For young adventurers in the Boston area this spring and summer, the ancient call to "go down to the sea in ships" is being met, as it has been for the past 30 years, by Community Boating Inc.
A $1 season membership fee for young people places captaincy within the reach of any teen-ager. Of its 7,000-plus members, some 2,500 are junior sailors aged 11 to 17.
The program is unique in the country for its size and community involvement.
Community Boating is a nonprofit sailing organization rigged to the Urban dweller. A sense of carefree vacation can be had right in the city on any day.
The river's central location allows easy access by foot, car, or subway. The sailing program operates under a management agreement with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a subdivision of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
It is situated on a mile-long stretch of the Charles River between the Harvard and Longfellow Bridges -- a wide expanse of river with a major metropolitan skyline as a backdrop.
Community Boating receives no public funding. The building and dock where its 94 sailboats are stored are owned by the MDC and leased to the organization free of charge.
All operational costs are covered by subscription rates to members. Capital improvements (purchase of more boats or improvement of docking facilities) are made through fund-raising drives and personal or corporate contributions.
Membership is open to the public and joining is easy. New members may sail on the same day they join if they have the appropriate experience.
Membership in the organization is contingent upon:
* Swimming 75 yards.
* Passing a sailing skills test (free instruction is provided by members, designed to help individuals solo in five days).
* Paying a membership fee.
Boats may be used for one hour at a time during busy periods, and longer at other times. The expense of "owning" a sailboat for the season, April 1 to Nov. 1, is $75 -- reasonable compared with buying a sailboat and leasing dock space.
Junior members need parental permission.
"The biggest problem in recruiting city youths has been passing the swimming test," says Lynn Hannabury, assistant manager of operations."It is surprising how many urban teen-agers just can't swim."
Community Boating has recruited a local pool to assist in giving the swimming test and providing swimming instruction for anyone needing it.
A major intent of the organization is to have as many of its members participate in teaching sailing as possible. Besides creating a strong sense of purpose in its members, it creates the good will and continuity no necessary for a nonprofit organization.
Each spring, local high schools in the Boston area use the facilities. Members of Community Boating assist physical education teachers. The sailing program becomes an adjunct of the individual school's PE program.
When their sailing proficiency warrants, teen-agers can earn the rank of helmsman. This entitles him to take parents of friends for a sail. Often, Community Boating matches a junior member of helmsman status with a new senior member for solo sailing instructions.
These shared sailing experiences of new and old members, junior and senior members, are the key ingredient giving Community Boating its tradition of cooperation. A spirit of friendship billows as full as any sail on a windy day.