Sailing Association Celebrates Significant Milestone

On June 29 from 4 to 8 p.m. in Cambridge, the Eastern Shore Sailing Association (ESSA) celebrates a half century of enhancing the leisure time of sailing enthusiasts all over the Eastern Shore. The event’s theme is a throwback to an earlier era, with 70’s inspired food and dress as a fun way to mark the occasion.

Sailors of all ages participate in weekly races in Cambridge or Tyaskin.

ESSA’s long success pays homage to a group of volunteers, including founding Commodore Donald McShane, who contributed their time and talents to creating a club with lasting power. Established in 1974, there were 76 charter members as the club’s by-laws were drafted. Dues were $5 and weekends were busy with sailing. At one point the organization reached nearly 200 members in two fleets, representing 125 boats.

The benefits of membership remain the same as they were 50 years ago: competitive sailing with like-minded people who become mentors and friends, with a whole lot of fun thrown in. While ESSA is not your traditional yacht club, its two fleets – the Choptank Fleet in Cambridge and Tangier Fleet in Tyaskin – sponsor weeknight buoy racing, special events over longer courses, day sails and cruises around the Bay.

“This is a special year to be commodore of this sailing organization,” exclaims Commodore Elizabeth Principe. “The sport of sailing has changed little over the years. This organization allows local sailors to enjoy competitive sport on the water, improve sailing and tactical skills, enjoy the breeze, sunshine and the water rushing past the bow. On occasion, nature surprises us with dolphins, sea turtles and birds working a school of fish. ESSA pulls this together and couples it with camaraderie and fellowship. Sailors make lifelong friends and learn from each other.”

Bruce Franz, an avid sailor who serves as ESSA’s historian, is proud about both the well-attended races and cruises but also with “landlocked” functions as well. Even in the off season, members gather for meetings, sailing films and seminars. Bruce said, “Plans for the future include a Memorial Day Invitational as well as the development of a youth sail training program.”

You don’t have to be a captain to join ESSA as the organization welcomes crew too.

Getting today’s youth interested in sailing is a must to keep ESSA viable for the next 50 years. Now more than ever, young people are spending more time indoors and in front of a computer. ESSA is spreading the word that sailing is an exhilarating and social sport and that there are options for those who are interested in trying it. While some can’t afford to own a sailboat, they can still sail as crew.

Past Commodore Paul West said, “The bottom line as far as challenges to keep ESSA afloat for the next 50 years is that we just need to promote sailing in general every chance we get and invite people out for a sail to show them the ropes (puns intended).”

Elizabeth encourages people new to sailing or the ESSA to participate in a Wednesday evening sail. “We encourage new sailors to come on out and give it a try. We have established three classes of starts on Wednesday evenings to accommodate all levels of sailing: Racers, Cruisers, and Novice. We have seasoned sailors who are willing to come alongside the novice or new boat owner and coach them along.”

Following a Wednesday evening sail, sailors have the option to participate in an after-race dinner at one of the pre-scheduled restaurants in town. Elizabeth adds, “This is a great opportunity to build relationships with fellow sailors and get some pointers or get pointed at!”

The 50th Birthday Bash will be held at the Cambridge Elks Lodge on June 29 from 4 to 8 p.m. with live music by Pete Baker. It is an opportunity to recognize the elders who started this organization and the newer members who still make sailing fun and competitive today.

Elizabeth adds, “As we move forward, we remember where we came from and the people who helped us get here. We recognize the people who are driving this organization and sport forward into the future and having a ton of fun on the way. The benefits of membership are great – sailing, mentorship, friendship and fun.”

Tickets are available online at Cost is $20 each. For any questions or to learn more, visit or email

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