A few days ago, I was anxiously anticipating our First Sail Workshop and sifting through my thoughts beforehand. Today, I’m happy to say we completed the First Sail Workshop and I’m ready to reflect on the experience. The weather on Saturday couldn’t have been better – high 70’s with a good amount of wind, tons of sunshine and not a drop of rain. The stage was set for a great day!
We arrived at the class location about 30 minutes early, as it wasn’t a very easy task to find the actual location for the class. We had to actually leave the gated-off, wristband only show area in order to get to the classroom. Once inside, the class was held what appeared to be a small library-type room, outlined with bookshelf upon bookshelf of sailing books. There were a few rows of folding chairs set up in the middle of the room. We signed a waiver releasing SailTime from any liabilities and waited for our straggler classmates to arrive.
We reviewed our class materials – a SailTime brochure that gave details about additional sailing courses offered; a Beneteau First 22 sales brochure that detailed the boat’s specifications; and a 36-page “Learn To Sail with the American Sailing Association” brochure. Our instructor, Ken, used the next 45 minutes to breeze through the 36-page pamphlet at lightening speed, skipping the majority of the pages and touching briefly on a few items including the parts of a sail boat, points of sail, jibing, techniques used in recovery of a man overboard and right-of-way. And, just like that, we were given our boat assignments and instructed to board our vessels.
While I felt like a heard some new things during Ken’s rapid fire instruction, I didn’t feel any more prepared to hop in a sailboat and get underway than I had before walking into the classroom. I’m not really sure what more I expected from a 45 minute classroom experience, but, apparently it was more than what I got. Walking out of the classroom toward our vessel, I felt really unprepared and uneducated.
It’s probably important to mention that I’m not afraid to call myself a slow learner, especially when it comes to things that require me to physically engage in new skills. I have always excelled at classroom instruction, test-taking and being able to regurgitate information after receiving instruction, but, actually applying what I learned takes me some time. I need time to think through things, to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing so I can make it make sense in my head. And I definitely need time to practice things until I’m confident I’ve got it, sometimes practicing some seemingly simple things over and over again. Flash cards and skill drills are my best friends when it comes to really learning something new. So, it was no surprise to me that I felt pretty unprepared walking out of the 45 minute lecture. But, it teach me a pretty important lesson – picking the right instructor that will go slow and has a ton of patience is going to be crucial for me moving forward.
Our vessel assignment was Boat 1 with Captain Bill. The only other classmate assigned to our boat was a middle-aged woman named Nancy, who crews on racing sailboats quite often and has her own 14′ sailboat. I’m happy to report that my only big preconceived notion about sailing was correct! We were on a boat, in the water, wearing a PFD! I sat in the
front forward portion of the cockpit, on the left port side, opposite Josh. Nancy took the seat in the back stern, beside the steering stick tiller.
And then things got a bit blurry for me. Captain Bill was a seasoned sailor from New Jersey. In a previous life, I’m pretty sure that Captain Bill was a used car salesman who specialized in selling lemons with fire damage. It was difficult for me to understand the instructions, let alone figure out when and how I was supposed to react. I was anxious and confused, but tried to decipher what my job was and when I was supposed to do it. I looked to Josh for help translating what I was supposed to do and if I was doing the right thing, fearful I was going to make an error because I didn’t really understand what was going on. Josh was a HUGE help and I’m not sure I would have done as well if he wouldn’t have been translating and confirming what I was doing. I’m great at following instructions, but understanding the instruction is kind of important!
The first task was to “raise the mainsail.” Apparently I was just supposed to know what that meant or how to do it, which was very far from my nonexistent sailing skills. Translated into terms that the first-time-ever-on-a-sailboat me could understand and execute, I needed to grab the black rope and pull like hell until the mainsail was the entire way up the mast. Then, flip the little black lock thing over onto the rope to hold it tight. It was more effort than I expected to get that thin piece of fabric up the not-so-tall mast, but, I eventually got it. Then it was time to start “trimming the jib.” GREAT! What the hell does that mean, Captain Bill, and why we are doing it?! First Sail, remember?! Again, translated into instructions I could wrap my head around: pull the jib tighter because it’s blowing all around in the wind instead of being stretched firmly. Grab the blue and white striped rope and wrap it, CLOCKWISE, around the black winch two times. Then, put the rope overtop of the little silver tab, wrap it in the little trough and pull it snug when it’s back to the little silver tab. No problem with slow-learner instructions. At this point, I was thinking that maybe I just need someone who specializes in giving directions to little kids…
Josh and our classmate Nancy took turns steering / adjusting the mainsail and adjusting the jib from the
right starboard side while I remained in my port side seat for the majority of our adventure. I switched placed with Josh to steer for a few minutes (pictures below to prove it happened), but felt like I wasn’t ready to learn that just yet, so I switched him back pretty quickly. I enjoyed staying in the same spot, adjusting the jib, and felt pretty confident in my job by the end of the trip. I got a lot of experience practicing with the ropes, the winch and understanding when it was time to make adjustments. I learned that luffing is just a fancy way of saying blowing around in the wind and not controlled. And, the experience taught me a pretty valuable lesson – sailing isn’t beyond my ability, physically. I was able to do all of the jobs without any physical difficulty, once I understood what I was supposed to be doing.
We made a few passes around the area, checking out some cool boats that had come in for the boat show. It was super packed – huge power boats, catamarans, monohulls, kayaks, little tiny fishing boats – there were boats everywhere! (Which is kind of another reason I didn’t want to steer for very long.) Surprisingly, we didn’t make a ton of small adjustments to the sails while we were sailing. Except for making adjustments while turning, we left the sails to their own devices and took in the scenery. We kept moving forward at a decent pace and we didn’t spend all of our time making adjustments. Certainly my lack of experience doesn’t make me an expert here, but, based on this experience, I learned another pretty important lesson – it doesn’t seem like sailing has to be non-stop, constantly adjusting, heaps of work. It certainly seems like it could be, if someone chose to make it so, but, it doesn’t seem like it has to be.
And then I noticed that sailing is QUIET! It was pretty incredible to be moving through the water pretty quickly (for a small boat and my first time) with essentially no noise except the wind and the boat noises. It was pretty cool to be able to have conversations without having to yell at each other. And it was nice to not have to drone of the engine(s) drowning out the sounds of other boats, little kids laughing and music. It didn’t fell all that different, sailing vs. motorboat, except for the heeling.
I didn’t take any pictures while we were heeled over, though I wish I would have. I’ve always been a bit amazed by the whole heeling concept – seeing other boats heeled over – and it was pretty cool to experience being heeled over but not flipping over, and still moving forward. I could have reached out and touched the water behind my back a number of times! I’m still not sure that I want to live life heeled over all the time, but, it at least gave me an opportunity to experience it. And it was pretty cool! It also makes me wonder if monohulls have to be heeled over a lot, or if that’s something that can be avoided. It seemed like Captain Bill could alleviate being heeled over by adjusting the mainsail, so, can you sail on a monohull and limit the amount of heeling or avoid significant heeling the majority of the time? Questions for further investigation, I guess.
All in all, we had a really great day on the water and a good first experience sailing! It was really cool for Josh and I to experience sailing for the first time, together. Despite the limited instruction, we both had a really good time and are pretty excited to do it again, learn more and become more proficient. Josh will most likely take to sailing much quicker than I will, but, he’s a very good teacher and very patient, which will help me become successful. I’m really happy to say that I like sailing and I want to go sailing again!
It’s kind of funny because when I was thinking about how I wanted to write this post about my first sailing experience, I initially wanted to say that I felt that the workshop was beneficial, but that it threw me into things, completely unprepared, and that it left me longing, in a number of ways. After having reflected on the experience and my desire to learn more, I’m thinking that maybe that was the intent of the workshop all along…