Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 5:34 pm | Mostly Cloudy 56º


Skip Abed at Home at the Helm of Santa Barbara Sailing Center

The employee turned owner uses a steady hand in guiding the longtime community anchor

The harbor is synonymous with Santa Barbara, a coastal town of water lovers. And the Santa Barbara Sailing Center has grown up meeting the desire of those wanting to get in the water.

Skip Abed, owner of that community staple, comes from an oil family. Growing up, he lived all over the world, including Washington, New York, Tokyo, South America and Cape Cod. He attended Dunn School in Santa Ynez and took a memorable spring break sailing trip provided by the Sailing Center.

Abed recalls sailing out to the Channel Islands and loving it. Realizing he could make a career of his new passion, he was hooked for a life in the harbor.

Abed worked at the Sailing Center for eight years before buying it and taking it over with his family. He says working there first was invaluable for getting to know the business inside and out.

As a result, he says he has seen steady growth annually, averaging 5 percent to 7 percent. While 2009 was a slower year, Abed says 2008 was strong and balances it out. He also controls his overhead by owning all 50 of his boats, including sailboats, motorboats and kayaks.

The Sailing Center has a diversified income stream. Abed estimates that 30 percent comes from the Double Dolphin, which includes weddings, receptions and dinner cruises; he sees another 30 percent from camps and adult certifications; and 30 percent from boat rentals, charters and Sailing Club dues.

Abed has added services to the Sailing Center, including kayaking, club memberships, children’s sailing and kayaking camps, jazz dinner cruises and sea lion viewing tours. Some companies have enlisted the Sailing Center for corporate team-building excursions.

Abed created a package that includes chartering several ships out to Santa Catalina with certified Coast Guard captains. They teach employees the basics of sailing, then turn them loose for a simulated America’s Cup. He has plans to upgrade the gift shop and further expand the center’s offerings later this year.

While the business has many components, Abed says teaching sailing is his favorite.

“People come in nervous about sailing, but slowly we work to help them overcome that feeling and build confidence,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see that turnaround.”

He says he also enjoys having several families learn together and to see the bonding that happens as they collaborate to run the vessel.

Basic certification can happen as quickly as three or four days. Attendees learn a host of basics, such as rules of the water, docking, parking, the parts of the sailboat and man-overboard drills. With the American Sailing Association certification, sailors can rent boats as long as 26 feet and day sail the coast. Abed says he never stops learning and calls sailing a lifelong sport.

The Sailing Center has a mixed customer base. Abed says his local audience stretches from Los Angeles and Calabassas in the south to Cuyama in the north. Locals both charter boats and utilize lessons and day rentals. Additionally, he sees a significant amount of tourist traffic. Historically, Brazilian and European tourists were most common, but in the past few years, he has seen many Russians as well.

Click here for more details about the Santa Barbara Sailing Center.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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