Berry calls the Downtown Sailing Center and others like it "the YMCA of sailing" for their access and affordability.

A basic membership costs as little as $245 a year and go up to $850 for those who want to race. The 600-member club has access to some 60 boats and offers free sailing opportunities at least once a month, as well as programs for those with disabilities.

"People come and take their one time on the water with us and say, 'That was really fun,' and then they come back and take a class," Berry said. "And after taking a class, they say, 'How can I get more time on the water?' We can provide that as well."

Juan Peralta and LaKeisha Johnson are proof.

Peralta, who has lived in Baltimore since he was 8, didn't even know how to swim when a representative from the Downtown Sailing Center came to nearby Digital Harbor during his sophomore year. The center was offering an internship program for students to become a sailing instructor trainees.

"Before that, I had the same perceptions that everyone else has of sailing being a sport for the wealthy," said Peralta, now a junior at Maryland who eventually took over running the center's junior program. "The DSC was saying, 'No, it's not — try it out,' and I fell in love with it."

Johnson had sailed at a summer camp at St. Paul's when she was in middle school, but never thought of pursuing it further until she found out about the sailing instructor trainee program. Now a junior at UMBC, the 19-year-old from Parkville has tried to get her friends and family involved in the sport.

"It's rewarding to be exposed to this aspect of sailing, and this aspect of life — things you don't do every day," Johnson said.

Jobson, the president of U.S. Sailing, sees that sea change firsthand.

Recalling the scene at a regatta on one of the upstate New York Finger Lakes earlier this summer, Jobson was impressed with the egalitarian nature of the event.

"There were 44 boats, and I would say that half of the people pitched tents and had cookouts going — the social activities were just as important as the racing," Jobson said. "It kind of told me that sailing was not just a rich man's sport."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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