By Marcelo Mainzer
It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.
George William Curtis
Like a ship's crew shortly before sailing, the volunteers of Community Sailing and the staff of Peak Events were busily tying up loose ends and making everything ship shape to welcome supporters of Community Sailing's eleventh annual gala “Spirit of Sailing.”
By 5:30, the first VIP guests began to arrive--many of them were board and committee members like Christine DeRose, Chris Oertel, Steve and Jan Davis and co-chairs David Spira and Michael Dannecker. Silent auction items lined port and starboard and amidship, holding treasures for the mind body and soul.
Acting as purser, Sailing staff member Amy Zsohar was the first to greet each and logged in their attendance. Although the event was blacktie optional, most were decked out in their finest luxury cruise attire--gowns on the ladies and tuxes for the men. The Phipps Tennis Pavilion is one of Denver’s “grand dame” event facilities, with its lovely gardens, double deck design and huge ballroom.
Soon the salon was full of laughter and conversation, and people spilled out into the courtyard and were kept cool under a canopy of clouds. Waiters swam through the tide and eddies of attendees offering tasty tidbits, and the open bar served up a never ending supply of beverages. Guests engaged with each other and featured speaker Greg Fisher to swap stories of joy and peril before the mast.
Near 7:45, the bell tolled calling people below deck for a buffet feast with a Brazilian cant. In the background, auctioneer Leroy Nitsch encouraged last minute bids. João Junquiera, who had played solo upstairs, was joined by Beco de Choro to provide cool, swaying music to entertain supporters during dinner. The official program began when master of ceremonies Dave Aguilera, News 4, who gave a huge welcome to one and all. Dave shared the stage with co-chairs Michael Dannecker and David Spira, who between them told the story of Community Sailing of Colorado.
Community Sailing of Colorado began as the dream of founders Steven Frank and Mary Jo Houser, the couple both being avid sailors, who wanted to share their love of the sport with the next generation and most especially inner city and handicapped kids who would not otherwise have the opportunity . Since its founding in 1994, thousands of kids have learned about self discipline, safety, responsibility and the privileges of mastering a skill.
Youngsters learn basic sailing on Sunfish or Optimists; they earn advanced sailing privileges by rising through established ratings. With each successive rating, junior sailors can progressively earn the privilege to sail more complex boats, learn racing, sail further from the beach and help teach others to sail. Each year young people ages eight through 17 are taught the joy of sailing, many with the help of scholarships, for which funds are raised at events like the Spirit of Sailing.
Featured speaker Greg Fisher shared his love of sailing, which has been a tradition in his family from generation to generation. As Greg spoke his words were illustrated on the screen behind him. He reached back to his childhood and through his career on the water (including being a world championship sailor, chairing One Design Council and being a member of US Sailing) and into the future, teaching his children to sail and giving back to the community by speaking at community sailing events.
The sails of the event really began to fill and the ship surge forward when auctioneer Leroy Nitsch took center stage and rallied bidding on the fabulous live auction items, which included nautically themed art and vacation packages. Although the bidding was lively, many walked away with incredible bargains.
Next on the agenda board member and former Community Sailing executive director Sarah Riopelle turned the helm of Community Sailing over to new executive director Rachel Daugherty who, after expressing her gratitude for the privilege, introduced a film chronicling the work of Sailing founders Mary Jo Houser and Steve Frank as well as a spot with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper proclaiming the 17th of April Community Sailing day.
When Mary Jo and Steve rose to accept their awards they were given an extended standing ovation. Perhaps the greatest acknowledgements the founders were given came when Dave Aguilera read a letter from Angelina Contrera, who received a scholarship to attend sailing camp. Ten-year-old Angelina voiced the feeling shared with every sailor in the room when she said “There is nothing like being on the water.”
After that it was no surprise that bidding cards rose and fluttered like a flock of seagulls taking wing to fund the scholarship program, giving more kids like Angelina the gift of learning to sail.
With the official program over, Beco Do Choro struck up a Latin beat that brought people to their feet to dance the night away.