Sailing Do’s and Don’ts

Over this past summer I learned to sail. Not big schooners or yachts or anything big like that. Just a simple, small sunfish sailboat. Having never sailed before, I regarded the small sunfish as one might regard a skeleton; it was interesting and seemingly simple, but someone had to go and give each part a technical name. (For example, the main halyard raises the top boom up along the mast and the gooseneck securing the lower boom slides up as well. See what I mean? How can you understand that without sailing knowledge?) Anyway, with all the complicated terminology aside, I was eager to sail.

Sunfish Sailboats

I showed up at the beach front and was welcomed by the instructor. After taking role, he told us how to raise the sail and put the rudder in the water. Then he told us to find a sailboat and sail for the next two hours. Now I have to admit, this did catch me off guard. Wasn’t there going to be a small demonstration or something? Or any advice? I guess not. My friend and I waded out to a sunfish and tried to set her up. We got the sail up and then were confronted by the wooden board (called a daggerboard) in the boat. After puzzling over its existence for a few minutes we figured out where to put it and were ready to go. We sat in the cockpit and waited. I pulled in the sail to experiment with it and suddenly we were off. We were sailing.

So we got out a few hundred yards safely. I’d say that’s a pretty good accomplishment for our first time in a boat. Then, without warning, a gust of wind slammed into us. The sail went taut and I thought the rope would be pulled out of my hands. Determined not to let go, I pulled in the sail further. Bad mistake. With a couple of creaks, the sunfish slowly, majestically began to keel over. “Lean back! Lean back!” I said desperately. It was of no use. We were dumped in the water next to the sail. Then the sail and mast started sinking as the boat flipped completely over. (Like the Pirates of the Caribbean movie where they flip the boat and then the world flips with it, except the world didn’t flip in this instance.) “Well then,” my friend said.

We tried pulling it over by the edges of the boat, pushing it, and sitting on the edge. Nothing worked. We heaved ourselves onto the bottom of the boat and sat there. “Soooooo…How’s life?” I said as a great conversation starter. “Yep,” was the response; an equally great way to end a conversation. We sat there for around 20 minutes. I was really beginning to sympathize with people in movies who get cast adrift after a bad storm on a barrel or something. Luckily, the instructor finally showed up and told us to hold on to the daggerboard and lean back.  We did so and the boat slowly righted itself. (I had actually thought about doing this earlier but I didn’t want to break the daggerboard.) Water cascaded off of the sail and dripped from the ropes. We laughed at our naivety and sailed back to shore.

I have to say, that was a great learning experience. Now I know how to flip a sailboat right side up and, more importantly, how to prevent it from flipping in the first place. Sure we flipped about 5 more times during our week of learning how to sail, but it was worth the sailing experience.


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