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Gulf & Main Magazine

Devoted to Each Other— and Edison Sailing Center

Youngsters gain selfconfidence, along with experiencing the joy and the thrill of the open seas, by participating in Edison Sailing Center courses. Photo by Brian Stromlund.

Ross and Stephanie Webb were tucked away on the Bennett's Fresh Roast porch, a short walk from the Edison Sailing Center on the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers. The Webbs, married for 50 years, were enjoying a Florida fall morning, the sun dappling leaves in adjacent trees as they discussed the sailing center.

Ross, 74, joked of his half-century marriage to Stephanie: “It’s temporary.”

Their marriage, however, began many years before the 1984 opening of the sailing center, which the Webbs helped found. While they chatted, Ross sipped an iced tea and Stephanie drank a hot coffee, which she said was half bold and half decaf. “Makes my cardiologist happy,” Stephanie explained. “Makes my heart happy.”

Edison Sailing Center has been making children happy for more than three decades. How many kids have trooped into the sailing center and ventured out on the water in vessels such as International Dinghies, Optimists and Lasers?

Ross estimated it’s at least 12,000. “That’s conservative,” he then added.

From its inception, the Edison Sailing Center’s mission, as described on its website, has been “a way to bring sailing to Southwest Florida’s young people.”

The center has more than 250 boats for instruction and sailing. Its beginning was modest. “We borrowed six or eight boats from every doctor in town,” Ross noted.

But the program soon took off. Parents wanted their children to learn sailing and self-reliance. Kids enjoyed spending time on the water.

And the original boats?

“We never did return those boats,” Ross admitted.

Although sailing’s image may be as a sport of the middle and upper classes, the sailing center works to teach children from all parts of the community. The center offers outreach programs to the STARS Complex and the Quality Life Center, which are located in Dunbar, Fort Myers’ predominately black neighborhood.

Stephanie said the center has a “sense of paying it forward.” If a kid wants to learn sailing, he or she can do that at the Edison Sailing Center. “Ross has never turned a child away,” she remarked.

Ross and Stephanie are retired from professional careers. Ross was a pharmacist and Stephanie a teacher. Now they devote their energies to the center. “It’s a full-time job,” Ross said.

Teaching sailing is about far more than knowing the differences between port and starboard, bow and stern, and leeward and windward.

“Life skills,” Stephanie said. Young apprentice sailors are taught how to repair and maintain boats. “It’s not just sailing,” she added.

Of course, the sailing center needs far more than Ross and Stephanie to keep going. There is a veritable fleet of volunteers who keep it afloat. If the center needs help with anything, somebody will respond to Ross’ calls. “All Ross has to do is pick up the phone,” Stephanie said.

The center, which receives grants, also needs donations. “That’s how we run this thing,” Ross explained.

As they sat on Bennett’s porch, Ross reflected on sailing’s timeless appeal. “Peace and freedom,” Ross said of being on the water.

Maybe it’s as peaceful as a morning on Bennett’s porch with an iced tea and his wife of 50 years by his side.

Written by Freelance writer Glenn Miller, president of the Southwest Florida Historical Society and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media.