sailing schools-vs-seat of your pants learning to sail
I grew up on the water. The first and fondest memories I have are when I went fishing with my dad and grandfather when I was about 5 or 6. It was on an aluminum john boat in Norwalk Harbor, Long Island Sound. (Famous for their oysters)
When I was 10, I was in private school, and my vacation schedules were different from all the neighborhood kids, so I did not have many playmates. My father decided that what I needed to do was get involved in something, so he went out and bought a used Blue Jay for $500, enrolled me in a sailing school at our yacht club, and I was hooked.
We had class every day, the mornings were spent in the class room, discussing everthing, sail trim, weather, tacking, jibing, race starts... you name, it our instructors covered it. I met friends there that 37 years later I still keep in touch with. Afternoons were out on the water. And being a yacht club, we spent the afternoon on the race course. Beginners did not use a spinnaker but intermediates and advanced did.
On the weekend we had the yacht club race series to worry about. I was thrown into it all and learned to live, breath, eat and sleep sailing every summer.
The Blue Jay took me through 3 summers of sailing. It may seem odd, but the award I most enjoyed winning every year was not the series trophy for racing at my level, but the "Shipshape" award for the most well prepared and properly maintained boat in the junior area. Hey, I always liked things in their proper place, cleaned and put away.
After that, the next step up was to Lightnings. And what a step it was! More boat, more crew, stiff competition. It was an incredible time for me. All the subtle nuances to sail trim and rig tune. Always learning from the older kids, always trying to beat them at their own game on the race course. Class was now all day on the water. Doing starts over and over, going head to head with the other sailors, trying out for the right to be selected to represent the yacht club at the LIS championships.
The JYRA of LIS made a quantum change in 1973 by choosing the Fireball (over the Olympic class 470) as the boat of choice for the championships. Mine was a well turned out rule beater that was one of the fastest on the ''Sound. Lost out on a rule technicality for the championship''s but enjoyed the boat emensely.
A personal tragedy kept me off the water for a year, but on my return, in ''74 it was in "Big Boats" There were a number of Nautor 44''s that were raced out of Indian Harbor Yacht Club. These were not the foo-foo teak decked dandies that most think of when they think "Swan". There were about 5 of them, almost level racing against each other. Quite a sight at the starting line. These boats were raced hard, and had no expense spared. I worked the bow, the mast, the main, trimming the chute, you name it. My years in dingies put me in the mind set of doing whatever it took to make a boat go fast.
Block Island Race Weeks, Bermuda races, Annapolis-Newport, Newport-Halifax, NYYC Cruises. Good crew were always in demand. When I wasn''t racing in the "bigs" there was always my father''s C&C 35 MK I. Most kids would skip school to play hookey at the penny arcades, I did it to take my dads sailboat out for the day. (He never did catch me, rest his soul)
On to college! Was recruited by the sailing team and raced a variety of boats, 420''s, sunfish, tornados. I was even talked into teaching the college''s sailing course. I had to submit my course outline to the dean of students, it was accepted, and I taught a college accredited course! 2 credits, one hour lecture, one hour lab, mid terms, and finals! I was a professor of sailing!
Summers were spent working at the local marinas, doing whatever grunt work was required. Anything as long as it kept me near boats. After school, spent a couple of years working in marinas. Using my engineering knowledge to do proper installation of electronics and systems, comissioning hundreds of boats. Saw some pretty amazingly dumb things during that time and discovered that not every person had a heartfelt love of the "right way" of doing things.
Tightest racing I ever did? Atlantic Class sloops out of Cedar Point Yacht Club. Man, did that fleet know what they were doing!
Most impressive? Campainging as a trimmer on a 52'' Frers Admirals Cupper.
Most rewarding? Continuing my slow and steady resoration of the mid 70''s IOR rocketship Heritage 1 Ton I rescued back in ''99.
I''ve been sailing for 37 years, and not a moment of it is regretable. I think of myself first and foremost as a sailor. (topsiders, no socks, in February, in Connecticut)
I don''t know it all. Never said I did. But one of the best tings I ever heard about boats came from Olin Stephens. We had just completed a weekend series, where he was in the "afterguard" on a boat I was crewing on. Sitting around after the races were over and sharing a libation or two, he said that one of the greatest truths was in the eye. If it "looked right" it probably was. If it "looked fast" it probably was. And things that just did not look right, were probably inherently bad. Use your "eye" he said, it will tell you a lot about a design.
I''ve brought a number of beginners on board my boat to introduce them to sailing. Being a true "Corinthian" I do not charge or accept payment. Just knowing that I have introduced someone to the wonders of sailing is more than enough for me. There is just something magical in harnessing the wind and moving your vessel to a place that you want, in a time that you want. Just pure magic!