Please disregard BigRed''s comments about "elitist,shallow" sailors. BigRed has never spent more than $1,000 on anything (unless you count that night in Vegas in 1972).
If you are fit and don''t mind getting wet, BigRed''s low budget plan would seem to be very rewarding. Although I wouldn''t recommend restoring a leaf catcher if you know nothing about boats! But keep in mind, plenty of competent sailors have started out in low budget keelboats.
There are a couple of very large lake (reservoirs) on the Columbia, so you shouldn''t have problem finding other sailors.
I would expect their recommendations to be very helpful.
Also, you can probably get plenty of free lessons if you know how to stock a cooler properly.