In a few years, I’ve gone from someone with no sailing experience (and little boating experience, aside from canoeing), to a sailor comfortable in command of small craft in challenging conditions, with experience at the helm and all about the decks in coastal cruising, and even crewing during an ocean crossing race from San Francisco to Hawaii.
When I lived in a place far from the ocean (and any significant sailing community), I knew I wanted to sail; but it didn’t happen for me until I moved to a city located on a bay with an extremely vibrant and active sailing scene.
Then I headed down to the marina, where I happened to find what I consider to be the best sailing resource in the world: one that’s worth travelling far to participate in. Cal-Sailing Club is located on the water in Berkeley, California. It’s a sailing cooperative, which means members perform all administrative work collectively. It also means that it costs about $20/month and two hours of work to participate in sailing lessons. That’s it, $20/month for the opportunity to take free lessons, borrow equipment, learn windsurfing and water safety, and tap into a network of helpful, skilled and experienced sailors.
If you can’t come to Berkeley to sail at Cal-Sailing Club, that’s okay. You can still find a way to get your foot onto a boat. It’s about networking, finding something you can offer as crew on a boat. Start by going to where the boats are. Talk to people. Ask if they know anyone who would like to take people out for a sail (if you’re willing to try racing, this will be easier). Remember to bring delicious food for everyone aboard. Remember to wear warm, synthetic clothing and non-marking boating shoes (basically, check a Web site for a list of gear you need to provide yourself).
The trick with sailing is that for those who love sailing, and who know starboard from port, and who can access the docks, finding a spot as crew on a boat isn’t hard. Lots of boats need crew. Some of them just need people to follow directions and move from one side of the boat to the other in a race. Other boats need someone to help stand watch on long cruises. Some boats just need friendly faces and good company.
When you’re sailing on a boat that is unknown to you, keep your own safety in mind. Keep a lookout for sea-worthiness. Research the boat and the skipper. Ask questions. The most important resource is a sailing club or a yacht club. Join one! They’re amazing, welcoming places, all in all; because a successful sailor is a hospitable and patient person.
Essentially, to learn to sail, a person needs to go to the water, and look for boats. It makes sense for motivated people to come to Berkeley, California for an intensive season or week or two of introduction to sailing, to get an idea of the type of sailing to pursue (Racing? Lake sailing? Ocean cruising?), and equipment that is needed for various conditions.
Get out for your first sail. Don’t talk yourself out of it; if you’re one of us born sailors, every time you go out will offer some lift to your mood, or exhilarating moment. Welcome to my favorite pastime!