Volunteer Spotlight: John Bongiovanni
In an era perma-jacked to the information mainline, where your phone can think, where apps get you laid, and where the hive mind sees everything you do from a dingy room in Utah, the Cal Sailing Club is a bastion of the if-it-aint-broke-don’t-fix-it mentality. We fear change on an institutional level, and nowhere is this more apparent than our presence on the internet. The club built a website only in 2009, and up until recently it had that retro DOS look you could imagine Mathew Broderick mistakenly launching a nuclear weapon from. In the past year, however, the site has undergone not one but two cyber makeovers: it now glistens with a slick sheen, flaunting an intuitive layout and drop down menus which ooze e-credibility.
Like most large CSC undertakings, the push to modernize the form and function of the club’s virtual façade arose from the concerted effort of a few key players. One of the largest contributions came from member John Bongiovanni, a fairly recent addition to the club who, along with working on the website, has put in an astronomical amount of time volunteering in other ways. For his valiant efforts John “Goodjohn,” as his name works out in Italian pseudo-translation, was awarded a lifetime membership at the latest GMM. I ventured down to the club this past Saturday to talk with John. True to form, he was skippering the only boat out for lessons. I managed to corner him as he came in, and we sat down to discuss his life, his work on the website, and his time at the club.
Young John Heeds the Call of The Wind
John began sailing in the mid ‘80s at none other than the only club in the world which can even start to begin to want to think of itself nearly half as cool as CSC: Community Boating in Boston. He recalls that the club operated along similar lines to our own, where members teach members, and cut his teeth sailing their Mercury 15s on the Charles River. Upon moving to the San Fransisco Bay, he expanded his sailing palette. He began renting lasers from a club at Shoreline Park, and would venture up to Sausalito to sail keelboats with Dave Garrett’s ASA certified program. He began flirtations with cruising, chartering a boat in Southern California to sail to Catalina, and doing many overnight voyages around the bay.
A Tale of Two Cals
Don’t start cheering just yet; John initially approached our neighborly nemeses at Cal Adventures to ease his wind withdrawals. John served his time next door during the 2013 season but, alas, met with the same fate as every burgeoning Cal Adventurion: winter closure. He amusedly notes that only toward the end of the season did anyone there hint at the possibility of joining the club next door. Cheeky buggers.
And so, on November 13th, 2014, John walked next door to tune in, turn on, and sheet out on the wavy grooves that are the Cal Sailing Club. His first lesson was with none other than his lifetime membership co-recipient, the undisputed titan of teaching, the imperator of instruction, the sultan of students, Mike Sherrell. Given his extensive sailing background and propensity for volunteer work, John was able to get his junior skipper “the first day there was wind” that November. He has since become a fixture in our community.
Like most CSCers, John’s answer to the question, “what do you like about the club?” is a rabid “everything,” eyes ablaze with cultish devotion. Of course he loves our unique and strong community, but more concretely he appreciates the club’s extremely high standards, extremely good sailors, and our bitchin’ ass boats (his words were actually “technical aspects,” but I got what he was getting at). He says being at the club, and especially participating in this season’s advanced dinghy classes, has immensely improved his skills on the water. He stays loyal to the Bahias, and enjoys a range of conditions. He is also a self-confessed knot nerd, having taught himself the black art of splicing with the Brian Toss video found in the clubhouse.
But Enough About John, let’s Talk About You…
…or rather, what John has done for you. Between useful splicing work, a devoted teaching regimen, and his work on the website, John has amassed a whopping 500 hours of volunteer work at CSC. My smart phone told me that this works out to roughly 10 hours a week since joining the club a year ago! In the long tradition of marlinspike seamanship, he has hand-spliced numerous essential lines for our fleets, including cunninghams, bow-painters for the Bahias, and spring lines for the keelboats. He has also organized and taught two seminars on splicing, where he has expounded this ancient tradition to those members too lazy to watch the Brian Toss video themselves.
Teaching is in fact essential to John’s philosophy and being. He believes in the idea that “you can’t know it until you teach it.” And far from merely providing us with feel-good sound bites, he has proven his commitment to this ideal with hours of teaching for the club.
Sometimes, however, the teacher becomes the student. And other times, the teacher becomes the student even while remaining the teacher, which results in some kind of auto-pedagogical paradox that leaves you feeling a little dirty inside. Of course that could be the club wetsuits, but I digress. The point is John actually taught himself web design to work on the club’s website, a monumental task which has produced the site we know and love today. As for the project, John is quick to point out that he did not singlehand through this perilous voyage: the actual implementation was undertaken by the computer whiz dream team of Jamie Prieto, Stefano Mafulli, and of course our fearless protagonist.
A Sailing Club For the 21st Century
Major innovation within our humble organization is often met with the rallying cry “it’s not in the spirit of the club.” CSC relishes its own modus operandi like some sacred, virginal rite, and this is the reason our clubhouse devotes an entire wall’s worth of dilapidated binders to storing information we could probably fit on a floppy disk. While white cards are seemingly here to stay, John and I discussed some projects that digitize aspects of the club’s operation, a few of which have already gone through pilot stages. One such project was allowing members to take the junior skipper written test online. John was able to implement this plan over the summer with the help of dayleader Joshua. In theory, it streamlines the administering and grading process, affording the dayleader more time to focus on the water. Of course it also deprives the potential-junior in question of a quintessential CSC experience, namely, asking for a simple clarification of a test question and receiving as an answer fifteen different opinions that leaves them more confused than when they started. So progress is slow, but John is confident we can adapt.
Good John and Good Luck…
The days when junior skippers will telepathically control cyborg super-sailors from the comfort of their gelatinous matrix pods are a long ways off. We remain a decidedly old fashioned organization, although the new website and the internet beyond it is a great tool with untapped potential. If CSC is your grandpa, then the website is his new iPhone, and John Bongiovanni is the guy that went to Best Buy. On behalf of the club, I’d like to say a final thanks to John for all his hard work. Now can you help us install that iWindsurf app?