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Membership drive puts the wind in their sails

Date

Phillip Thomson

Fred Kasparek of the Canberra Yacht Club attends to his boat.

Fred Kasparek of the Canberra Yacht Club attends to his boat. Photo: Jay Cronan

FRED KASPAREK calls it ''chess on the water'' and boasts of it being cheaper than mountain biking.

The sport of sailing has plenty of wind back in the sails with this summer shaping up to be the busiest on Lake Burley Griffin since the headwind of the global financial crisis has subsided.

''I love it more now than when I was a kid,'' the 50-year-old Mr Kasparek said.

''You can get on the water for as little as $1500 or spend as much as $60,000.

''I've introduced my children to the sport.''

The YMCA of Canberra Sailing Club dropped to a low of 120 members four years ago but more than 150 are now taking to Lake Burley Griffin.

The dinghy club, whose members are aged from seven to 76, have picked up more members by making sailing as fun as possible.

They have more races these days and let children have ''muck around sessions'', according to chief instructor Hamish Balfour.

At the forefront of the YMCA's membership drive is a large fleet of lightweight, three-person vessels known as sharpies.

The 5.5-metre sailboats are fast and exciting with a decent wind.

''We've been campaigning to rebuild our numbers and have deliberately presented ourselves as a family-friendly club,'' Mr Balfour said.

Yachting ACT president Ron Thompson confirmed increasing popularity with families had bumped up the numbers on the back of Australia's gold-medal success at the London Olympic Games.

''We're certainly seeing growth because of the Olympics,'' he said.

Canberra Yacht Club chief executive Matthew Owen said while his numbers had not completely recovered, they were picking up, also thanks to highly popular junior classes. From having a top of 100 boats on the water on weekends in recent years, it has now edged back to 80 vessels but improving by the week.

''This year it looks like we've turned things around,'' Mr Owen said.

''Our school-holiday sessions have been flat out and we've got an 80 per cent retention rate with our kids program.''

Sunday is the last day of the NSW-ACT Laser Championship, in which more than 100 competitors will race their dinghies.

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