(2008) Dinghy sailing

Sailing Lesson #1

Months ago Dan mentioned that it would be fun to learn how to sail. Typical, Dan didn’t do anything about it, so I did. Besides, I had been taught how to sail by a friend when I lived in Seattle, but like teaching a friend how to ride a motorcycle, I was leery of what I didn’t learn. Or worse yet, what I might have learned incorrectly! I signed us both up for lessons at our local Shoreline Park, a place where we enjoy walking on weekend afternoons. The park is more than just a park: there’s a kite-flying area, a 25 acre lake, boat rentals (of all kinds), walking trails, bicycle trails and picnicking lawns. Not to mention the natural side of it, which is the vast array and quantities of birds that inhabit the marshes along the park’s edge of the San Francisco Bay. Finally, after a couple of months of waiting, it was time to go “test the waters”.

June 27-28, 2009

The class was held over two days, from 9am – 1pm each day. Unfortunately for us, the wind often doesn’t pick up on the lake until closer to noon, so our first morning was rather slow. We had some “class room” instruction (lawn chairs on the grass and a white board for illustrations) and then we went out to the boats. There were 12 of us in the class and we were sent off in pairs to take the Catalina 14.2 (Capri) boats out into the lake.

Dan studies the course book

Sailing. So easy, a child can do it.

The boats waiting along the dock

Classmates bringing the boat in

Eventually the wind picked up slightly and we practiced approaching the dock without smashing into it. Most of us did pretty good. Dan got special commendation from the instructor on his “instincts”. I felt as though what I had known from previous experience was useful and correct, and it was fun to sail on a quick and easily maneuvered boat such as the ones we were on. And I had to learn a lot more about tacking and jibing, as the smallness of the lake made for some short runs compared to the openness of Elliot Bay off the Seattle shoreline.

Flat water

Dan secures the main sheet

Dan heads out in an “Expo

Dan brings in a Capri

On Sunday the wind was much more cooperative, but I didn’t have my camera. We spent most of our time tacking and jibing up and down the lake, doing our best to avoid windsurfers, canoes, kayaks and each other. The instructor left Dan and I alone to practice our skills, both of us having surpassed the point of constant schooling. By the end of the class we were given a red book from the US Sailing Association that documents our training. When we fill in the sections not covered in this school we will be able to rent boats almost anywhere in the country, as well as work towards more demanding skill sets (like open water/coastal sailing). I have a feeling that this little red book is going to see some use, as Dan took a keen liking to the idea of racing sail boats and I have to admit that it does sound like something that could become another way to while away our spare time.

We’ve already looked into signing up for the second course in August.

Practice Time!
Since we had signed up for the second class in August, we thought we should spend some time practicing on our own. On Friday the 3rd we rented a boat in the morning and practiced circling buoys and trimming the sails. It was a nice time out.

Fairly calm winds in the morning

Colleen takes the helm


Dan gets us both in the photo

That Sunday (July 5th) we had another chance to take a boat out, but this time it was in the afternoon, after the winds had picked up considerably. We were out for about 15 minutes or so, all of them spent uncomfortably out of control in the gusty wind and the subject of heading in came up. It felt foolish to quit after such a short time, but our experience and knowledge was sparse and the wind (11 knots plus gusts) was erratic. The boat heeled over sharply a number of time, only to flatten out suddenly as the gust dropped off.

We were near the marina, considering our options as we tacked, but we never finished the tack. We turned across the wind, neither of us were able to shift our weight to the windward side of the boat and – splash! – we were both bobbing in the surprisingly warm and salty water.

A quick discussion on how to right the boat took place, with me heading for the centerboard while Dan proceeded to climb up to the highest point of the boat (which was by now floating with its mast completely horizontal). I hung onto the centerboard, trying to put as much weight as possible on to it, while Dan climbed up and tried to lean his weight over the bottom of the boat. Plop – Dan slipped into the water beside me. A quick laugh and we altered our plan, with him hanging onto the centerboard while I climbed up. I managed to lean without falling and the boat gently rolled over under our combined weight. I scurried into the cockpit and Dan pulled himself in. Just then the marina’s skiff pulled up to check on us and we decided that soaked as we were, we were done for the day. It was a short, but exciting, ride.

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