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Women's sailing club open to variety of experiences

DUNEDIN — Soon, the dolphins of St. Joseph Sound will have their racing pals back — the Windlasses, a women's sailing club that launches from the Dunedin Marina during the school year.

"The resident dolphins like to peek up out of the water and see who's winning," said Jan Bowers, a Dunedin Windlass.

If sailing sounds like a physical and mental challenge you'd enjoy, then here's your chance to learn the ropes.

The Windlasses, which first organized in 1967, will host their new member coffee and orientation from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin. Membership is open only during August and September each year.

The purpose of the organization, now about 140 members strong, is to encourage women sailors to improve their art of sailing, sponsor races and cruises in prams and Sunfish and compete with other women's sailing clubs on the Florida Gulf Coast.

It's something that just about anyone, 18 or over, can do as long as they have Thursday mornings free and don't mind a little mud, sweat and saltwater spray.

Knowing how to sail is a plus, but it's not mandatory. A learn-to-sail class will be offered to newbies at a reduced price through the Clearwater Sailing Center. Prams and Sunfish sailboats are provided by the city. Basic swimming is the only requirement as capsizing in the water is bound to happen.

"(Members) have to be able to swim to a safety boat while wearing a life jacket," said Janet Shellenberger, this year's Windlasses captain.

When she joined the Windlasses 11 years ago, she had never set foot in a sailboat. Now, she owns a 35-footer.

Regardless of experience, all new salts start out the first six weeks together in a pram class learning the basics about racing boats: safety, the rules, how to read a course, rig the prams and understand the complex interactions between the boat, the sails, the waves, the tide and the wind.

The cost to join Windlasses is a $55 membership fee and $20 to use city prams and Sunfish for the season (or bring your own). New members pay a $60 initiation fee, which helps cover the cost of a silver bracelet and the first charm. The silver trinkets are given throughout the season for winning races in a variety of divisions.

Penny Kemp of Clearwater said she really didn't think she wanted to race when she first started. "I wanted to sail and be captain but because I had to race, I became a better sailor and have a greater appreciation for sailing," she said.

Besides racing, the Windlasses cruise to a variety of locations to have picnics, feast on shrimp or celebrate Oktoberfest.

Whether it's the thrill of the competition, the adventure of handling a boat by themselves or just a journey to find their personal best, all Windlasses seem to revel in the shared sisterhood.

Sarah Beth Reeves, a member of Windlasses for 30 years, finds restorative powers when she sails with the group.

"It helps shake the cobwebs out of everyday life," she said. "You can rebalance and refocus."

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