Over the course of 136 years, Marblehead’s Pleon Yacht Club has retained its unique status as a club for — and run by — those 18 and younger.
This tradition began with its first commodore Arthur Goodwin Wood and a group of young people who laid the cornerstone for junior yachting in the United States, making the Pleon the oldest junior yacht club in the world.
One of the club’s golden rules since its earliest days is that the adult presence is not visible during the summer. Parents serve on the board and help organize regattas, but day-to-day operations and problem solving fall to the young flag officers and Pleon members.
“In the era of helicopter parenting, this does remain a space for kids and is a place where kids can make mistakes and learn,” said Pleon Board member Matt Hooks.
While the focus is on fun, the Pleon is also a renowned center for teaching, coaching and competition among youth sailors, which has produced some of our country’s best-known and most influential sailors for generations.
These include world-renowned sailmaker, America’s Cup sailor and Sailing Hall of Fame member Robbie Doyle; two-time Rolex Yachtsmen of the Year, winner of nine world championships and America’s Cup sailor Jud Smith; pioneer in women’s sports Emmy Magoon; and, more recently, America’s Cup sailor Trevor Bird and collegiate All-American and current U.S. Olympic Sailing team member Ian Barrows.
“We also see Pleon as a huge opportunity for youth sailors to consider joining college sailing teams,” Hooks added. “There is a benefit in that at Pleon we can collaborate with other junior sailing programs in town, and we feel that Pleon really can be a place all along the East Coast where junior sailing can thrive.”
Whether or not Pleon alumni have gone on to illustrious careers in the sport of sailing, as youngsters they shared a common experience of gaining leadership experience from a young age that continues to serve them well.
Marblehead High School senior Lane Kaeyer, the Pleon’s 18-year-old commodore, attests that what you learn about yourself and how you grow at Pleon is not always about sailing.
“I came to Pleon at age 9 and at that age I was super quiet and didn’t know any of the other children,” said Kaeyer, who is now a senior on the MHS sailing team and will continue to sail competitively in college. “After my first few days meeting kids from lots of different towns, before long I really came out of my shell.”
She continued, “I have learned that Pleon gives a foundation to all sailors, and we are able to coach kids through any fears. I realize that this gives me an opportunity to give that back now.”
Emily Gearon, 26, noted that the history and sense of connection she finds at Pleon is something that continues for many adults, long after their youth sailing days are past. Now a full-time school teacher, Gearon began at Pleon at the age of 12. She then returned as a coach and now runs its programs.
“I think Pleon does a great deal for a young person, and what I see to this day is that the youth are both having great fun in the moment, but they also take responsibility for the club at a young age,” she said. “Whether they are on the house committee or the flag committee, you see people grow to become confident and empowered kids. That is really rewarding.”
Over time, Pleon has developed a curriculum for every path, including adventure sailing with multiple friends in a boat with instructors to a more advanced racing curriculum.
“As a lifelong activity, we continue to facilitate meaningful opportunities for both younger sailors and teens,” said Pleon board member Jim DaSilva. “The community of sailors and friendships made with kids from all over, not just in town, is what makes a summer at Pleon so special.”