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Emily Zugnoni: Lessons from my Grandfather

Emily Zugnoni grew up sailing on the Estuary and San Francisco Bay aboard her grandfather’s Tartan 30 Lelo Too.

Emily sailing Lelo Too in Haio during COVID
Emily sailing Lelo Too in the rain during COVID.
© 2020 Emily Zugnoni

In her 20s, she turned her passion for sailing into a career by earning her Coast Guard Merchant Mariner License and instructing at the Alameda Community Sailing Center (ACSC) and at Club Med in Florida. Emily later inherited Lelo Too (and her crew!), and they continue to race on the Oakland-Alameda Estuary weekly. Emily is currently the program director at Alameda Community Sailing Center and an instructor at Club Nautique.

Emily - Prob my first sail with my grandpa, mom, and bobo the clown. No life vests. Yikes!
First sail with my Grampa, Mom and Bobo the Clown. No life vests. Yikes!
© 2020 Emily Zugnoni

Where did you grow up sailing?

I grew up sailing on the Oakland Estuary and SF Bay with my grandfather on his Tartan 30, Lelo Too. In my twenties, I began teaching at Alameda Community Sailing Center (ACSC) and sailing dinghies out of Ballena Bay.

Who taught you to sail?

I’m still learning from co-workers/crew/competitors all the time, but the foundation of my sailing knowledge came from my grandfather, Emile Carles, who kept every Latitude 38 ever printed in his garage, by the way. Though I’d been a passenger for family daysails since I was a toddler, it wasn’t until college, while tagging along on my grandpa’s beer can races, that I developed a curiosity and understanding of how the boat and sails worked.

What kind of sailing do you do now?

After my grandpa passed away in 2017, I inherited Lelo Too (the boat and crew!), and we still race on the Estuary year-round. We’ll do the occasional Bay race, but my weekends are mostly spent teaching dinghy sailing at ACSC or Basic Keelboat at Club Nautique. When the mood strikes, I’ll take an ACSC Laser or FJ out for a joyride off the Encinal Boat Ramp.

What’s your favorite thing about teaching sailing?

My favorite thing is watching students, whether they’re 7 or 70 years old, conquer their fears or self-doubt on the boat and start taking charge and trusting their capabilities.

The most gratifying part of teaching is shifting the perspective of a student who, based on previous exposure to boating, believed sailing is overwhelmingly complex or must involve getting yelled at. It’s fun breaking this technical topic down to the basics for newbies, and proving to them that yelling won’t make the boat go any faster.

Taking some kiddos out for a sail while working in Florida
Emily takes some kiddos out for a sail while teaching in Florida.
© 2020 Emily Zugnoni

What’s your favorite thing about sailing, or why do you sail?

Obviously, there’s something magical about being on the water and in the breeze. When that’s combined with the competitive aspect of racing, it’s my favorite thing ever. I love anticipatory rides from the dock to the start line (even when the start is at the end of my dock). I love when the action is so intense that you can’t possibly focus on anything other than just rounding the next mark. And I love the post-race analysis that takes place on the exhausted ride home from the finish or while sipping Manhattans back at the dock.

When I was a kid, the boat was appealing because my favorite people were there, it felt like an adventure, and there were unlimited chips and cookies. As an adult, the boat still feels like a place where adventure, fun and camaraderie are top priority and all the rules and stress of the world can wait for you on shore.

Can you name some of your favorite sailing books?

The Racing Rules of Sailing!


  1. Linda Newland 4 years ago

    Emily is an excellent instructor. Met her at an all women’s race training regatta at WOWZR at Lake Pleasant, Arizona last November where we were both guest coaches. She inspires her students and readily connects with them giving them confidence and building camaraderie on her team.

  2. Chris Baileu 4 years ago

    Loved reading this! Go Emily!

  3. George Gurrola 4 years ago

    Emily-I also loved reading this. I enjoyed sailing with your grandpa. I raced against him, crewed for him and he crewed for me. He even let you come with me a couple of times in estuary racing.-enjoyed you too. Also good to hear what a great job you are doing with kids at the Alameda sailing school.

  4. Alison 4 years ago

    Emily has an indomitable spirit.
    Her passion for sharing her love of sailing is evident in all she does. We are so fortunate to have her at Alameda Community Sailing Center

    • Kathy W 4 years ago

      I have been an admirer of Emily for ages. She is an amazing sailor, fierce competition and an inspiration to fellow women sailors/aspiring women sailors. It was a joy to read this article about her and her grandfathers relationship!

  5. milly Biller 4 years ago

    I love that you commented on your enjoyment watching people overcome their fear and trepidation after having been yelled at by others who were perhaps compensating ( yelling) because of their own lack of confidence. I had this experience too when I taught at John Beery Sailing School many decades ago. I actually had a class devoted to sailing ” battered wives” who wanted to learn to sail without being yelled at. We had a Ranger 33 to sail ( still one of my favorite boats ) and we had a blast together. Good on you !

  6. Ed & Debbie Huntsman 4 years ago

    We LOVE CAPT Emily! Great sailor, great instructor, great person and great spirit!

  7. Sheldon 4 years ago

    Great to race with Lelo Too these past years. Emile (and George above) were part of the octogenarians who contested in Estuary races. Humbling to have somebody who was a club member longer than you’ve been alive thrash you with better knowledge and skill. Keep going Emily !

  8. Debbie Huntsman 4 years ago

    I had the pleasure of sailing with Emily on a WOWZR! race training boat. Even though she was coaching racing with a woman crew of various skill levels, it was FUN for all aboard her boat. The students adored her. The event organizers did too. Attagirl Emily!

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