The International Sailing School offers lessons, club membership and boat access, and moorings on Malletts Bay of famed Lake Champlain in Vermont. We offer residents of Vermont and Canada convenient access to sailing opportunities.
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The International Sailing School, Malletts Bay, Vermont:
On a vacation just prior to for my retirement in August of 2018, I managed to convince my wife to take a
two-day ASA 101 course at ISS. We camped at a local campground, ate at local restaurants and
provisioned at the local grocery and hardware stores, all within a ten-minute walk. Malletts Bay and ISS
had proved to be the perfect place to vacation and disconnect from work stresses.
After passing our intro-course and for the subsequent five days we would arrive each morning to ISS
anxious to take one of the club’s Solings out for a day sail. Robin Doyle, the proprietor of ISS and fondly
referred to as “Neptune”, had simplified the complex rigging of this former Olympic class sailboat, all
without sacrificing the all-important tuning features to create what I consider the perfect introductory
27 foot keel sailboat. Retained from bow to stern: Jib and main halyard tension, jib clew and car
positions, main downhaul, Cunningham, boom vang, outhaul, and backstay tension. Robin’s Solings
were the perfect sailboat to spoil us on the joys and challenges of performance sailing. In retrospect we
hardly knew how to properly utilize all those trimming features. Although a keel boat, a Soling requires
you to hike like you are in a dingy and to utilize both your weight and the tiller extension to efficiently
sail with a neutral helm.
A few weeks later we took an intermediate class and learned how to rig and launch a spinnaker, only to
find ourselves coerced by our instructor to join in on a full day long Soling race around two islands. Boy
did we ever foul that spinnaker, luckily without tearing it. From that fall day on we knew we had to join
Robin Doyle’s ISS club. We had been initiated, trial by fire, to the spinnaker, its pole, its position, topping
lift, fore-guy, guy and spinnaker sheets. So much to learn… so much to master!
By the next spring we had completed ASA 103 and 104 in South Carolina on a 39 foot cruising Beneteau.
Looking back on it, cruising felt a little too sedate for the two of us. We anxiously waited for Vermont to
thaw out and to get back on Robin’s Solings. As spring came, we learned what it takes to commission a
club fleet of sailboats ready for a season. As a needed reality check, ISS provided us a valuable
opportunity to learn about the many not so glamourous facets of sailboat maintenance. Our new club
friends convinced us that the best way to accelerate the sailing learning curve was to join in on
Wednesday night racing. Be forewarned, under racing pressures the learning curve is in actuality an
exponential mistake curve.
Day sailing and racing Solings on Lake Champlain provided us a necessary respite from Covid isolation.
Several times we broke the Covid one fathom social distancing rule while declaring “overlap” and “mark
room.” It was all well worth it considering collegial (and at times not so collegial) crew to crew banter.
Robin and other club members were always mentoring us with tips and challenges that kept our skills
progressing well beyond the excellent ASA curriculum. The invaluable learning experiences provided by
the post-race critiques on the club house porch were invariably a continuation of the collegial racing
banter. What better way to solidify new friendships.
ISS is a unique collection of personalities. I suppose all sailing clubs are. My wife and I will always cherish
the new friendships formed at our club. Unfortunately, after nearly forty years in the same location the
club has lost its lease on the property, due to what I consider as some underhanded chicanery. Our club
is being forced to evolve into a yet to be defined incarnation, if at all. This is all very heartbreaking as
Robin Doyle has provided much more than a sailing school. Over the decades she’s provided a non-
judgmental, accessible, casual, mentoring and nurturing sailing environment that is forever welcoming
to all sailing newcomers. Many of the sailors in the Lake Champlain sailing community and well beyond
can trace their sailing roots to ISS. One of my major regrets is that I didn’t find ISS forty years ago. Thank
you, Robin Doyle, for all you have provided us.
Thirty-five years ago, a young college graduate took over a sailing school in Colchester, Vermont. Robin Doyle grew up on the Connecticut coast in a racing sailing family, and her love of sailing made her want to share the sport with others who would never have even dreamed of world-class sailing so far from an ocean.
She, with the help of her beloved dad, gathered a small fleet of Solings and a few pocket cruisers in need of rescuing, fixed them up, and started teaching. She now has an ASA-award-winning school and club, welcoming beginners, cruisers, racers, club members (boat owners or not), and students from all over the US and Canada and even farther.
She has mentored more than one teenage kid looking to learn by doing; she offers programs to underserved youth and through the local parks and rec department, to people who wouldn’t have the means to try sailing. She has created a community of like-minded club members who are interested in developing their skills and helping others develop theirs.
Robin sets up and runs countless races, having repurposed her own trophies to commemorate these series. She is generous with her time and knowledge and is “Mama Duck” watching over all her little ducklings as they learn to venture farther from their home port.
Her business of owning and maintaining boats for club use allows people to sail without having to worry about doing all that for themselves until they’re ready. When her students pass their Learn To Sail, the cost of renting boats to keep practicing is the best deal going. Hers is a no-frills, pure sailing experience. She teaches her students to SAIL on and off a mooring, not flip a switch and drive off. One protege started the sailing club at the University of Colorado, Boulder; another student sailed a 39’ chartered cruiser to a dock in 25-knot winds after the prop shaft crapped out.
Last year, the residents of Colchester passed a bill to install sewer along West Lakeshore Drive, ostensibly to improve Lake Champlain water quality, but it has increased the value of the property along the bay. It will push out small businesses in favor of rich people getting richer and decrease access to the lake for people of average means.
Now, the International Sailing School and Club, of Malletts Bay in Colchester, VT, is losing its lease as of April 30th, 2023. Robin Doyle is being driven out of business, and the likelihood of her finding another spot in the bay or even on the lake to set up shop is minimal; people can’t find lakefront property, so they buy quarter-million-dollar powerboats to get the same experience.
The landlords gave Robin no warning or ability to meet new terms or negotiate in any way. A wealthy local businessman has somehow taken over the lease; it’s unknown what purpose he has in mind for ISS’s lot, but a boutique hotel comes to mind; or expanding his powerboat accommodations from the business he bought a year or so ago a couple doors down the road.
A GoFundMe page has been set up, to help raise money if there are any legal avenues that can be explored; to move the boats and 35 years’ worth of equipment off the property; to try to find a new location. This link will take you there: https://gofund.me/894c1385. A lot of GoFundMe campaigns go viral and raise much more than their stated goals. Wouldn’t it be nice to raise enough to buy the property outright!? But to do that, the word has to get out.
Losing this business will be much worse than a town losing tax revenue, or all the money it brings in to hotels and restaurants from “away” students; that might get replaced by power boaters. Losing this sailing school will erode the ability to pass on Robin’s love of sailing to people; will erode people learning a skill that will give them a lifetime of joy; will erode the confidence they gain; will erode the camaraderie and community that means so much. This should not be allowed to happen.