Raising Sails and Realizing Dreams

Captain Genevieve Evans is in her second summer teaching people to sail on Flathead Lake, and the momentum for such opportunities is only increasing

By Molly Priddy
Genevieve Evans and her dog Daisy, pictured while sailing at the Dayton Yacht Harbor on Flathead Lake on Aug. 17, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

DAYTON — Captain G was the master and commander of the Capri 22 sailboat as it sliced through the waters of Flathead Lake, the main sail and jib aloft in the slight summer breeze.

Sure, it wasn’t a strong wind because of rare cloud cover on Thursday morning last week, and the boat was sailing along at about 3 knots (or roughly 3.5 mph), but that didn’t change the fact that she could make a large watercraft move without motors or paddles, using just the meager wind to wander around the Dayton marina bay.

“One thing’s for sure,” Captain G said, smiling at the unseasonably calm morning, “and that’s you can’t fake sailing.”

As the owner and operator of Sailing Adventure Vacations — Montana’s sole American Sailing Association-accredited sailing school — Captain G, whose given name is Genevieve Evans, knows plenty about sailing in all types of waters and winds.

At Sailing Adventure Vacations, Captain G has built a business in which she can train potential sailors about the basics of the boats and getting around, to the point that they can then leave and rent boats on their own elsewhere. She also has the skills and certifications to teach sailing instructors; Sailing Adventure Vacations now has five instructors whom she has personally tutored and mentored.

Of course, classes also stretch into the advanced areas of sailing, but experience isn’t necessary. The point of the school is to make more sailing accessible to more people, she said, and allow them the experiences of freedom and adventure that she’s found at the helm.

“It’s been really popular; it’s blowing up,” Captain G said of her school. “Every weekend this summer has been booked with classes.”

Courses at the school are varied and chock full of information: ASA-certified courses include basic keelboat sailing, basic coastal cruising, bareboat cruising, coastal navigation, advanced coastal cruising, and cruising catamarans.

Other courses include those for women only, for youth, for couples, private lessons, racing courses, corporate team-building courses, sunset cruises, spinnaker courses, day-sail charters, weekend and weekday courses, and more. She’s also in the process of developing a youth camp.

There’s really a class for everyone, Captain G said, and even those classes can be tailored more specifically for each encounter. For example, she said people show up for class to learn but also to bring friends and family. In that instance, Captain G not only teaches them to sail, but also the basics of how to effectively run a crew.

Teaching people is rewarding, she said, because it’s all part of a nautical journey in her life. Captain G grew up in Butte, but spent weekends at her grandma’s place on Flathead Lake. She learned to sail at the Dayton Yacht Harbor in 1989, but didn’t think about it as a career option until much later in 2010, when the recession was rocking the economy.

At the time, she was working for Albertson’s Grocery Stores as a construction project manager for store renovations all over the country. But the economy crashed, and so did the demand for construction, and Captain G was laid off.

It gave her an unexpected break to take time for introspection, she said.

“I’ve been working every day since I was 16 years old,” Captain G said. “I just didn’t know what I really wanted to do.”

By chance, a friend invited her to sail around the Bahamas, and Captain G decided to take the plunge. She sold everything and moved onto the boat, where she lived for the next year. About halfway through that adventure, she had an epiphany.

“I thought, ‘What do you mean people are captains and get paid for this life?’” Captain G remembered thinking.

From there, she pursued her captain’s license and certifications with vigor. There are many rigorous requirements, such as 720 days of logged time, with 180 of those days spent at least 25 miles offshore.

She worked where and when she could, taking any open position on a vessel to earn experience. She worked as a chef, as a mate, and on crews before finally going to captain school in St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

After earning her license and the title “captain,” she spent eight years teaching in the Caribbean. Captain G realized she didn’t want to be the leader of a luxury cruise; she wanted to engage with people interested in sailing.

But like most who have lived here and put down roots, Captain G wanted to get back to Montana.

“As I developed my sailing career, I thought, ‘A sailing school needs to happen on Flathead Lake,’” she said.

She worked hard at her other business, Genevieve’s Hot Pies, in which she sells pies and tartlets made from local fruits, to pay for her sailing habit, and eventually worked out an agreement with Buck Love at the Dayton Yacht Harbor. She rents his boats, and he lets her use the space to teach in the marina.

Classes are all about safety first, and students also learn about the lake’s microclimates and various weather patterns. Overall, Captain G enjoys instilling the sailing bug in others and watching them take to the water.

“Teaching sailing is just a blast,” she said. “People are there to realize their dreams.”

For more information on Sailing Adventure Vacations, visit www.sailingadventure.vacations or call (406) 207-2408.

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