About Us

Who are the Sea Shells

The Santa Barbara Sea Shell Association is a group of about 50 families in Santa Barbara who are continuing a 68-year tradition of teaching young people to race sailboats in the best way possible: by putting them on the water, by themselves, in their very own boat.

A Brief History

Founded in 1948, the Santa Barbara Sea Shell Association  SBSSA was incorporated in 1955 as a non-profit public benefit corporation, organized for the specific purpose of fostering healthy child development and close family units by teaching, developing and encouraging youth sailing skills.

Membership in the Santa Barbara Sea Shell Association has ranged from 15 to over 100 skippers.  In 2013 we expect about 60 skippers representing approximately 50 families.

The original Sea Shell was a wooden kit boat. In 1991 the Association selected the US Sabot by Catalina as an additional one-design class that could be sailed by Sea Shell skippers.  The US Sabot is essentially a fiberglass version of the original Sea Shell, but both lighter and faster.

In 2012 following a steady decline in numbers the wooden Sea Shell boat was dropped as a ‘Class” boat by the association.

The Sea Shell experience

The season begins in early April with three instructional meetings designed to teach the fundamentals of sailing to new skippers, and more advanced topics such as right-of-way rules, trimming, and racing strategy to the returning skippers.

New skippers join the Novice class and sail with a parent onboard to help them learn the basics of getting the boat around the buoys and safely back to shore.  (If a parent is not an experienced sailor, any other adult or older sailor can accompany the Novice skipper.)

After 10 completed races, new skippers are ready to move into the 'C' class, and from there to 'B' and 'A' classes.  Thus skippers are divided not by age but by experience.

Races are held every Sunday through October (except August), and there are 2 trips every year for out-of-town racing: Mission Bay in San Diego, Lopez Lake for a camping / sailing weekend. 

Skippers are encouraged to participate in all the races they can, but there are no requirements that they attend every Sunday, or race in every race when they do attend.  The emphasis is always on fun and sportmanship.

A Typical Sailing Sunday

At about 11.30 each Sunday the small boat launch ramp at the far end of the harbor starts to fill up with families arriving and rigging their US Sabots.  The boats, most of which are stored right next to the boat ramp in our "condos," are wheeled over to the ramp and rigged.  Experienced skippers sail around to the beach, but new skippers can always find someone to help them "bring the boat around."  On a good day we'll get 30 or more boats out there - a stirring sight to see that many boats getting rigged all at once!

By 1:00 all skippers have sailed around and signed in for the day, and the mast meeting begins -- a few announcements, things to watch out for, "Did anybody find a blue sweatshirt on the beach last week," that sort of thing. 

Then the race course for the first race is laid out, and the countdown to the first race starts with a toot on an air horn.  "A" skippers start first, followed 3 minutes later by the "B" skippers, the "C" skippers, and the Novices. 

Following the same right-of-way rules as any sailing race, the skippers duck and weave at the start, trying to get that all-important good start without hearing the dreaded "over early" call from the beach.  Then all high-tail it for the A mark, with cries of "Starboard!" and "Room at the mark!" reminding those who need it who has the right of way.

While the skippers are racing, parents who don't wish to pace the shore shouting encouragement and (for parents of Novice skippers only) advice relax and watch the races.  Several parents man each of our two safety boats in each race, righting boats that capsize and occasionally untangling over-zealous skippers from the marks.

Each Sunday features 4 races - 3 for the kids, and one race for the adults who care to participate.  Then it's back to the boat ramp to de-rig, cart the boats back to the condos or the cars, and we're usually on our way home by 4:00.