Sailing Lesson #1

I have had many instructional experiences in my life, most of them inspiring fear and phobias. However, it was with unbridled enthusiasm that I approached an “Introduction to Sailing” course offered through the Miami Boat show. We met our motley co-sufferers at the dock, and our instructor got us settled on the boat. He immediately informs us that he was a flight instructor. Oh dear, this is going downhill fast. I hate pilots. They are socially defective imbeciles who have no conversation topics other than “war stories” of “that time” the low oil pressure gauge came on. (It was a faulty sensor, but you'd think they'd survived the Titanic sinking). Now I know you are saying, “Lucy, please help us! These pilot people sound like the worst. How can we identify them before they suck us into their vortex of poppycock?” I am here to help. These deranged lunatics always, and without pause, introduce themselves. You can see them at the Publix check out line: I'll be paying by credit card, Im using my AOPA card - see that? I’m A Pilot!

Here’s the dreadful truth: My name is Lucy, and I’m a pilot (yeah, Matt is too). Excuse me while I wipe away my tears of sorrow. 

Enough about me - yes, let’s do a tour of the boat. We: myself, Matt, a healthy Hungarian who struggled with English, a “I already know everything because I charter” American with a baseball cap, and our sailor pilot instructor. I'm instantly transported back to our first sailboat, the IZ1. There were a myriad of reasons we had to sell her, but the most vivid was patent-pending old monohull smell, currently in experiments to use a biological weapon. It’s a pungent mix of diesel, teak, mold, and nasty holding tanks. Fighting panic and nausea, I scramble to the cockpit. I’ve had a lifetime of trauma and we haven’t left the dock. Focus.

We leave the dock. Victory! I’m at the helm first, due to an archaic “lady’s first” system, which suits me until it doesn’t. We weave out of the marina and into the bay. I’m instructed to steer perilously close to land to raise the sails, in 20 kts of wind, which seems stressful. But hey, it’s not my boat!

Now, I’m instructed to steer through the bridge, and I’m not doing a good job. All 4 men, none of whom are small, have lined up in front of the helm, blocking my vision entirely, but providing a good vantage for the men to judge. It’s now 25 knots of wind and our instructor tells us that we would be safer and more comfortable if we reefed, but we won’t reef. That’s good, I don't want to be safe or comfortable or learn how to reef (jokes!).  Thankfully, I get to pass the helm off to someone else, and all the men disperse to give him a clear view of where he is going. How thoughtful. Next up its time for a man overboard drill. We don’t go over the maneuver or assign roles, but simply toss poor George over and manically scramble to figure out what we are doing. Poor George - it took us several goes to collect him and we ended up confused and depressed.
Thankfully, nothing lasts forever and we made it back to the dock in one piece.

So, what did we learn? That we could probably remember the basics of sailing by ourselves. That instructors personality and fit with the student comprise 99% of the teacher/student relationship and the success of the lesson. For the most part, sailing is so fun and so easy, it’s a real shame that one bad experience could put someone off. That the smell of a boat is something that cannot be seen in pictures or videos, but is the number one cause of abandoned boats and crushed dreams. The smell, and getting on a boat with a pilot.

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