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Master Sailor Paid It Forward

Stovy Brown turned two generations windward

Judith Blanton, widow of one of the sailing center’s early supporters, helps Brown present trophies to the Leonardtown High School team that won the Southern ­Maryland JV Championship in May 2015.

“No student who wanted to join the young sailors has ever been turned down for lack of funds,” says Stovy Brown, who has introduced two decades of Southern Maryland youngsters to sailing.
    To get kids to the water, Brown founded three groups: the Southern Maryland Sailing Association, Sailing Center Chesapeake and, in 1999, the Southern Maryland Sailing Foundation, to support the other two training programs with funding, boats and equipment.
    Brown has spent the better part of his life sailing, ever since his father returned from the Navy in World War II and took young George Stewart Brown onto Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland, preparing him for life as an able-bodied seaman.
    Brown’s skills on the water have served him well in Chesapeake Bay and abroad. In Japan working for IBM, Brown sailed and raced out of Sagami Bay and Nagoya. In Hong Kong, he sailed in his own small boat and crewed with friends on races across the Pacific. Closer to home, he sailed in Bermuda Ocean Races.
    “In the 1972 Bermuda race, the boat suffered electrical failures, engine failures, structural failures — all while we were trying to navigate in 50-knot winds for 36 hours,” he recalls. “The nearly fatal trip proved one cannot rely entirely on electronics. Without a radio, you need to know how to navigate with a sextant.”
    So in 2013, Brown pioneered a weeklong session for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) students using Calvert Marine Museum’s radio-controlled model sailboats.
    “It’s more than playing with toy boats in the harbor,” Brown says. “Students learn how to sail, the science and technology involved.” This weeklong course continues at the Great Mills Science Technical and Mathematics magnet school.
    Beyond learning the difference between halyards and main sheets, tillers and booms, young sailors learn self-reliance, responsibility for oneself and one’s crew and how to keep a boat shipshape.
    “Besides mastering a sport you can do all your life and making lifelong friends,” Brown says, “you develop skills to use for life.”

High Schoolers to Special Olympians
    In 1999, Sailing Center Chesapeake began teaching students from Calvert County’s Patuxent High School, which already offered Naval Junior ROTC courses. The Rausch family of Rausch Funeral Home donated a small day sailor, which sat in a field by the Solomon’s bridge. The school debated whether to sell the boat, but students wanted to learn to sail it. To take possession of their craft, Brown and crew had to chase two copperheads from under the hull.
    For a decade, high schoolers sailed under Brown’s command, practicing after school and competing in weekend regattas against other high school sailors across the region. They sailed two-person FJ sailing dinghies. Designed in the Netherlands in 1955, Flying Juniors hang 100 square feet of mainsail and jib on a 25-foot-high mast. The hull weighs 210 pounds; spinnaker adds 80 square feet of sail.
    The Sailing Center Chesapeake outgrew its space in Solomons and moved to St. Mary’s County. In 2011, it joined with St. Mary’s College to include summer courses in boating safety for middle school students. With an expanded fleet of 18 boats, Sailing Center Chesapeake now sails out of Tall Timbers Marina into both Herring Creek and the Potomac River.
    As well as high- and middle-schoolers, Brown’s students number Special Olympians.
    Just as Brown began recruiting student sailors in Calvert County, he was pulled into Special Olympics sailing. Raleigh, North Carolina, was slated to host the 1999 World Games. But the lake dried up that summer, and sailing was moved to St. Mary’s College. When help was needed to run the games, Brown stepped up. And stayed.
    Overcoming physical and mental challenges, Special Olympics sailors compete both locally and internationally. For safety, one able-bodied sailor must be aboard with each Special Olympic sailor. The two sailors grow in skill and responsibility, sharing their achievement.
    In 2007 Brown was invited to be a Special Olympics sailing judge in Shanghai. In 2011, flying in his students, he judged again at Marathon in Greece near Athens, the port where in 490BC the Greeks drove the Persians back into their ships.

Brown’s Own Challenge
    Now Brown contends with his own challenges: severe crippling from ALS. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
    His own sailboat — Age of Reason, a 351⁄2-foot Bristol — remains berthed in Annapolis. He is dependent upon a wheelchair for movement and braces for support. With cramped fingers that can barely hold a pen, he instead dictates onto his computer with the Dragon Naturally Speaking program.
    “We are fortunate to live in a place where water has been important since the beginnings of Maryland,” Brown says. “And we have helped to expand access to it for a wider variety of ­individuals.”