Captain guides helm of Montana’s only sailing school

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Capt. Genevieve Evans is pictured at Dayton Yacht Harbor. She operates the state’s only American Sailing Association-accredited sailing school. (Mackenzie Reiss/Daily Inter Lake)

There’s nothing quite like a sailor’s life. The phrase alone begets visions of adventure, of pristine white boats cruising the open sea, exploring new shorelines wherever the wind may blow — and let’s not forget the rum.

It’s a life that called to Capt. Genevieve Evans, 41, of Polson.

She was just 10 years old when she fell in love with the sport. As a child, she spent summers at her grandmother’s cabin on Flathead Lake and the neighbor happened to own a sailboat. Through a combination of instruction and “a lot of self-guided learning,” Evans learned how to take the helm with confidence.

She loved being in touch with the elements and traveling by the power of the wind without the rumbling of an engine to disrupt the peace she found on the water.

But it would be many years before Evans returned to the sport seriously. She left Montana in 1993 to study auto mechanics, and later business and marketing, in Idaho. She graduated and began a career as a grocery store remodeling specialist, which took her to Albertson’s locations across the Northwest. But when the Great Recession hit in 2008, it also ushered in a new chapter for Evans.

“When the economy crashed, I found myself a little bit lost and wasn’t quite sure what my next move was,” she said.

After Evans lost her job, she thought back to the young sailor she’d taken lessons from while vacationing in the Bahamas.

It was time for a change. She sold off many of her possessions and put the rest into storage so she could spend the next year sailing in an Atlantic paradise.

“It’s basically hippie camping on water,” she said, smiling. “We’d load the boat up with as much canned food as we could .. but most days were spent fishing because the more fish we caught, the longer we could [afford to] stay.”

It wasn’t all smooth sailing — Evans and her sailing partner experienced their share of dicey moments. Once, in the Bahamas, their boat came unhooked from its mooring in the middle of the night. As the boat drifted, the propeller got caught in another line, forcing Evans’ partner to dive into the water, with a knife between his teeth, to cut them free.

Another heart-pounding incident transpired while Evans was ashore in the British Virgin Islands.

“I was on the beach ... and I saw the mooring broke on the boat. Nobody on the boat and I was on the beach,” Evan said.

She high-tailed it down the beach, sand flying, in pursuit of the 47-foot catamaran.

“There were boats everywhere — crashing was imminent,” she said.

Fortunately for Evans, she was able to swim out and start the boat before any major damage occurred.

“Accidents and danger are ... possible, but there’s a lot of things you can do to prevent that,” Evans explained. “I’ve heard many sailors quote before that sailing is hours and hours of boredom, coupled with moments of sheer panic because it can be just fine and then all of a sudden it’s not.”

But when it’s good, it’s really good.

EVANS HAS wiled away hours snorkeling through reefs, spear-fishing and socializing with other island-hoppers.

“We used to have rum tasting parties, potlucks on the beach on Long Island in the Bahamas. Get on the radio first in the morning —‘Potluck on the beach at 5 ‘o’ clock. Bring a fifth of your favorite rum and a salad,’” she said.

Through her sailing school, Evans hopes to inspire more land lubbers to take up the sport. She opened Flathead Lake Sailing School, located at Dayton Yacht Harbor, in 2016. The school is the only American Sailing Association-accredited sailing school in Montana. The school offers multiple levels of sailing courses along with instructor training, boat rentals and charter excursions. No boating is experience is required — she even offers a one-day Discover Sailing Clinic to give newcomers a taste of the sport, and the chance to take the helm of a 22-foot Capri sailboat. Other courses are given over two days, including basic keelboat sailing and coastal sailing.

In the winter months, Evan operates a parallel venture, Sailing Adventure Vacations Educations — Virgin Island Sailing, which opened last fall.

She finds the greatest happiness watching timid new sailors grow their skills and confidence on the water.

“Once they get it and they’re on the helm and this overwhelming smile comes over their face — they can’t help it. They cannot help it,” she said. “That’s a good moment.”

The sailing school has also helped bring a younger crowd to the docks, Evans said. She’s noticed an uptick in youthful sailors buying boats and taking part in the Saturday morning races organized by the South Flathead Yacht Club.

“There’s younger people buying boats, there’s younger people sailing in the races … we’ve made it more accessible to the younger group and more affordable,” Evan said. “I think it has a stigma at lot of times that it’s an expensive sport …. We try to make it so that people can afford to come out and do it and get their independence and be able to sail for generations.”

To learn more about the Flathead Lake Sailing School visit www.flatheadlakesailingschool.com or call 406-207-2408. The school operates out of Dayton Yacht Harbor, located at 299 C Street in Dayton.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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