Interview and Highlights with Pleon Yacht Club Commodore, Kyle Heffrin
It is only fitting that the US SAILING Roadshow, which celebrates and promotes junior sailing on an almost daily basis, should visit the place where junior sailing in the United States originally began.
On June 29th, 1887, a humble organization was founded in Marblehead, Massachusetts that would have a profound impact on youth participation in American sailing. Pleon Yacht Club was then, and remains today, a truly unique institution. Founded by a group of local kids without the means to join a large yacht club, Pleon came into existence for the very best of reasons: A simple love of sailing.
With officers elected from amongst the kids themselves, the only people allowed on the premises over the age of 18 are hired instructors. The Commodore of the club is typically a senior in high school. Far from being a disorganized playground, however, Pleon is a model of competence and efficiency. Each day, younger kids see their older counterparts accepting great responsibility, and bearing it well. This has always been a tremendous source of inspiration, and is perhaps the real secret behind the club's success.
For over a century, Pleon has overcome many challenges to its existence. It has survived fires, wars, funding crises, and a lack of property, all while succeeding in giving tens of thousands of New England kids a lifelong passion for sailing. Pleon sailors have also excelled in competition, with many students having competed for, and won, youth, national, world and America's Cup titles. It is the oldest junior yacht club in the U.S., and remains one of the very best.
We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of Pleon's signature summer regatta, Marblehead Junior Race Week (MJRW). One of the best-known events in Massachusetts, MJRW attracts the fastest kids in the region, as well as relative newcomers to racing.
As we arrived on Wednesday morning, we observed the typical pre-racing bustle and activity found at many regattas. Masts were stepped, sails unrolled, and hulls carted down ramps. However, nowhere to be found was a grey-haired individual directing throngs of sailors and parents. Instead, the youthful, enthusiastic and capable staff of Pleon made sure that all stages of the event ran as intended. For a regatta of such great size, this alone was no small accomplishment. It was also a powerful indicator of the strength of Pleon's youth-led model.
All of us who grew up participating in organized sailing classes of any kind owe the founders of Pleon Yacht Club a great debt. With any luck, the waters around Marblehead harbor will remain a wellspring of junior sailing activity for yet another century.