De­voted to Each Other— and Edi­son Sail­ing Cen­ter

Ross and Stephanie Webb re­main ded­i­cated to bring­ing sail­ing to SWFL’s young peo­ple

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY GLENN MILLER

Ross and Stephanie Webb were tucked away on the porch of Bennnett's Fresh Roast cof­fee shop, a short walk from the Edi­son Sail­ing Cen­ter on the Caloosa­hatchee in Fort My­ers. The Webbs, mar­ried for 50 years, were en­joy­ing a Flor­ida fall morn­ing, the sun dap­pling leaves in ad­ja­cent trees as they dis­cussed the sail­ing cen­ter.

Ross, 74, joked of his half-cen­tury mar­riage to Stephanie: “It’s tem­po­rary.” Their mar­riage, how­ever, be­gan many years be­fore the 1984 open­ing of the sail­ing cen­ter, which the Webbs helped found. While they chat­ted, Ross sipped an iced tea and Stephanie drank a hot cof­fee, which she said was half bold and half de­caf. “Makes my car­di­ol­o­gist happy,” Stephanie ex­plained. “Makes my heart happy.”

Edi­son Sail­ing Cen­ter has been mak­ing chil­dren happy for more than three decades. How many kids have trooped into the sail­ing cen­ter and ven­tured out on the wa­ter in ves­sels such as In­ter­na­tional Dinghies, Op­ti­mists and Lasers? Ross es­ti­mated it’s at least 12,000. “That’s con­ser­va­tive,” he then added.

From its in­cep­tion, the Edi­son Sail­ing Cen­ter’s mis­sion, as de­scribed on its web­site, has been “a way to bring sail­ing to South­west Flor­ida’s young peo­ple.”

The cen­ter has more than 250 boats for in­struc­tion and sail­ing. Its be­gin­ning was mod­est. “We bor­rowed six or eight boats from ev­ery doc­tor in town,” Ross noted.

But the pro­gram soon took off. Par­ents wanted their chil­dren to learn sail­ing and self-re­liance. Kids en­joyed spend­ing time on the wa­ter. And the orig­i­nal boats? “We never did re­turn those boats,” Ross ad­mit­ted. Al­though sail­ing’s im­age may be as a sport of the mid­dle and up­per classes, the sail­ing cen­ter works to teach chil­dren from all parts of the com­mu­nity. The cen­ter of­fers out­reach pro­grams to the STARS Com­plex and the Qual­ity Life Cen­ter, which are lo­cated in Dun­bar, Fort My­ers’ pre­dom­i­nately black neigh­bor­hood.

Stephanie said the cen­ter has a “sense of pay­ing it for­ward.” If a kid wants to learn sail­ing, he or she can do that at the Edi­son Sail­ing Cen­ter. “Ross has never turned a child away,” she re­marked.

Ross and Stephanie are re­tired from pro­fes­sional ca­reers.

Ross was a phar­ma­cist and Stephanie a teacher. Now they de­vote their en­er­gies to the cen­ter. “It’s a full-time job,” Ross said.

Teach­ing sail­ing is about far more than know­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween port and star­board, bow and stern, and lee­ward and wind­ward.

“Life skills,” Stephanie said. Young ap­pren­tice sailors are taught how to re­pair and main­tain boats. “It’s not just sail­ing,” she added.

Of course, the sail­ing cen­ter needs far more than Ross and Stephanie to keep go­ing. There is a ver­i­ta­ble fleet of vol­un­teers who keep it afloat. If the cen­ter needs help with any­thing, some­body will re­spond to Ross’s calls. “All Ross has to do is pick up the phone,” Stephanie said.

The cen­ter, which re­ceives grants, also needs do­na­tions. “That’s how we run this thing,” Ross ex­plained.

As they sat on Ben­nett’s porch, Ross re­flected on sail­ing’s time­less ap­peal. “Peace and free­dom,” Ross said of be­ing on the wa­ter.

Maybe it’s as peace­ful as a morn­ing on Ben­nett’s porch with an iced tea and his wife of 50 years by his side.

Young­sters gain self­con­fi­dence, along with ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the joy and the thrill of the open seas, by par­tic­i­pat­ing in Edi­son Sail­ing Cen­ter cour­ses.

The calm wa­ters around South­west Flor­ida pro­vide a per­fect train­ing en­vi­ron­ment for young sailors.

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