German.
The core of the CCB program was to teach kids how to sail, said German. “I was working at yacht clubs, I was teaching the 'haves' how to sail, and I really got sick and tired of doing that.” German said that as he was driving over the bridge one day, he thought, “I want to get out on this harbor and I want to teach some kids to sail.” This thought gave birth to the non-profit CCB in 2007, with its initial goal of teaching boating skills to low-income kids.
At first, CCB charged a fee for sailing lessons, but lack of money kept too many students away, said German. Now, CCB makes sailing available to low-income kids for free, but interested youth must complete an application process to qualify for the program.
“We put about 500 kids through the program in 2010,” said German, who looks forward to 2013, which he says will be a banner year. CCB is open year-round, with the junior program running in the summer.
“Most of the kids in Lake Chaffee will never get down here to see what I do,” said German, citing distance from Connecticut's “upland” communities as an obstacle for those kids to participate in CCB's sailing program. German is working on a remedy. To enable at-distance youth to participate, he is raising funds to purchase a 261-foot dive barge to be modified to function as a sailing “sleep-away camp.” Currently located in Norfolk, Va., the barge was constructed in 1944 by the U.S. Navy to serve as a military salvage vessel. Once purchased and modified, the barge will also serve as the CCB headquarters.
German suggests the barge could also serve in emergencies. “What if we had another hurricane?” he asked. “What if this is an emergency shelter? We've got 108 berths, we've got a galley, we got all kinds of sanitary facilities,” he hypothesized. “So next time Staten Island decides to get 6 feet of water across it, I can have that down there in two hours, and we can house all kinds of different things in there to support the emergency operations.”
In the recent hurricane, CCB suffered its share of damage. Its power boat will require approximately $6,000 in repairs, and although still docked and salvageable, a sailboat is partially submerged. Nonetheless, said German, CCB “stayed afloat.” He is awaiting responses to his insurance claims before filing with FEMA.
To acknowledge his endeavors with CCB, German was nominated by a student for a maritime award sponsored by Old Pultney Scotch. “Quite frankly, it's nice to be nominated, it's nice to be recognized,” said German. He is up against five other nominees, but if German wins the award, he will be flown to Clearwater, Fla., for the U.S. Sailing Symposium, where he will be able to present a speech of his choice. “I see this as an opportunity to talk about Connecticut more, and really put Connecticut's coastline on the map,” he said. To see the list of nominees and cast a vote, visit www.maritimeheroes.com.
For more information about CCB's mission and programs, or to inquire about supporting CCB, visit www.ctcommunityboating.org, follow CCB on Facebook or call 1-855-99BOATS.