I am writing this for a friend of mine (Harold Hong) who has been talking big about learning to sail but has yet to take any action. Unfortunately I’m not in North Carolina to take him out, but I really believe that sailing is quite intuitive and once you get past the fear of just messing around with the sailboat learning to sail or at least to get the boat moving is quite easy.
* Go out when there is some wind, it is no fun to sail with no wind. Also wear sunscreen and bring a water bottle.
* The boat house at Lake Crabtree is run by teenagers who are out of school for the summer. They don’t really care too much who they rent the boats to as long as you don’t look like someone they will have to come out and rescue.
* Bring your own life jacket (this is a plus, of course it’s not necessary). It adds credibility that you know what you are doing.
* They rent sunfish sailboats which are super simple boats. However it helps to know a bit about the boat and what it looks like before you show up so you don’t give yourself away as a total noob. Here is a very good presentation on the sunfish. http://prezi.com/5hoav6ep_qg5/how-to-rig-a-sunfish-sailboat/
* When you get to the boat it will most likely be already rigged with the sail up. The centerboard will be out of the boat (attached to the boat by a bit of line) and the rudder will be kicked up. Throw your lifejacket and water bottle in the boat and push it away from shore.
* Once the boat is deep enough hop in and push the rudder all the way down, then insert the centerboard into the slot. If there is a bigger breeze blowing you into shore you may have to do this quickly.
* Once you are setup, use the rudder to point the boat in any direction that is at least 45 degrees away from where the wind is coming from and pull on the mainsheet. Just play around with it and the boat will eventually start moving. There are 2 points you have to keep in mind. (1) You cannot sail directly into the wind (2) You must use the rudder to maintain your heading. If you get overpowered by a puff of wind just let go of the mainsheet.
* Be sure and zoom right past the suckers who are churning away with paddles in canoes or whatever. Extra points if you can put your feet up in a reclined position as you go by.
* If you get in trouble and flip the boat remember that Lake Crabtree is very shallow and you can probably just stand up and walk back to shore. But here is how you right a boat like the sunfish if it does flip while you are out. http://carcoarsail.yoll.net/images/capsize.jpg
* Coming back to shore just head in to the beach and pull up the centerboard. The rudder will kick up automatically. Let out the mainsheet.
I was updating my sailing resume today after getting back from our latest sailing adventure and it was nice to reflect on where I started from and all the lessons I’ve learned. Some of them have been life threatening, chilling and fearful, while others have required reflection and time to congeal and form into useful knowledge.
My first lessons came while I was living in the suburbs of Boston in Quincy, MA a few blocks from Wollaston beach. One day while walking along the Charles river I noticed the Community Boating building which drew me in. At the time I had no particular interest in sailing other than it was something that I knew absolutely nothing about, but I did enjoy being on the water so I went to check it out. I signed up that day for the summer and the next day I came back to take my exam to pass to be a “helmsman”. Being a helmsman meant that you were allowed to take out on one of the many, aged Cape Cod Mercury dinghies and sail around on the Charles between the famous Longfellow Bridge and the Mass Ave Bridge. Until then my only boat experience had been with the family fish and ski which had a massive motor on the back, capable of propelling us across the water at tremendous speeds, making a tremendous sound and enshrouding us in a perpetual cloud of fuel and exhaust vapors. I remember how fascinatingly mind bending it was for me to glide across the water with no motor at all. Just a pull on the main sheet and a soft gurgle of water rushing past the hull. These ancient little boats seemed to be able to transcend time and technology with a thrilling and efficient method of transportation that required little more than a bit of knowledge and a breeze.