Plan of a Tack: Sailing to Fitness

Arizona Republic reporter Ashley Macha interviewed Commodore Emory Heisler for the Republic’s series about outdoor activities to enjoy here in Arizona,

by Ashley Macha – Sept. 23, 2011 11:08 AM
The Arizona Republic

You don’t have to live near the ocean to set sail.  Arizona has many lakes and ideal weather for year-round sailing. 

Emory Heisler, Commodore for the Arizona Yacht Club, has been sailing and racing in Arizona most weekends for the past decade.  “Over the years, sailing has filled the adrenaline void for me when I haven’t been able to get up to the mountains for snow skiing,” he says. “It’s a stress that takes you away from your other stresses. But it’s a fun stress.”

Heisler, 54, an IT manager for United Health Care, first picked up sailing on trips to San Diego and started testing out Arizona waters by joining the Arizona Yacht Club .  “Conditions over here are so variable, you really have to pay attention to the wind,” Heisler says. “But it can help build pretty good sailors.”

You don't have to live near the ocean to set sail on the water. Arizona has many lakes and ideal weather for year-round sailing.

Sailing is a good way to get and stay fit.  “Smaller boats tend to be more athletic and keel boats less so, but not always,” Heisler says. “It takes lots of ‘sit-ups’ while ‘hiking out’  to keep a small boat from capsizing on windy days. And lots of agility and balance running around on a boat that’s heeling over one way and another.”

Heisler suggests that beginners start out by checking out different boats, working with a team or spending time on fellow sailors’ boats to build up skills and learn strategy, which plays a huge part in sailboat racing, he says.  “Strategy is always a factor, and part of what makes it so much fun and what keeps your adrenaline going.”

The club offers classes for juniors and adults ranging from novice to advanced. Novice adult classes are composed of four 2 1/2-hour classroom sessions and five four-hour, on-the-water sessions for $350. Participants also must be able to pass a swim test with a lifejacket before they can enroll. The class earns you a U.S. Sailing certification, although you don’t have to be certified to sail on any Arizona waters.

For Arizona Yacht Club members who demonstrate sailing skills and interest, a small fleet of boats is available on race days through an “Adopt-A-Boat” program where members can borrow a boat for the day. Races are regularly held at Tempe Town Lake and Lake Pleasant.

Heisler says Labor Day marks the end of sailing season in most parts of the country, but it marks the beginning of prime season in Arizona.  September to December are the fall season, and February to April are the spring season, but he says Arizona waters are good to sail year-round as long as there’s wind.

Club members also participate in social gatherings, including camping trips and dinners.  “It’s like belonging to a golf league. It gives you a scheduled reason to sail once or twice a month,” Heisler says. “It’s a lifelong adventure.”

Details: Arizona Yacht Club, arizonayachtclub.org.