Suddenly Sailing - Part 2 - First Sail and Lessons

Last I wrote, we had just plunged headfirst into learning about sailing. Thursday of last week, I stepped onto a sailboat for the first time in my life. A coworker was kind enough to let us pick his brain over coffee the week before, and offered to let us come aboard for a quick sail, weather permitting.

After work, we joined up with him, had a short adventure of locating the car, and headed over to Elliott Bay Marina. He gave us a quick tour and we helped him cast off. We motored out from behind the protective wall and onto the sound. The wind was light, but enough to move the ship, a Hunter 34 from the mid 80’s. The light was beautiful and the clouds formed a soft panorama of endless variation. I was so occupied with the initial experience, the sensation and sounds of the waves shifting the boat, that I honestly don’t recall most of the details of hauling the sails and adjusting the lines. We helped uncover the sail though, and once it was up, it was a surreal and ultimately calm setting. I’d been on a powerboat a few times, and while it’s very similar in some senses, to me, the sailboat gives a greater feeling of harmony. We went out a-ways, taking it all in, and eventually, the wind gave up on us. We motored back, and arrived home shortly after, pondering our experience.

My fiance (henceforth referred to as Sir, or The Sir), was surprised by the size of the interior. I, by how difficult it could be to orient yourself according to the little weather vane at the top of the mast. The experience was a wholly positive one, giving us a tidbit more perspective on what we were in for. Under light winds, the boat really hadn’t done much. Sure, it moved, but it was all very relaxed at a top speed of four knots or so. The rest of the evening and Friday were occupied by last minute studying for our 101 course and listing more of my belongings for sale on Craigslist and at work.


Setting Out

At 5 AM on Saturday morning, we woke up, took a quick shower, and headed out. We hopped in the car and headed for Bellingham with a short detour to pick up a rain coat and boat shoes I’d left elsewhere. Seattle’s ridiculously inconsistent streets were unforgiving to us infrequent drivers, and it turned into an adventure of one-way streets, bus-only lanes, and no-outlet hills. In any case, we made it to Bellingham Marina with enough time to grab a microwaved breakfast burrito and a delicious scone before checking into our class.

We spoke to one of San Juan Sailing’s staff, and she sent us on our way to our ship for the class, a 2015 Bavaria 41 named Wind Song. We soon discovered it was the newest and probably fanciest boat in their fleet which we’d chanced upon. We brought the food and our bags with clothes and so on down to the dock. The Wind Song is an absolutely gorgeous thing that has very little personality, in my opinion: a high-tech ship with a sleek hull and furling main and highly functional and roomy interior not unlike what you’d find in a modern Seattle studio apartment. It’s all very impressive and comfortable, but also gives the feeling of a too-fancy hotel.

Shortly after arriving on the dock, we met our classmates, another couple with relatively little sailing experience. I’ll call them Leah and Franz. Leah had done some sailing in college and wanted a refresher, while Franz was just as wet behind the ears as us. Our instructor, referred to as Cam henceforth, arrived shortly after- I’d researched him a bit on Linked-In beforehand. He had an impressive resume of experience, but when he spoke to us, he was a pretty hard read. Overall, he had a laid-back air about him, with a serious undercurrent.

After introductions, he went over what we knew, so far as terminology, stressing that the class would be about building on what we knew, rather than working through a static curriculum – there would be learning by doing and by making safe mistakes. I learned later on exactly what he meant by that.

He showed us the basics of casting off, and we hopped aboard the Wind Song as he motored us out of the slip. The weather was gorgeous, sunny with heavier winds than my first sail. We’d be going where the wind took us within the San Juans, with no set agenda aside from covering the necessary material and finding somewhere to moor for the evening.

Spreading Our Wings, and the Little Fridge that Could

We took turns going through the various positions on the boat (helm, jib sheets, main sheet) throughout the trip. I started out on the helm and held the boat into the wind as the main sail (a furling main) was brought out. The newer ship had a retractable sail, rather than one you haul up the mast. Likewise, the jib was unfurled and we set sail.

If you’ve never been on a sailboat with ample winds, I can pretty much guarantee that you will be surprised by how much the thing tips over and how fast it will feel like you’re moving when sailing close-hauled. Most sailboats of the size we were on go 6-7 knots at top speed. That’s all of 8 mph. To me, it felt more like being on a scooter going 30. The boat also leans over somewhere in the vicinity of 45 degrees. This means you will be standing on the side of what was the bench across from you. Needless to say, it gets your adrenaline going.

It also threw our fridge across the cabin. Sadly, I wasn’t in a position to see it, but when we tacked across for the first time, leaning the boat in the opposite direction, there was a tremendous crash from down below. The fridge locker had had a weird little latch that had been jury-rigged on. We noticed it initially when we loaded it up with our dinners and lunches. Needless to say, it wasn’t rigged well enough. Cam ducked below to sort out the fridge situation, occasionally popping in to check on us while we held our course.

The fridge eventually got sorted, and we continued to practice tacking the boat around and adjusting the sails. Cam would wander off down below periodically, letting us try to sort things out for ourselves and popping in to help us out when we floundered. He picked out a course for us, the point of a nearby island and we sailed on over in that direction. Then, the wind died again.

The boat tried, and failed, to continue making headway. The sails flopped uselessly while we looked around us. I’ve failed to mention it up til now, but the San Juan Islands which we were sailing near are absolutely stunning. Rugged little islands, densely covered in pine trees and nearly devoid of people were all around us after we passed the point. The only notable man-made structure on them was a day marker for the boat traffic. We ended up motoring over to our mooring point on a tiny island that was entirely a state park. And, as we arrived there and fixed ourselves to the buoy, the wind picked up again.

Cam gave us the option of going back out for a last chunk of sailing, and of course, we took him up on it.

Time to get back to studying, but hopefully I’ll wrap up our lesson experiences in my next post.

Thank you for taking the time to read through. If you have any questions for me, or just want to hang out with some cool folks, feel free to hop on the Creaturista Discord server!