Remember that resolution you made just before the end of the year? That one where you declared that 2001 would be the year for you to become a sailor? Well, it's time to make good on that. To get you started with the sport, I've developed a quick little personality quiz as a way of gauging the best approach for getting you out on the water. First, take a good look at how you enter a swimming pool. Do you cautiously wade in at the steps, or do you just jump right in, no matter what the weather is like? If you're a jumper, you can stop reading here. Just take a "health" day off from the office, buy yourself a boat, rent a captain, and get out of here!
If you're still with me, then you're a wader. Have no fear. The water's not cold, the pool's not too deep, and nobody's going to splash you. Let's start with dipping our toes into the water. The way to do that with sailing is to go out and buy a few inspiring books about the sport. Start with Robin Lee Graham's Dove
or Tania Aebi's Maiden Voyage,
or something funny, like Herb Payson's Blown Away
. Stay away from anything boring, technical, or overly historical. We're trying to get you sailing, not put you to sleep!
Now let's plant our feet firmly onto the first step. Figure out a way to finagle an invitation onto a sailboat. I don't care if you have to pay to get on a tall ship or if you to twist a friend's arm to invite you out for a daysail. Even if you have to rent the boat and the captain to go with it, the important thing is to get sailing. (Notice I said "sailing" not racing. You can always race on a boat as crew, but racing can be frantic and you may just want to start with a mellow daysail.)
It's time to move on to the second step. Find an adult sailing course and sign up for it. Personally, I would recommend taking your first lessons in a dinghy. These are small boats (some are specifically designed for beginners) and they will give you an immediate response to any shifts in the variables that affect sailing (weight, wind, waves, and weather). If you have a partner, I would point out the benefits of taking separate classes. Trust me. It's difficult enough to learn a new sport without having your partner watch over your shoulder every step of the way.
Since you're already on the second step, you might as well take the third step, too. Once you've signed up for a class, you'll have an excuse to start shopping. Technically, for the class, you'll just need boat shoes, but you might want to have shorts, a shirt, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen too. Once you've started browsing, however, you'll probably find it hard to resist all the cool gadgets, like comfortable jackets or those lovely mod dinghy boots. Indulge yourself. And ask your sailing friends what kind of gear they prefer and why. Read the descriptions of everything you see. Buy a handheld GPS unit for your car or your backpacking expeditions and learn how to use it. Wear your new foul-weather jacket as a raincoat. And start telling people that you're a sailor.
Well, it's now the first day of class and you're about to touch the bottom of the pool. After four or five sailing classes you'll be feeling pretty confident. It's time to start slowly immersing yourself. You can start by placing an ad in your local sailing magazine (or online) and let people know that you're ready to join in as daysailing crew. If you're feeling bold, sign up to crew in a race. And continue to expand your knowledge by reading as much sailing-related stuff as you can find (there's reams of it here on SailNet). Ask questions. Try new things. And tell people if you're scared or worried so they can help you learn what to do.
Before you know it, you'll be swimming, so to speak. You may want to sign up for a more advanced sailing class. Or you might choose to move from dinghies to bigger boats. Or, by now you could already be a member of an elite racing team! In just a few months, you'll be so confident on the water that you won't even recognize yourself from your pre-sailing days.
Congratulations! You are a sailor. Now you can sign up as crew for a short journey, or knowingly check out the latest gear at your local boat show, or just get more out of reading about the most recent 'round-the-world races. You can decide to take a class to hone your weather-reading skills or attend a seminar on racing. You can even go to a book talk by a sailor/ writer, or watch a friend's slide show. You might even want to start planning your cruising itinerary, or just buy and study the charts for your local area. And you'll be able to get a lot more enjoyment out of touring marinas and looking at boats for sale. You can even advertise for a financial partner to share boat ownership with you, or start looking at plans for the boat you want to build. You're a sailor now, you can do it all.