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Happy to have wind in their sails

Coach Gavin Potts, standing right, assesses the sail position of a boat manned by students Nate Wallace and Michael Tregilgas, hidden from view. Photo by Randy Hanson

Classes are in session at the fledgling St. Croix Sailing School - and no one is complaining about it.

After a 15-minute review under the canopy at the school's home base, five young sailors head across First Street to the Lakefront Park boat landing. There, they rig three 14-foot Club 420 sailboats with some help from their coaches, and set sail into the river.

The boat skippered by Michael Tregilgas catches a wind gust out of the south and is blown toward the dike road.

"Do they know what they're doing?" asks a reporter.

"I think so," replies school director Terry Thompson. "I'm semi-optimistic."

Tregilgas and his crewmate, Nate Wallace, reward Thompson's semi-optimism. They tack into the breeze, on course for the Interstate 94 bridge to the south.

It's the third day of classes for Tregilgas and Wallace - middle school-age boys from Stillwater - and they've learned enough to sail into the wind.

"There's a wide range of abilities. They're all learning pretty quickly," says Ross Baker of Afton, one of the school's five teen-age coaches.

Baker, who will be a junior at St. Paul Academy in the fall, and Kim Bullock of St. Paul, a recent graduate of Minnehaha Academy, are assigned to take the reporter out onto the water in one of the school's two motorboats. The coaches use the boats to follow the student sailors and give them instructions.

"It's a good job," Baker admits, smiling broadly, stretched out on the bow of the boat with the sun on his face.

"Definitely," chimes Bullock, who is piloting the boat. "You get paid to go sailing. It's great." She appears almost sheepish about her good fortune.

"We haven't had any criers," Bullock replies with a grin when asked if the students ever get frightened. "Yet," she adds.

Baker says none of the students are afraid of the water.

"We practice tipping boats and righting them. So if that happens, they're ready," he explains.

The St. Croix Sailing School opened June 22, offering day-long, one-week classes for beginning to advanced sailors ages 7-17. The school recently decided to offer adult lessons as well.

The youth classes start on Mondays and run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. The fee is $195 per student, although the school says it won't turn away any youngster away for lack of money.

One or two adults can get four hours of training in two sessions for the same $100 fee.

The school's Web site,, promises that adults will learn a lot in one lesson, and master the basics with a few sessions. The adult lessons are offered weekdays and weeknights by appointment.

The nonprofit sailing school was the dream of Hudson resident Paul Paulisich and Jon Morris of Lakeland.

They recruited other members of the St. Croix Sailing Club based at the St. Croix Marina in Hudson to serve on the board of directors for the school.

Then, together with area sailing enthusiasts, they raised enough money to purchase the boats and equipment needed to start classes. The school has 10 Optimist dinghies, six Club 420 sailboats, two motorboats for the coaches, two-way radios and other equipment needed to conduct classes - all bought and paid for by benefactors.

The board wanted to pay for the boats and equipment in advance, as opposed to building equipment costs into class fees, to keep the student fees as low as possible.

Students are getting a bargain considering what the actual cost of the equipment, plus wages for the school director and five coaches.

"The St. Croix Sailing School Inc. is all about encouraging and promoting the growth of junior sailing in the St. Croix River area," the school's Web site says. "...(It) is founded on the premise that sailing is unique in the developmental opportunities it offers to young people. In addition to sheer fun and the opportunity to develop life-long boat handling and racing skills, sailing builds character through its time-honored emphasis on self-reliance, teamwork and sportsmanship."

Ten-year-old Graham Fisher of Hudson is having fun. He's in his second week of classes because he enjoyed the first week so much.

"I love it," he says convincingly.

Director Thompson's career misfortune was a gain for the start-up sailing school.

Recently downsized out of a district sales manager job in the automotive industry, the lifelong sailor and board member of the White Bear Lake Sailing School was available to help get the St. Croix school running.

"I'm actively looking for things, but this just looked like too much fun to pass up," Thompson says.

Three more weeklong classes - after this week's class - are scheduled. There are plenty of spots open. Thompson says the school could accommodate 20 or more beginning sailors per week.

The last class is set to start August 3. "But if there's demand, we'll be willing to add another week at the end of it," Thompson says.

Class registration information and forms are available on the school's Web site You can also stop by the school grounds at the corner of Buckeye and First streets or phone (715) 808-4114.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

(715) 426-1066