Sarah Cannon wants Buffalo to experience its waterfront through sailing.
Her vehicle is the non-profit Sea Fever project, which is expanding beyond its initial mission of offering boat-building skills to at-risk youth to projects aimed at bringing everyone to the water's edge.
As the new acting executive director, Cannon brings a knowledge of community boating to Buffalo. A native of Youngstown, Cannon is a veteran sailor who eight years ago developed a community sailing program for Newport, R.I. There are now 32 other programs across the country modeled after the Sail Newport Sailing Center.
"This program (in Buffalo) is being developed specifically for Buffalo," Cannon said. "It's not being modeled after Newport."
Buffalo, of course, isn't the sailing town that Newport is but it does have miles of unused waterfront and many citizens who grow up not knowing that the water at their feet can bring them a lifetime of enjoyment.
"Buffalo is wide open to new ideas and that's an asset here," Cannon said.
With the support of Sea Fever's original sponsors, Cannon has a plan already showing results. Most visible is the Sea Lion, a replica of a 17th century merchant ship that is attracting visitors to the Erie Basin Marina. The ship has become a living classroom, offering reenactments, tours and storytelling.
Sea Fever's motto -- "From Small Ships to Tall Ships" -- reflects its core mission of giving young people in other sailing programs the opportunity to learn even more about ships in a historic setting.
Most of Sea Fever's new program will be in place by next May. Cannon is hoping the city will support a proposal to establish a Buffalo Community Boating Center at Erie Basin, where adults and children can rent sailboats and take lessons.
The center will generate revenue to help support other programs, such as Peer to Pier, an after-school mentoring program where junior high and high school students learn to build a boat or work with canvas. Sea Fever also hopes to build on its youth sailing camp, where this summer some 300 youngsters are learning how to sail. A new program is "Making Waves," which aims to use a specially adapted sailboat to give children and adults with physical challenges the opportunity to sail.
Sea Fever has also changed how it serves at-risk and inner city youth. Rather than have programs solely for them, Sea Fever is opening its programs to everyone, with scholarships to needy youth. Contributors can sponsor a youth for camp or a day's visit to Sea Lion.
"We're recasting our programs," Cannon said. "We're broadening our base and offering more opportunities to more individuals."
Consequently, Sea Fever is reconfiguring one of its original programs -- to teach boat building skills to unemployed adults. That program suffered from a poor local market in boat-building jobs. The boat building will now be done by teens and the boats they build will be used in the summer camp. Sea Fever retains its charter sponsors in the Buffalo State College Center for Watercraft Studies, the Buffalo Yacht Club, Clarkson Center, RCR Yachts Inc. and WholeSail Yachting Products.
Sea Fever's recasting also means that the group will be selective about the boats it accepts from donors. Cannon said she's now in need of 24-foot Shark sailboats, which will be used in the rental fleet, and small power boats that will be used to chase boats in all on-water programs. There will also be individual and family memberships, which will entitle members to discounts on all programs and rentals.
Cannon wants Buffalo youth to see sailing as another option, like baseball and basketball.
"Sailing has been traditionally a complex sport," she said. "People don't know it's fun, affordable and they can do it too."
The Buffalo Yacht Club will donate a portion of the proceeds from the 20th Annual Queen City Regatta on Aug. 9 and 10 to Sea Fever. The event, a summer tradition among Buffalo sailors, starts Aug. 8, as boats dock at the club's Point Abino station. There's a skippers' meeting at 8 a.m. on Aug. 9, with racing in Abino Bay. On Sunday, the boats will race back to Buffalo for the Mayor's Cup.
If you're looking for ways to enjoy the Buffalo waterfront through boating, check out the Buffalo Waterfront Festival on Aug. 2 at Erie Basin Marina (most events will be held there). Among the activities are these maritime attractions: Buffalo State College Watercraft exhibit, Sea Lion, canoe rentals, knot-tying demonstrations and tours of the Buffalo Lighthouse and the Buffalo Naval & Servicemen's Park.