Introducing (drumroll, please)… the Friday Feature! I now present Sailing Lessons.
Perspectives from Leslie, a Sailing Novice
Catamaran. Does that word make any sense to you? It didn’t to me. Does it involve cats or marans? What happened to good old words like boat? I had no idea what one even looked like. I was hoping that it would look like a cat but I was cheated. Instead, it is two floaty things, with a black, flat tarp stretched between the two, and a sail in the middle. My first thoughts were: “Where are the seats?” and “Where am I going to put my stuff?”
After I first saw the catamaran, Greg started to tell me more about what it would be like to sail it. The first and tragic mistake he made was telling me that I would get wet in the boat, and not just wet, soaked. Apparently waves just whip up and slam into the vessel. Reaction: “What?! Why would anyone want that? Isn’t a boat supposed to keep you out of the water or wouldn’t we just swim instead?! Wait! It could splash me in the FACE?” (white knuckling the chair I was sitting in) I was terrified.
So how do you encourage someone who is apprehensive about sailing to try it? Greg’s family tradition is, tell the person the worst things that can happen to you and the solutions. My family tradition is avoiding people who use the previously stated technique. Let me just give you an example. Advice: You could get tangled up in the ropes and thus drown. To avoid this, you should wear this special knife to cut yourself free. See, easy. Also, watch this link about what could happen.
By the time we got to the boat on the first day, rigged everything, and were pushing it into the water, I was ready to hyperventilate. Incredibly snug in my life jacket, I put my hands on my knees, bent over, and breathed as deeply as I could to keep from throwing up.
Our conversation at that moment:
Greg: Are you all right?
Greg: What? I can’t hear you because you head is between your knees. Why is your face blue?
Greg: We don’t have to do this. (pouty face)
Leslie: No, no. I am ready.
Greg: Great! Do the thing with the thing. Don’t forget to keep away from those things. I need you to clip/wrap/attach/pull these thingies. Oh and if the boat collapses, don’t panic. (smiling)
Leslie: (breathing rapidly) Yes. (face once again blue)
Right then, we pushed the boat into the water. We jumped on and it started to move. I held on to what I was supposed to. Actually, I hung onto whatever I could. I was in charge of the jib (a very important thingy) and Greg was in the back steering. We glided out smoothly on the waves for 30 minutes and the heart attach I was having started to slowly subside. I even got splashed, in the face, and was totally all right. We sailed to a sandy little island and picnicked. We walked around and saw some endangered birds and then got back on the cat. We sailed around for another hour or so and arrived safely back where we started.
Upon getting back to land, my reaction was, WTF? How did I let this build up to thinking this was something that would kill me on the first day out? Oh right, with encouragement and support from friends and family.
In the end, sailing takes a lot of technical knowledge and shouldn’t be attempted without experience. I don’t mind being the first mate for now. Who knows what will happen in the future, but I give it an “at least I didn’t die” rating.
Q&A with Greg, a Sailing Savant
When did you start sailing?
When I was eight, I started a junior program at Toms River Yacht Club. It is like summer camp for sailing. I learned on a Sunfish, then moved to a Laser Radial. (Editor’s note: I assume that Sunfish and Laser Radial are specific types of sail boats. I am too lazy to Google.)
What do you like most about sailing?
It’s hard to describe. The way the boat moves through the narrow band at the top of the ocean and bottom of the atmosphere and in the narrow, changing angle of the wind with respect to proper sail trim is very precise. The enjoyment comes from being able to pilot the boat and trim the sails in such a way that the boat is propelled through that narrow environment between two powerful forces of nature.
Describe the feeling when you are out on the water.
It just feels natural. The boat requires constant adjustments and inputs, and to make them you have to watch the surface of the water and the indicators for the wind and feel the boat move. These are all second nature to me, and I do them all constantly. It takes up all of my attention, and it is usually hard for me to focus on something to that extent. It is really rewarding to be able to perform a task like that so well.
Where are your favorite places to sail?
Sandy Hook Bay and Barnegat Bay.
Should everyone learn to sail?
No, it’s not for everyone. I have seen some awful sailors over the years. If you can’t figure out which way the wind is blowing, you probably shouldn’t get near a boat. I always tell new sailors that the most important piece of advice is to not urinate upwind.
What is your favorite sound while sailing? Smell? Sensation?
I like the sound the blocks (pulleys) make when the ratchet is engaged and the sound of the sail snapping when it fills with wind. My favorite smell is of the ocean air. My favorite sensation is when the boat picks up speed when the sails are properly trimmed.
If you were sailing, and your boat got shipwrecked on a tiny island, what one (person/food/album/book) would you want to have along with you?
Leslie / an assortment of spices, so I could make food from things on the island or in the surrounding water / Boats, beaches, Bars and Ballads by Jimmy Buffet (for thematic consistency, since I assume my island is tropical) / a printout of wikipedia.
Do you own boat shoes?
Yes, they are the most comfortable shoes I own. I have even gone skydiving with them on.
Do you ever worry about shark attacks? Whale attacks? Sea dragon attacks? Pirate attacks?
A Coast Guard rescue diver once told me “Once you go in the water, you are part of the food chain,” but I’m not really concerned about sharks. I guess that is because I can’t see them.
As for whale attacks, see this.
I buy all my charts from Here Be Dragons Cartographers (HBDC Inc.). They note where the dragons are, so you can avoid them. Also, sea dragons are actually much easier to avoid than you’d think; they are very small.
When blue water sailing (open ocean) we carry a rifle for pirates. I am serious; we sometimes throw plastic bottles overboard for target practice.
Can you explain these maritime terms: port. starboard. fore. aft. poopdeck.
port: A delicious fortified wine that was initially created to be able to endure shipping across the ocean.
fore: Warning call used in golf.
poop deck: The upper, rear portion of a tall ship or square rigger. Where the admiral and/or other officers stand. I have attached a visual aid.
Well, folks, are you ready to sail the wild, blue yonder? If I had a boat, I’d go out on the ocean. And if I had a pony, I’d ride him on my boat. Wait, no, that’s Lyle Lovett. Anyway, have a great weekend. Next week, we’ll learn about making maple syrup!