|An Interview with the founder
Many of our students continue to ask the same questions. The following excerpt from an interview with the Atlanta Magazine will help address some of these issues.
Q-So why do students say that they select Windsong?
A-I think that we offer a tremendous value in return for their time and money. I have daily conversations with prospects that tell me that they've wanted to learn to sail since they were kids, but just never seemed to find the time. Now I find this hard to understand because after some conversation I learn that they also play tennis, golf and take in a movie every now and then. The issue is that they don't have large blocks of time for recreation but manage to fit in something for a couple of hours several times a month. If you can find time for tennis, you can
learn to sail. We do 2-hr sailing training sessions on the water and we designed them to be short for two reasons. The primary one is that anyone can steal away for 2-hrs of recreation a couple times a month. The second is that nature seems to call for most of us around that period of time and there's no honor in ignoring our urges, sailing or otherwise! I also feel that when it comes to sailing instruction, we simply do it better than the rest. We have a very unique business model and a very loyal following of students seeking something different in a time frame that best fits their needs.
Q-I've noticed that the ground schools are separate from the sailing outings. Does this mean that students have to separately register and pay for each program? Don't they need both at the same time?
A-Excellent observation! The problem we've seen with other schools is that it's very difficult to tailor them to each individual's needs and wishes. We've designed a curriculum that addresses the needs of the absolute beginner as well as the experienced, but rusty, seaman who desires to get back into sailing after a period of absence. The beauty of this flexibility is one of time management. Our lives today are so complicated and interwoven with demands from the community, our family and our jobs, that the ability to attend a ground school when it fits into your schedule and go sailing on weekends that you're free is of tremendous value. Additionally a unique value to our students is the ability to repeat any ground school class again whenever they wish, as often as they wish, forever! How many times have you taken a class and forgotten nearly everything you've learned in as soon as a month afterwards? Every spring we see familiar faces in our ground schools as everyone ramps up for the new season of sailing. Particularly our advanced programs such as the Coastal Navigation class offer students the opportunity to refresh their skills before their annual adventure trips offshore or to the British Virgin Islands. This represents a tremendous value which is unheard of in our industry. Windsong is the pioneer of this concept.
Q-Why do you offer sailing outings on the lake yet hold the ground schools somewhere else? Why don't you conduct all your training at the lake?
A-You're suggesting that this is a disadvantage. We do
conduct on-the-water training classes from the two major marinas
on Lake Lanier; Aqualand and Holiday Marinas. We do have a classroom
facility near the lake at the Snug Harbor Boats & Company
facility. The Snug Harbor classroom facility is ideal for those
coming in from out of town or those desiring weekend ground
school classes. We also find that many students desire the flexibility of attending week evening classes at park facilities near the communities where our students live or work saving them a potentially long drive to the lake. We
don't find many students desiring both classroom training and
sailing outings the same day or weekend. It's just way too much
to realistically comprehend and retain. Spreading the
training out over several months as you might any other
recreational activity is the ideal approach in moderation and
economy. It's a matter of time management and convenience. Students can choose to attend classes at their convenience;
on their time table, at the location of their preference, near home, the office or at the lake. Life
is way too complicated to try to tackle all that sailing has to
offer in a single weekend or two and that's assuming that you
can find a full weekend free to do so.
Q-So what is a typical sailing outing like? What can a student expect?
A-We always bring 'em back alive! I'm sorry, I had to say that because that's what I always tell the spouses who come to the docks to see the students off. We always bring 'em back smiling and hungry for more! Sailing is a recreation, much like tennis or golf, only cheaper and I think more rewarding. How can I say that? You can't take your entire family golfing or put everyone on the tennis court. Okay, perhaps you could, but typically their interests are more varied than that. Sailing is unique because partners with varying skill levels can participate together in the activity. That's not true of golf or tennis or many other recreational activities. Sailing is the great equalizer. Your skills and knowledge don't have to match to enjoy this sport together. The kids feel at ease and at home aboard the boats with their parents. Each person must bring something different with them, and they all do. Sailing offers something for everyone. Some people are quite content just taking in the scenery, smelling the fresh air or steering. Some aren't happy unless their grinding the winches and doing the navigation. Others don't care what their swimming platform looks like and a sailboat is just as good as anything else.
Sailing is a unique recreation. We have to train students with all these things in mind. Our instructors are acutely attuned to the needs and wishes of our students. A typical outing is two hours filled with action packed challenging drills and absolutely relaxing doing nothing. I know you're thinking that what I just said was a contradiction. If you ask our students to describe a typical outings, you're likely to hear both things that I mentioned. We
fulfill the dreams and wishes of our students. You tell us your dream and we'll get you there. Your dream could be relaxing and doing nothing, but having the knowledge to do what it takes to take charge or understand the proper direction of the crew when the need arises. With knowledge comes comfort. Many couples can't enjoy sailing together because they don't understand the physics and theory required to make it all look so easy. Excuse me. It is easy. But it's easy because everyone knows what they're doing. It's only hard if you make it hard. I always tell students that the more of the muscle you use that lies between your ears, the less of the other muscles that will be required. It's more of a mental exercise than a physical one. Education is a mission of challenges that are met one at a time. With the passage of time, great accomplishments become self evident. But you have to do the time. There are absolutely no short cuts! Sailing skills and knowledge can't be achieved in just two or three classes. Everyone knows that. Some simply choose to ignore the facts. At Windsong we provide the most comprehensive forum for training and hey, we have great fun doing it!
Okay, finally to answer your direct question. A typical two hour sailing outing consists of assigning students to the various positions on the boat for departure, hoisting the sails, sailing maneuvers, dousing the sails, and docking the boat. Every 10 minutes we stir the bucket and everyone changes positions. The primary focus is on learning to take direction and understanding the various requests. When students begin to understand what is expected of them and no longer require individual direction on the mechanics of each tasks, they begin to function without having to be told what's required at each phase of the sailing drills. Everyone has different goals and for some students, this is their goal. They want to know, when someone is yelling at them, what they're expected to do. Once they reach this level of ability and understanding they realize that there are higher goals they aspire to. They want to be able to proactively do whatever is required before someone yells at them to do something. Now all this yelling is usually coming from their "special significant other". Yelling is not allowed or taught on our training boats. We
don't yell, we sail, but we do it right. The focus is on having fun while accidentally learning new things through discovery.
Once a student becomes self sufficient in determining and reacting to the changing situations on the sailboat, we begin to teach them what everyone else on the boat is supposed to be doing in concert with their actions. By this time they've done every position on the boat themselves, so they know what is expected of each position on the boat. At this stage, we teach them to proactively direct the activities of everyone else on the boat much like the director of a symphony. Things have to happen in unison. This takes some time because they have to learn that everyone responds and thinks differently. Just because they give you an inch it doesn't make you a ruler! Excuse me. What I'm trying to say is that just because you're in charge doesn't mean you're a dictator. We teach patience and understanding. We remind the students that they required lots of patience when they first started out and now they must pay their dues in kind to others. You have to be a coach and psychologist. Earlier I mentioned the key word, "Proactively". If you merely react to situations, you're already behind the curve. Our typical student sails with us all season. The programs are priced to enable students to sail over an extended period of time that is not going to break the family budget. By the time they've sailed a while with us, they've seen all the things that can go wrong. They've learned to anticipate them. They know the common mistakes others will make. They're ready for them. They become Proactive. You can't develop this judgment and experience in the programs taught by other schools over a couple of outings. How long did it take you to develop safe judgment based on experience driving a car? Some folks are still working on that one today! Sailing isn't much different in that respect. It takes time and guidance.
Once students have mastered the direction of others, we begin the solo training. At first they sail blind folded but assisted by the crew. They begin to learn to sail by the seat of their pants, so to speak. I'm a pilot and have flown for many years. My best training was with all the instrument fuses in my shirt pocket. You and the sailboat have to become one. You have to feel and think like the boat. You have to learn
its personality. Initially students think the boat is "possessed" and has a mind of
its own. As they truly learn and appreciate the physics of the
boat, they learn that it too has a personality. Blind folded
sailing focuses on the wind on your face, the angle of heel of
the boat and the sound of the boat through the water. It makes
you "feel" the forces of the boat. Quickly you feel the "groove"
of the boat. You can't appreciate this drill until you've learned
the basics of sailing. We're talking about advanced appreciation
here. We're talking about sailing becoming second nature. Like
driving a car, tuning the radio, talking on the cell phone and
eating a burger while driving 55 down the freeway. You're right
some of us never get to that point. Some of us don't want
to. But if one day you have no choice and have to do several
things all at once, it's comforting to know that you could if
you had to, right? I was just kidding about the part of talking
on the cell phone while driving. None of us really do that,
Once you've mastered blindfold assisted sailing, guess what's next? No I'm not kidding. We begin sailing blind fold solo. With your eyes closed, you steer the boat, tack, gibe and trim your own sails. Obviously, at this point you're feeling pretty good about your knowledge and abilities. Then you're ready to challenge certification if that's your goal. Either way, a trip to our
coastal facility, is the next step.
A key differentiator between our very unique program and that of other commercial schools, is that every sailing outing has a new mix of personalities and skill sets aboard. Other programs always train students that are pretty well all at the same level of knowledge, understanding and abilities. They never get to see a truly senior student go through the advanced drills. The senior students seldom experience the challenge of directing the activities of those who might be just starting out. This is a real world mixture! You've got to be able to anticipate what an absolute beginner might get into. You've got to be able to direct crew with different skill levels and fears. You must nip mistakes before they happen by anticipating them. Typical schools don't provide the opportunity to sail with the variety of skills you'll find in the crew on our training boats. Our training approach and class mixture is a vital element to realistic training! You see it all in our classes.
Yes we're pretty serious about sailing training. If you want to learn it right from A to Z, give us a whirl. I have to warn you. This is not a weekend program or a quick fix! Windsong programs take time. They're affordable and provide you plenty of time to learn all you want to know. Sailing at Windsong is a recreation. Our programs are designed to permit you to do it for fun and for life, and with us, for "Pocket Change". Our programs are fun and affordable and our boats are always available to those who plan ahead. Last minute outings are hard to come by so our students have learned they have to book well in advance. These programs are extremely popular due to their quality and cost, but you can sail every weekend all year if you just plan ahead. Many think of our programs as their weekly golf or tennis
escape. They do it for fun and the love of the sport. They learn something new every week, but they keep coming back because it's affordable, convenient and a lot of fun.
Q-What exactly is the certification? Tell me what that's about.
A-We represent the American Sailing Association. Typically the exam consists of a written exam followed by a sailing skills exam conducted on the water. Not everyone is interested in certification, so we charge a nominal fee for the written exam and do the on-the-water exam during the course of regularly scheduled sailing outings. This keeps the cost of our classroom programs to a minimum by not including materials that everyone won't need. We use the certification requirements as our instructional guidelines on the water, so successful mastery of the drills and exercises and the demonstration of those specific skills meet the requirements for certification. We do the Basic Keelboat Certification and Coastal Navigation exams in Atlanta and the Basic Coastal Cruising, Bareboat Chartering and Advanced Coastal Cruising Certification sailing skills portion at
one of our coastal facilities. All written exams are
administered in Atlanta prior to the trip for the coast skills
Q-Your programs are conducted under contract with the Parks and Recreation Service. What can you tell us about this alliance?
A-Absolutely! The Parks and Recreation are tough business partners. They demand a lot of our staff and monitor the quality and customer focus of our programs. Windsong's business objectives are based upon Quality, Customer Service and Price, in that order! The sponsorship of our programs by the Parks is a natural partnership. We provide the focus on quality and customer service, they enable us to offer our programs at
attractive prices. The Parks are able to offer a unique adult program to their communities and we are both proud of our long term relationship which began
back in 1987 over two decades ago. You go to the Parks for tennis, golf and swimming. Well guess what? Now you can go there to learn to sail as well and the whole family can afford to participate together. You've come to expect quality programs from the Parks. Windsong is a natural addition to that guarantee!
Q-It's very obvious that your program is quite different and unlike other schools. Is there anything, in closing, that you'd like to say about your program that might not be immediately obvious?
A-I know that I tend to get quite lengthy and apologize after the fact for that, but Windsong is a personal experience for me. I feel strongly about
its charter. I have strong convictions about life and business ethics. To me they are inseparable. In 1987, I was voted "Skipper of the Year" for racing accomplishments. That same year, I incorporated Windsong. Over the years I've earned a reputation on the lake and in the Southeast
as being honest and fair. In today's business climate, those
are coveted accomplishments! Windsong represents a good value, offers quality programs and focuses on customer service. We embrace some old fashion values here at the school. We make our living the old fashion way; we earn it one customer at a time. Likewise our students gain certification the same way; they earn it too. We're not a paper house here! When you become certified at Windsong, it's an accomplishment not to be taken lightly! Our students are like family. We strive to provide the best atmosphere for development and success. We're not here to mislead anyone.
For sailing training, the public has many choices and no one understands that better than I do. Let me talk about our competitors for a moment. We are the oldest A.S.A. school on Lake Lanier and unlike other schools, are still under the original founding management team. As founder, that must mean that we're doing a lot of things right. Other schools may have been in business before us, but we earned the ASA distinction and approvals years
ahead of everyone else. We set the standards and earned the
reputation for excellence in staff development, fleet condition,
customer retention and innovation. Everyone else was stuck
in the dark age where many still remain today with their
outdated methods and old fashioned business models that don't
properly address the needs of the customers. We aggressively chose these national affiliations as our business partners at a time when many schools were still struggling with their own identities and business plans. From the very onset, Windsong established itself as a pioneer in the industry offering a training format and timetable that many felt would never succeed. It was time for a change in the industry and even today that format has remained unchanged and a key differentiator for Windsong. Other schools have closed or sold several times and still struggle to define themselves. At Windsong we have a clear vision of who we are and what we're not. Sailing instruction is our only product and the satisfaction of our students are our primary business concern. We simply teach sailing and manage our business better than the rest. Those
who want to learn to sail as a recreation and involve family, friends, or meet new friends,
should give us a shot at earning their business. We realize everyday that
students do have a choice and appreciate the opportunity to earn
their business every time we meet.
Those that are not sure about sailing and unsure about whether Windsong can help
them reach their dream, should give us a try. If they later decide that sailing is not for
them or that Windsong is not their school, they've limited their investment. A test sail or ground school is cheap. It may very well be the best investment of
their sailing career though. It's only one's life we're discussing here. Give it careful thought. Students deserve the best, at any price, and our price isn't bad!
If you have a dream and we can help you along the road to success. We've both realized our dreams. Mine is to give something back to the sport that's been so very good to me.