Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How to Learn Sailing & Boating & Find Friends Without Going Broke

General: Go to a marina near you, look for an office building or hotel by the water and ask where the harbormaster/dockmaster’s, yacht clubs or sheriff’s office office is. These folks know what happens around the marina, as well as in others and are invariably helpful and kind.
Once you are invited on a boat and are aboard, your skipper should give you a safety talk, tell you where you are going, how long, what the weather and conditions are (If they don’t know, get off the boat – If they don’t check this, they will have many other safety problems they are not aware of.), where the lifejackets are and answer reasonable questions before leaving. If you really don’t feel comfortable, say so politely, firmly and leave – It could be either the skipper/boat or just sailing and there is no stigma to not going – Quite the reverse, in fact.
It’s normal for a sailboat to lean over – If the deck is under water it’s too much. Ask lots of questions – A good skipper will be able to quickly explain sailing theory and with one afternoon sail, you should have a good basic, working knowledge and be able to sail a boat yourself, under supervision. When you experience and like sailing, take a class. It’s a sport that is easy to pick up and the subtleties take a lifetime to master, so it’s never boring and activities range from family to adrenaline.
Etiquette: You must wear shoes with entirely white soles – Any colors mark the decks. Stay after the sail to help put things away, wash the boat and socialize. If you are going for a pleasure sail, ask what food/drinks to bring and bring twice the amount that you think you and your guests will consume (You don’t need to feed everyone but should provide a decent amount and everyone is going to work up an appetite.). It’s a potluck and this is the traditional thank you gift.
Casual: Go to the yacht clubs and ask how to get involved. Although most clubs are incredibly welcoming, there are clubs that are stuck up – Stay away from them. Also ask where the Coast Guard Classes are. They are free (except for materials), a great way to network and are taught by fascinating, lifelong (volunteer) sailors.
Racing: Ask when the races are held, which yacht clubs host them, where the yacht clubs are and when the clubs are open. You can either ask at the yacht club to go to the docks and ask for a ride in a race or go to the gas dock about 45 minutes before the race starts with a big cardboard sign (”Race crew needs boat” will do the trick) and hitch a ride – Be prepared to jump on the boat without it stopping! If you are asking on the dock, my favorite questions are: “Do you need a hand to haul lines?” (They almost always do.) “Do you yell at your crew?” Stay away from Captain Bligh and look for folks who have fun racing. Be honest about your skills – It’s perfectly ok not having any and they will be glad teaching you. Pay close attention – You are learning a highly skilled sport and will be given more advanced jobs as you master them.
Seasickness: It’s caused by your inner ear telling you what vertical is (Correct) and your eyes and touch telling you that the angled, pitching boat is actually stable and vertical (Lies!). You end up fighting yourself, getting tense and sick. Relax, let your body go limp and keep your focus on things that are still, irrespective of the boat (This works in roller coasters, cars, etc., as well – Look ahead to the most distant, steady objects.). A large comoponent of seasickness is focus and attitude – Don’t focus or talk about it – You can literally talk yourself into throwing up in less than two minutes! Similarly, people happily involved with sailing forget they are supposed to be sick and so usually aren’t. These reasons, as well as the confidence it gives, are why I stick the least experienced people on the wheel (drive the boat) and involve guests with actively sailing the boat.
If you are unsure, don’t drink alcohol the night before or during the sail, drink plenty of water, stay away from large, greasy meals and bring ginger ale and ginger snap cookies – They do wonders for calming the stomach. Keep on deck and keep your eyes on the horizon. Relax and find a place that’s comfortable. Most importantly, keep involved with the sail, learning and enjoying it. You can also ask your doctor for scopalomine patches, which work very well, although they do give you dry mouth. If you do throw up, don’t make a big deal of it, just go to the downwind, lower side of the boat (Nobody wants to smell your mess and if it’s overboard, you don’t have to clean it up.) with plenty of time to spare and do it over the side. Pinch your nose and hold your head up and you won’t get it up your nose. Quickly wash out your mouth, dose yourself with generous amounts of ginger ale and ginger snaps, find a comfy place, relax, get engrossed in happy conversation and look at the horizon!

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