With the Space Coast boasting not one but two majestic rivers, the sport of sailing can be a great way to enjoy scenic views, get some Vitamin D, and even learn a skill that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
These are just a few of the goals of Brevard’s Space Coast Sailing Education Foundation, a non-profit 501 3 (c) program designed to introduce sailboat racing and educate youth sailors about one of the breeziest sports on water.
In its sixth year, the organization offers youth ages 8-18 a variety of opportunities to learn important fundamentals of the sport and skills necessary for competing. Prior to joining the team, sailors are required to demonstrate adequate swimming skills and must be able to travel to competitions around the region and state as schedule dictates.
“My goal is to teach kids something they can enjoy for a lifetime and provide them with key racing techniques” said Ben McKissick-Hawely, the newly appointed Director of Space Coast Sailing Team.
Since learning the sport at age 14, he has been an avid competitor and was an instructor for six years in three states.
From Student to Teacher: Sailing’s in his Blood
McKissick-Hawely, a graduate of Jacksonville University (JU), competed for four years with the JU sailing team, and saw the team rise in their national ranking during the four years he attended.
“Our team really was a rags-to-riches story,” McKissick-Hawely said.
Coach Jon Faudree, who was named the 2019 Collegiate Sailing Coach of the Year, has taken the JU program to eight straight national semifinals. Prior to that, McKissick-Hawely said JU’s team was “basically unknown.”
“I think it goes to show what is possible with the right coaching and a strong will,” he added. “What motivates me to coach is not just how incredible the sport is, but the opportunities that lie ahead for those who desire to learn it,” he said.
Provided by the Eau Gallie Yacht Club and the Melbourne Yacht Club, the sailboats include single-hand (O’Pen and Optimists Skiffs) and double-hand (420’s). Student sailors sail out of both clubs.
In response to COVID-19, the program is taking serious precautionary measures to keep all participants safe. Social-distancing and masks are required for on-land instruction and symptom checks are conducted before each practice.
The Space Coast Sailing Foundation is governed by a board of directors that include member partners from both the Eau Gallie Yacht Club and Melbourne Yacht Club, as well as members-at-large, and include sailing legend and Space Coast resident Dick Tillman.
Tillman, a National Intercollegiate Sailing Champion with the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, was a member of the United States sailing team at the 1976 Summer Olympics as an alternate and was named U.S. Sailor of the Year in 1965.
Phil Spletter, Space Coast Sailing president, expressed his endorsement of Tillman, who serves as a role model for the sailors.
Linda Tillman Youth Sailor Award
In 2018, Tillman established an honorary annual award for the foundation in memory of his late wife, Linda Tillman.
“We could not be more fortunate to have Dick join our board and are appreciative of his generous gift of this annual award,” Spletter said.
This year—the Linda Tillman Youth Sailor of the Year award— one that recognizes leadership qualities and excellence in the sport—was granted to Elizabeth Johnson of Indialantic. Johnson, a former member of the Space Coast Sailing competitive team, is now a junior at Jacksonville University studying sustainability and a member of the JU sailing team. She is also a Level 1 instructor.
“It’s very touching to have been chosen for this honor, as Linda Tillman was such an accomplished sailor,” said Johnson.
Shelley Johnson, Elizabeth’s mother, also a board member, said Space Coast Sailing is where her daughter learned to sail and race, and also had an impact on where she attends college.
“Regatta results and photographs were posted to Instagram and college coaches started to recruit her because of the skills she learned through this program,” she said.
Champions on the Water
In just five years, Space Coast Sailing Foundation-supported teams have produced several champions in many statewide regattas.
Standouts include the 2019 East Coast Sailing Series O’Pen BIC champion Ben Morhman, and 420 series champions Sailor Mohrman and Gia Rivers.
“My mission for Space Coast Sailing is to grow our number of members and build a strong, competitive racing program. I want to teach every kid the same thing that I learned.”
Ben McKissick-Hawely, Director of Space Coast Sailing Team