Featured Sailing School: Erie Islands Sailing School

By: Schools

Erie Islands Sailing School was founded over ten years ago by Tim McKenna and purchased last year by former students Kent and Tricia Purvis.  How cool is that to have former students continue to help teach others?  The school has always been based on education, safety, and fun for our students.

This Month’s Featured School is Erie Islands Sailing School

Where They Sail

Erie Island Sailing School is the premier sailing school for American Sailing in Lake Erie. Erie Islands offers two sailing locations, with classes out of Cleveland (Edgewater Marina) and Sandusky (Safe Harbor Sandusky). In Sandusky, introductory classes sail in the protected waters of the Sandusky Bay then advance to the lake and out to the islands of Lake Erie (Kelley’s Island, Put-In-Bay, and Middle Bass Island) for the intermediate to advanced courses.

The Sandusky Bay area is a very well-protected bay great for the novice to learn the basics.  The islands provide a great opportunity to practice docking or grabbing a mooring ball. You have the nightlife of the famous Put-In-Bay or take a step back to a more relaxing night on Kelley’s or Middle Bass Islands. For a break from your sailing adventure there is the amusement park Cedar Point.  This will be in view all during classes whetting the appetite of coaster enthusiasts.

In Cleveland, the break wall offers protection for the beginning sailor. As our student’s progress, we extend beyond the break wall and navigate along the Middle Basin of Lake Erie to different marinas to support the Advanced Coastal classes.


What They Teach

We are an adult learn to sail American Sailing School. Started by our Founder Tim McKenna over 10 years ago, the school has helped over 700 students learn to sail. ASA 101 and 103 are taught at both locations. This summer we will be offering a 101-104 class at both the Sandusky and Cleveland locations. This is a new addition this season for the Cleveland location and is made possible due to a partnership with Riverfront Yacht Sales. Students will have the opportunity to learn on a newer Jeanneau 349 that was featured at the Cleveland Boat show this year. 

Additional courses include the Navigation ASA 105 class which we typically conduct during the winter months to whet the appetite of the boater that spring is around the corner. We also have ASA 106, ASA 111, and ASA118 classes offered.  In the past, we have offered a vacation-like offering in the South to include ASA 114, The Cruising Catamaran class. This may be bundled with ASA 104 for a weeklong vacation of learn to sail.  Erie Islands is working with other partners to bring the Catamaran class to Lake Erie. We hope in the future to be able to make this a possibility with an easier introduction of Catamaran Cruising in the Great Lakes. 

Meet Their Instructors 


Our instructors are what make our school.  Many of our instructors have been with us for many years and love to teach.  Each instructor has a unique portfolio of experience from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean, intercoastal sailing, and ocean passages.  As the school grows so does the need for additional instructors. We have seen over the last year that COVID has pulled people outside and pushed them faster to follow dreams that may have only been on a “bucket list”.   We have plans to add additional instructors this year to be able to offer more classes to those wanting to learn. Our current instructors include:

  • Captain Tim McKenna – Founder
  • Captain Alan Jensen
  • Captain Dana Ash
  • Captain Jere Austin
  • Captain Jeremiah Swetel
  • Captain Rick Billheimer
  • Captain Bobby Durkin


Their Programs 


In addition to classes, Erie Islands have offered special women’s events such as sailing classes for women only and docking so women who might be sailing with their husbands can be more comfortable behind the wheel or tiller. The school has also worked with the Girl Scouts to provide learning opportunities to youth and hopes to continue to develop High Adventure opportunities that further Scouting and other youth organizations may provide as experiential learning.

Erie Islands has also provided corporate team-building events as a way for companies to offer unique opportunities to strengthen teamwork among employees.  


Their Story 

Next to our staff, our location is what makes our school to unique.  It’s like the Caribbean of the North. You can have calm water and stiff winds.  The Bay, shipping channels, and Lake Erie Islands provide a perfect location for learning.  If you can sail on Lake Erie, you can sail anywhere. 

This season brings the addition of a Vagabond 47 sailboat to the Erie Islands fleet. A beautiful ketch-rigged vessel with teak decks and a most stunning look across the water. Sunset sails on “The Black Pearl” is a terrific way to introduce students to sailing before a class or offer comfortable overnight accommodations for guests while taking a class to feel what a liveaboard could be.

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