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Singles on Sailboats

These sailors don’t need a boat, or a partner, to get out on the water

photo by Suzanne Vaughn Lora Donia’s smile says it all.
     Lora Dania was divorced and sailing mostly with couples when she checked out a group called Singles on Sailboats. “I wasn’t looking for a dating club,” she says. “I just wanted to get out on the water.” 
     That’s just what a handful of sailors intended 41 years ago when they began a network of single people who could learn and sail together on Chesapeake Bay. Many became lifelong friends, and new friendships continue to evolve. Only singles may join, but members who marry can remain in the club. Many members enjoy the flexibility of retirement, but those working also find plenty of Saturday to Sunday events.
     No boat? No problem. This season members can sign up for 17 weekend cruises, one 10-day extended, and 18 day sails (weather permitting).     Experienced skippers share not just their boats but also their knowledge and skills from knot-tying to navigation.
      “You crew with different people and build these fantastic relationships,” says Dania.
      For sailboat owners, SOS is, as long-time skipper George Hollendursky says, “the best way to get crew and go sailing.” Members meet the boat wherever it is docked. This season that’s from Pasadena to Kent Island to Solomons.
      Four hundred members come from Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Some have been around the world, while others have never set a Sperry-clad foot on a sailboat deck until joining.
      Feeling timid? As an SOS skipper in the Annapolis Hospice Cup Race, Hollendursky invited a caregiver aboard. “She’d never been on a boat,” he says. She did just fine.
      Each year’s sailing schedule is as eagerly anticipated as the return of the osprey. Day sails may glide past Annapolis or skirt historic lighthouses — and maybe pass some dolphins along the way. On a weekend overnight when boats raft up, you might wind up photographing bald eagles (in Eagle Cove, where else?), then going boat-to-boat for happy hour or jumping in for a swim. Themed weekends are an SOS hallmark, including Appetizers and Desserts and Chili Cook-off.
     Exploring rivers like the Magothy, Choptank and Chester by boat, sailing singles get to know the wonders of the upper Bay. Some cruises dock at a marina overnight, with time to explore followed by dinner and dancing. No club in this region would be worth its salt without celebrating the Chesapeake’s bounty, hence the Oyster Fest in St. Michaels and the Seafood Feast party in Rock Hall. Spending the night in close quarters isn’t for everyone; those who prefer to daysail can drive to these festivities.
      When it comes to safety, all hands on deck applies. Out on the, Bay emergency help can be at least 20 minutes away, first responders say. Every sailor should know what to do in the precious time until the pros arrive. This spring at an Annapolis firehouse, a number of SOSers earned CPR certification, learned how to use a defibrillator and practiced stabilizing bleeding wounds. Courses like this give members skills as well as confidence in case of an accident or sudden illness onboard. Regular training in how to use the radio and flares in an emergency and man-overboard drills are essentials as well.
     Winterizing boats marks the sad end of the season, but not the end of social and learning events around the Bay. Monthly winter brunches in Annapolis with guest speakers and fireside chats in the homes of members across the area run the gamut, from navigation to maritime history to environmental issues affecting the Chesapeake. At a recent fireside chat, talk was of sex on the Bay — as it relates to oysters, crabs and jellyfish. 
      Every March volunteers put together Spring Training in Annapolis, open to all to get immersed in all things sailing for a day. Workshops by experts reach every skill level. Want to know how to use the radio, trim a sail or cruise after dark? How about diesel engine maintenance? This is the place. 
      All these activities take a lot of volunteer hours and enthusiasm, and the club has plenty of both. “We are fortunate to have hardworking chairs and committees,” says club commodore Rebecca Strandberg. “SOS is continually looking to add new members of all ages. We say come for the sailing, stay for the friendships.” 
     What’s next for Dania? After driving from New Jersey to Delaware to join a monthly happy hour, she has organized one close to home. She’s also signed up for the SOS First Mate program. When it comes to sharing time on the Bay with friends, she’s found you can always make it even better. 
 
Get in touch: www.singlesonsailboats.org; Also on Facebook and Meetups