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Attention all sailors

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SHEBOYGAN -- The prevailing winds off Sheboygan's shoreline are about to blow local sailing into the national spotlight.


Officials revealed this week that Sheboygan will become an official U.S. Sailing Center, making it a training site for the U.S. Olympic sailing team and an increasingly prominent destination for recreational and competitive sailors nationwide. It will be the first such center on the Great Lakes and the fourth in the nation.

"I think it's an incredible achievement for our waterfront community," said Terry Kohler, a prominent local sailor who owns racing sail maker North Sails and was among the people pursuing the designation over the last year.

The creation of U.S. Sailing Center-Sheboygan was approved July 21 by the U.S. Sailing Board of Directors, said U.S. Sailing spokeswoman Marlieke Eaton. She said the national organization was impressed with the Sheboygan application — which was submitted in March — and is thrilled to see a sailing center in the Midwest.

"They had very clearly stated plans on the fact that they are going to be teaching sailing at all levels … and also they're going to be teaching racing sailing," Eaton said. "Sheboygan has the financial backing to offer the programs that are needed to be a successful sailing center."

The center will be operated by Sail Sheboygan, a nonprofit group formed to organize the 2005 Lightning North American Championships here, said Hans Graf, the group's executive director. He said the affiliation with U.S. Sailing will enhance Sheboygan's growing reputation as a sailing destination and allow the center to pursue more local races and instructional programs, in cooperation with local groups such as the Sheboygan Youth Sailing Club.

"Really when we started thinking about this, we were thinking about a Pettit (National Ice) Center for sailors," Graf said. "It's a place where people can come and learn to skate, but they also have national competitions, and that's really a good way to understand what we're doing."

Graf said the sailing center will mean privately-funded marina improvements and increased tourism dollars from national and international racing competitors and spectators. The organization will also employ two directors and maintenance personnel.

Local donors, corporate sponsors and members will fund the sailing center's events and infrastructure, Graf said.

The other three U.S. Sailing Centers are located in Miami, Martin County, Fla., and Long Beach, Calif. The Sheboygan location will specialize in match racing, which will be a first-time Olympic event for women in 2012 thanks in large part to an advertising campaign initiated and produced in Sheboygan.

"It's not going to be the only thing we do, but it's going to the thing we do better than anybody else," Graf said. Match racing features a tournament-style series of one-on-one races, instead of unleashing all competitors in a single race.

The missing link at this point is a physical location.

Graf said the group will present plans Wednesday to the city's Marina and Harbor Committee for a site adjacent to the Sheboygan Youth Sailing Club. The center, expected to open by spring 2009, will include improvement to the sea wall for dry storage and a small building with office space and storage, he said.

In the meantime, the center will operate from the Sheboygan Yacht Club.

Harbor committee Chairman Mike Froh said the center will be a great asset for Sheboygan.

"It certainly is going to be positive … from a tourism standpoint, bringing people to the community," Froh said. "We've put a lot of money into the harbor area, and we're very fortunate with our location on Lake Michigan that the way Sheboygan protrudes into the lake we've got great prevailing winds here."

Kohler said race-level winds run close enough to shore in Sheboygan that spectators can easily watch the races from land.

"Chicago, you've got to drag out there for half an hour to try to get to the right place; Milwaukee's got all kinds of complications in that they've got so much commercial traffic," he said. "We leave the dock and five minutes later we're on the racecourse."

Sheboygan first landed a major national sailing event in 1976 with the Lightning North American Championships, but did little more until hosting the same event in 2005, officials said. There will be no such gap this time.

Sheboygan is scheduled to host match racing national championships in 2010 and 2012, and earlier this month Sail Sheboygan coordinated the inaugural Northern Lights Cup women's match racing clinic and regatta.

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This is so cool for me as it is in my backyard. So to speak.

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