When the decision was made to take sailing lessons, we were living in Greenwich Village in New York. We took three American Sailing Association classes at the Manhattan Sailing School: Learn to Sail, Basic Coastal Cruising, and Coastal Navigation. It was gorgeous sailing on the Hudson with views of New York City on one side, Hoboken, New Jersey on the other and the Statue of Liberty a short distance away, but there was little wind and relatively small seas. We learned a lot of the lingo, rights of way and theory, but little practical sailing skills.
As chance would have it, Dave was transferred to the San Francisco Bay area, which is a very popular sailing location, and he found us a new sailing school, OCSC. Lacking confidence in our sailing skills, we opted to start all over with the US Sailing Basic Keelboat class. I immediately noticed a major difference in the wind. In Manhattan, we typically experienced between 2 and 10 knots – barely enough to make a bad hair day. In Berkeley, we had 15 to 25 knots every day – throwing hairstyles out completely. A wind speed of 25 knots is completely different to sail in and the shallow bay created waves that we had never seen before. Anxiety took hold of me in our first class on the bay. I climbed up the high side of the boat and clung to the lifelines like my life depended on it. The screaming started when the low side became submerged – or so I was told. I don’t remember screaming. Then the shakes hit me and tears started to flow. Suddenly, our classmate, a winemaker from Napa, slipped while tacking, let go of the tiller, and ended up on her backside on the cockpit floor. The boat went wild, turning fiercely into the wind, whipping the boom across the cockpit, and flinging over onto its side. Fortunately, everyone ducked the boom and held on tightly to keep from being thrown over. Steve, our instructor for the weekend, calmly stayed perched on the stern pulpit (the metal bars that wrap around the back of the boat), never saying a word or lifting a finger to take control of the boat. He simply waited until the student got off the floor and wrestled the boat back under control. “So, let’s talk about that, shall we?” Steve said to all of us. We didn’t die, get knocked silly by the boom, or go overboard and, more astonishingly, the boat did not capsize! It scared the heck out of me, and maybe even worried Dave a bit, but it cured my heeling anxiety. Heeling still didn’t feel natural, but it became acceptable.
After Basic Keelboat, we continued on to take Basic Cruising, Advanced Basic Cruising, Night Sailing, Bareboat Cruising, and Catamaran Sailing. These classes were all given by excellent instructors (though I still harbor a soft spot for Steve whose calming patience forever changed my sailing career) and instilled in us the confidence we needed in our practical sailing skills. After Advanced Basic Cruising, we were required to charter boats under 30 feet five times each before advancing to the next level. After Bareboat Cruising, we were able to charter any boat in their fleet, except the catamaran. Being interested in catamarans, we took that class to enable us to charter the Mahe’ 36 in the OCSC fleet. We learned that catamarans make for fun party boats that can hold a lot of people, but I could never get used to the motion, which is completely different from monohulls. There was no way to anticipate the direction the boat would bounce. We also learned that as enticing as it is to ride on the trampolines, you will likely get soaked when there are any sizable waves!
These charters allowed us to practice our skills on and around the bay with support from the OCSC staff, if needed. We did need help once. We were sent out on a J24 charter with half a tank or less of gas. There was an uncharacteristic little amount of wind and we resorted to using the outboard most of the day. Upon our return, we ran out of gas less than a quarter mile from the marina. We were treated to a tow and gained more experience because of it. Sometimes we learned more from handling the problems that arose than we learned in a structured class. We also learned that we enjoyed sailing, being on the water, and “camping” on a boat.
Communications are important on a boat. Dave and I are pretty good with new technology, but we will not always have internet connectivity. Therefore, we decided to go old school and get ham radio certified. First, I studied an online technicians class, which is the first level of certification and allows you to use amateur radio for domestic communications. The class and exam is ridiculous, covering electrical components and information for someone building a radio. However, it also covered FCC rules and regulations, radio frequencies, and safety information. I easily passed the test first try just by memorizing all three hundred some odd answers. Dave was next and we took an in-person class at the Oakland Yacht Club. He used a book to study and also easily passed first try. Unfortunately, we do not have a radio and haven’t been able to practice. We are also toying with the idea of using a satellite phone for emergency calls and data transfers, so it is still up in the air whether we will continue on the the much harder General level ham radio certification for international communications.