Written By: Vanessa Emery

Setting sail with Nantucket’s senior citizens.

Penny Snow first arrived on Nantucket aboard a sailboat in the sixties. “Back when you could still get a guest mooring at the yacht club,” she says. Packed onto an Alberg 35 with her husband and in-laws, she made the ten-day round-trip voyage from Southern Connecticut. On the fifth day of their journey, Snow spotted Nantucket from the bow. “It was love at first sight,” she says. Although sailing has been in her veins since that first trip to the island, Penny Snow’s life glided by without her taking to the sea as often as she would have liked. But now, thanks to a nonprofit on the island, this longtime Nantucketer is setting sail once again.

Sails for Old Salts is a program created by Nantucket Community Sailing and the Saltmarsh Senior Center that takes elderly island residents out for sunset sails. The idea for the program first came when Rocky Fox, co-owner of the Chicken Box, asked Diana Brown, the executive director of Community Sailing, why they didn’t offer programming for seniors. This question prompted Brown to reach out to Laura Stewart, the Saltmarsh Senior Center’s Program Coordinator, and Sails for Old Salts was born. Today, Community Sailing can boast that it teaches everyone from five year olds to ninety-five year olds. “We feel fortunate to teach such a wide age range of sailors,” says Brown. “It’s our mission and what we enjoy doing.”

Adding more wind to the program’s sails has been the Community Foundation for Nantucket. “We have been proud to support the Old Salts sailing program through the Nantucket Fund for the past five years,” says Margaretta Andrews, the executive director of the Community Foundation. “Programs and services for elders have been among the highest priorities determined by the Community Foundation’s Advisory Committee.”

Sails for Old Salts has grown to as many as six trips per summer, which have become so popular that there’s now a waitlist. “We get great feedback; people love the program,” says Laura Stewart of the Salt Marsh Senior Center. “They return the next day and come into my office all excited. It’s a great way to keep seniors active and bring them together to meet new people.” Participants meet at the Children’s Beach boat launch where Community Sailing instructors, usually college-age students, pick everyone up in a skiff and bring them out to the J/105 field boats. Designed for racing, the J/105 yacht is sleek, fast, and fun to sail.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I signed right up,” says Penny Snow. “Next thing I knew I’m on a 35-foot sloop with two terrific skippers.” While participants are free to just sit back and enjoy the wind in their hair, some sailors like Snow want to be more hands on. “Holding the helm in my hands took me back to my first days on the island,” she says. “It was like coming full circle back home.” Indeed, not only did Snow first set eyes on Nantucket aboard a sailboat, but she was also one of Community Sailing’s first volunteers. Now she can enjoy the fruits of her labors by sailing every chance she gets.

This partnership between Nantucket Community Sailing, the Saltmarsh Senior Center, and the Community Foundation for Nantucket is an example of the collaboration required to meet the growing needs of seniors on Nantucket. On any given day, the Saltmarsh Senior Center can be packed to capacity with fifty to seventy-five visitors playing bridge, exercising, and socializing. As the baby boomer generation gets older, more offerings like these will be needed to not only provide basic services, but to fuel the minds, bodies, and souls of those who helped make the island what it is today.

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