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Getting Started - Learning how to Sail

Sailing isn't difficult, it's a lot like driving a car. The nervousness about driving into something (or sinking) totally overwhelms the straightforward mechanics of adjusting the rudder and sail angles to the wind. Once you've got the basics down, it's a lot of fun.

My first trip on a sailboat was in 1994, when my cousin Richard and I sailed across the English Channel to bring back a boatload of duty-free wine and booze from France. I never knew you sometimes want to be strapped to the mast, and I have never been able to drink cider since!

Sara had also been on sailboats before, but neither of us really knew what we were doing. Sooo... in the spring of 2005 we decided to take the plunge.

We wanted to learn 'the right way', with classroom and on-the-water instruction, and we also wanted to learn first in small boats. It's so much easier to feel what the boat and wind are doing in a dinghy, even if you do get whacked with the boom once or twice.

We first signed up for the US Power Squadron's free Boat Smart course, which covered everything from knots to right-of-way. It also was an introduction to the wonderful people at the Carquinez USPS and the Vallejo Yacht Club.

Next we took dinghy sailing lessons with the VYC in their little tub-like dinghys. Lots of fun sailing up and down the harbour, and around bouys in the Carquinez straight. Highlights here were taking a laser out into 20knts of wind and getting catapulted over the sail when gybing a little too hard.

We can't say enough about how impressed we were with both groups, and the VYC for hosting and promoting it all. The amount of money involved clearly communicates that this is a labour of love; no one is getting wealthy teaching these classes.

After dinghy sailing we wanted something a little bigger so our friends could join us. We bought a 27' Ericson, Velella, that summer, and sailed the SF Bay nearly every weekend until the winds died in October. What an amazing first boat. So much fun, so easy to sail.

Sara and Will sailing Velella


Ripping across the bay

Our skills progressed until we could sail into our slip in Loch Lomond marina in San Rafael, which was cool. We did lots of overnight camping trips to nearby Angel Island, we anchored in 50' of water off Alcatraz to watch the Fleet Week airshow, and we ducked outside the Golden Gates a few times to see what the fuss was about.

Velella served us well, and by winter we had decided we wanted more. We looked around and researched the best way to take the next step. We both wanted to get more comfortable with ocean sailing, and Sara really liked the idea of formal instruction.

So in January 2006, we went to San Carlos, Mexico, for a week-long sailing course in the Sea of Cortez. We went with David Baraff at the San Carlos Sailing School.

The six-day sailing trip was a lot of work - we covered the ASA classes Basic Keelboat, Coastal Cruising, and then finally Bareboat Chartering. Side note: doesn't "Bareboat Chartering" sound similar to "Brokeback Mountain"? Cowboys and sailors, oh my.

Sara at the helm


Anchored in a cove

We traveled North from San Carlos for five days, covering every topic in a hands-on fashion. David made us responsible for sailing, of course, but also navigation, course planning, anchoring, and all the other aspects of coastal cruising.

Preparing for the night sail



On the last night we sailed all the way back to San Carlos. We left at 10PM and arrived 10 hours later, exhausted. It was a lot of work - the seas were big and we were pretty tired - but it was an invaluable learning experience. I asked Sara to marry me as we came into San Carlos, dolphins swimming around the back of the boat.

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