After the tidal surge, 5 feet of water settled over the main office. Splintered fragments from 22 yachts floated by the docks and lay strewn across the highway. Investment advisor and maritime aficionado Don Shapray gazed toward the now-tame seas, surveying his crippled fleet. Though he and his business weathered 1983's Hurricane Alicia, he knew he couldn't stay in Houston. Memories of weather reports touting calm waters and seasonable heat called him to Jacksonville, where he rebuilt his sailing academy from the ground up. Nearly 30 years later, he's instructed more than 15,000 students in the art of sailing keelboats and sailboats. A team of certified captains helps him train students aboard a fleet of Sonar 23 and Precision 15 boats, each lightweight enough to allow for drag races against other boat gangs with names such as The US Coast Guard.
Southern Sailing's experienced captains sail year-round, but conduct their summertime lessons and cruises at night to avoid the brunt of the day's heat and seasonal storms. They teach sailors to navigate the St. Johns River's calmer waters, drifting up or downstream as the evening wind permits past trees, docks, and riverfront homes. Though they guide novice sailors through basic sailing overviews, instructors can also certify them through a 12-hour bareboat sailing program that begins with an educational DVD starring Don Shapray himself. In each on-water lesson, instructors coach students one-on-one, allowing for personal attention and hands-on instruction. When not teaching, captains ferry visitors through the waterways on chartered cruises, or help customers find their sea legs among a fleet of small yachts.