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Learning To Sail

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In This Section:

Sailing4.wmf (3046 bytes) Return To Home Page Had 'nuff yet? If not, click here to goto "Buying A Boat" instead.
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) A  Day To Learn, A Lifetime To... Learn to sail FREE! Includes 5 great tips for crewing guests!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Preparing Serendipity Getting ready for the initial shakedown!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) On The Water Plan every step, before taking the first one!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) In The Water What NOT to do when docking, or the last step will be a doozey!
WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Under Sail At Last Just like other things in life, there's nuthin' like the first time!

A Day To Learn, A Lifetime To Master

Sailing is one of those ongoing learning things. After an hour or so, you think you have a pretty good handle on the basics, but the more you sail, the more you realize how little you know.

You can take a sailing lesson for a minimal charge at a location near you. Use your favourite internet search engine and specify an exact phase match for "Sailing Lessons" + (your location).

…or you can take a "Cruise and Learn" charter from any of a myriad of charter companies that will take you out on a sailboat in the most beautiful sailing grounds of the world, and provide skipper, crew, and provisions. (However if you go this route, you will not experience the essence of trailer sailing).

Even if you don't have a penny, there are sailors everywhere that would be thrilled to have someone, regardless of previous experience, join them on their boat for an afternoon.

marina.bmp (86854 bytes) Many of the sailboats you 'll find tied to their lonely moorings at marinas and yacht clubs are only idle because their owner can't find someone to go out and enjoy a day on the water! All you have to do is ask and everybody wins! The skipper will get to enjoy a day on his boat with a little assistance from an extra pair of hands aboard, and you'll gain sufficient hands-on experience to quickly determine if sailing is your kind of thing.

Despite over 200 photo's and hours of video, this is the best I have to illustrate lonely sailboats. A fine testament to how little time we spend at the dock.

Tips for crewing guests:

  1. Be honest about your experience. (The only problem is an UNEXPECTED lack thereof).
  2. Wear comfortable light-weight clothing and white soft soled shoes (or bare feet if OK'd).
  3. Ask the skipper what you should bring beforehand.
  4. If you forget, be sure to bring:

    i)      Something warm you can toss on quickly (it usually feels 10 degrees cooler on the water).
    ii)     Sunglasses and sunblock (applied 1/2 hour before arriving and at least SPF 30).
    iii)    Some form of brimmed hat that will stay on in a breeze.
    iv)    Food if appropriate and quick snacks regardless (trail mix or granola bars are good).

    v)     A spirit of enthusiasm, a desire to learn, and nothing that can't fit into a small gym bag.

  5. Don't forget the rum to toast Neptune for safe passage, the owners generosity, and your first sail.

Unfortunately, Ondine and I weren't aware that an invite was so easily attained, so we learned the basics the hard way. We bought the boat first, then visited a local book store, put our Serendipity in the water and crossed our fingers. (Since then we've learned that your local library is a great resource for books and video's on every aspect of sailing).

You can also obtain a "Boaters Guide", available free at most marina's, bait shops, and boating supply stores. This guide will identify the "Mandatory Safety Equipment" you must have onboard, illustrate "Aids to Navigation" and describe the "Rules of the Road".

Lastly, you can contact your local "Coast Guard" or "Power and Sail Squadron" for a variety of boating related courses and legislated safety requirements.

Preparing For Serendipity's First Sail In 5 Years

We had just bought Serendipity and brought her home. We were definitely on the down side of the sailing season, yet I was bound and bent to get out on the water for a shakedown, so we could find out what she would need to get her ready for next year.

The next night when I arrived, Ondine handed me a "surprise" from the bookstore in town, "The Complete Sailor - Learning The Art Of Sailing" by David Seidman. Inside, she had inscribed, " Our first book, to start our sailing adventure, August 1996".

I read that book from cover to cover, and when I laid it down and headed upstairs for bed, the sun was just about to rise. It was 5:00 o’clock in the morning, and I had to be at work in 3 hours! Oh well, I was too excited to sleep anyway.

Recommended for old salts and newbies alike. Today, despite a full ships library, I still reach for this trusted old friend when I need a quick reference to almost any sailing related information.

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For the next few nights, we went out after dinner, removing the five years of hay dust that didn’t blow off down the road. She gleamed, and I beamed.

With Serendipity all bristol fashion, it was time to practice rigging. I re-read the corresponding sections of "The Complete Sailor" again. With the kids help, after going over what we were about to do step-by-step, we "armstronged" the mast up. "My God", I declared, "We have to find an easier way to do that!"

After adding the boom, the rudder, and tiller, I was a little surprised that we didn’t have pieces left over, and that none were missing. All that was left was to get what we needed to make her legal on the water, paddles, flares, PFD’s, air horn, bailing bucket, etc. The only safety device that came with her was a good 15 lb danforth anchor with a pieced together 100’ 3/8" rode. Well, it was legal.

On The Water

We checked with a nearby marina, on a very small lake, only 15 miles from home. The operator said he’d give us a slip for two weeks for the price of one. My kind of fellow. He told us that this time of year, there wasn’t a lot of activity, so we wouldn’t have to worry about looking foolish, just to be careful not to bump into anything. Pretty good advise to this day.

We loaded all the "new stuff", hooked up the trailer, and headed for Mars Marina on Chemong Lake, located about 8 km (5 miles) North of Peterborough Ont. When we arrived, we went over every thing we had to do, before each task. We blocked the trailer, stepped the mast, extended the trailer tongue, slung the fenders, attached the docklines, and had "Serendipity" in the water for the first time in five years, and the first time ever for us. "She floats!" "Good!"

Our first slip and my first mates soon to be declared, "Favourite place to sail".

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Ondine was vibrating with excitement. We put on the outboard, with our newly purchased safety lanyard, a bicycle chain lock, started her up and released the lines. We motored about 75 feet to our slip, shut her down and tied her off.

We were surprised. Everyone had told us, "Sailing is easy, docking is the hard part", yet the whole process went slick as butter, even though our little outboard didn’t have reverse or neutral. Again, I attribute this success to careful contemplation, and going over everything, before we tried anything.

Ondine went below to organize the stuff we had just laid on the cabin floor, while I attached the boom, and rudder, bent on sail, and rigged the sheets and halyards. By that time, the sun had decided it had been up long enough, we cracked our champagne (the budget variety), and toasted to our ingenuity, as our teeth chattered in the cool night air.

The next day at work was the slowest I’ve ever had. I swear the clock moved backwards the instant I glanced away. Finally, we raced out to the boat, started the motor, released the lines, and headed out into the lake. It was a little windy, so we just motored around, getting used to the way she handled under power.

In The Water

After touring the lake, about eleven miles, we headed back into the marina. We crept up to our dock (slip 51) at a snails pace. Ondine jumped off with bow line in hand and started pulling. As I leapt to the dock, the last of the dock line slipped through my hands. I leapt back to the boat but was about two feet short, clinging to the coaming, and half in the water. I clambered aboard, fended off the stationary boat in the next slip, jumped back to the dock, and tied the stern off.

The next few evenings we went out to the boat, the wind was up, and despite our anxiousness to get the sails up, we elected to motor only and practice our docking. We learned that a sailboat with a swing keel tends to pivot about its center if you you pull or push on one end. So one must be careful when leaping off or pulling on a dock line, not to pivot the boat.

Under Sail At Last

The fourth evening, the wind was more calm, around 15 km/hr (about 10 mph or 9 knots). The one flaw in our planning was that Ondine decided she wasn’t comfortable steering the boat while I pulled the sails up, so we changed positions.

Unfortunately, until this point I had rigged all the halyards, so I needed to call out the sequence of releasing downhauls, and drawing the halyards. With Ondines' back to me, there was ample confusion, and yelling over motor and wind.

fullsail.bmp (30198 bytes) "Release the main halyard downhaul". "Which ones that?" "The skinny one, on the right." "O.K. what next?" "Pull the main halyard, the fat one on the right, and cleat it." "O.K." "Now release the skinny one on the left, the jib downhaul." "O.K. what’s next?" "Pull the jib halyard and cleat it."

Exasperated, Ondine turned around and yelled, "O.K. what’s next, and at that moment, I turned off the motor, and said "Look up Darlin’, we be sailin’!"

"Nice" clouds for our first sail. Since then we've seen a few not-so-nice ones too!

It was awesome! Here were were sailing our own boat, all by ourselves, when just months before we didn’t know a jib from a mainsail.

We made numerous figure eights across the lake, always tacking into the wind, and never venturing too far from the marina. Believing it always wise to ensure we end on a good note, we headed back to our slip, pulled down the sails and motored in.

At dockside, we went over everything we did, what worked well, and how we might improve it now knowing what to expect the next time. Each time we went out afterward, we’d try something new, either venturing further down the lake, or jibing, or trimming sheets differently, until by the end of the week, we had a pretty good routine laid down, and felt quite comfortable taming the power of the wind.

While we’ve had many an exciting sail since, there will never be another quite like the one on that little lake, when we watched the sails fill for the very first time.

WHEEL1.JPG (903 bytes) Return to Top Of Page Just like sailing, you always end up where you started!