On Sailing – A Story and a Challenge

I love sailing.  I’ve only been doing it for about 6 years now with varying frequency and intensity, but I noticed that as time progressed the ways that it enriches my life change.  This changing dynamic of how it fits into your life is part of why I think it becomes a lifelong passion for people.  Let me explain by sharing a few of my own personal experiences.

My first experience on a sailboat was with my boss at the time.  My buddy and I had worked for months on this big project and when we were done and all the Exec’s were happy, he invited us and our wives out on his Catalina 30 in San Diego.  We motorsailed with just the main up in the bay for a while then he looked at me and said “are you ready to go sailing?”  I was quite confused because I thought we were already sailing but said “sure” or something like that.  He reached down, turned off the diesel and had me unfurl the jib.  Things got quiet and all you could hear was the rush of the wind and water.  I was hooked.
When I got back I discovered the Arizona Yacht Club.  I started coming down to Tempe Town Lake and crewing for people like George Tingom and Peter Schweizer.  I discovered racing.  I grabbed a sunfish and gave that a try.  I ran into Emory Heisler and saw how much fun he was having and thought to myself “I want to hang out with those Buccaneer guys…they are having a great time!”  The most important thing any of us can do for new sailors is get them out on the water!  Give them the opportunity get wet, race, hang off the rail, flip the boat…whatever…just get them out there!

So then I got a Buccaneer 18.  I raced the heck out of it.  With crew, without crew…it didn’t  matter…I wanted to compete.  My daughter was too small to go with me at that point (this is important later) but I was out as often as I could get out.  I also took the Sailing Instructor course, but at the time for me, taking the course was more so I could learn more about sailing.  I was intent on winning and improving my skills.  And I did.  I won the Club Bucc Fleet in 2006.  Quite frankly I think it was because I showed up more than anyone else…but hey, that’s 50% of it, right!  I had a lot of friends help me learn along the way as well.  Mentors and friends that were always willing to answer questions like “how did you beat me in that race” or “why doesn’t my boat point as high” or “how do you replace the centerboard gasket?”  These are the kinds of friends a beginning boat owner needs to have so they don’t get frustrated and stonewalled.
It was about this point that the real estate market started to nose dive.  At that same time the ASF decided it needed a paid professional, so I took on the responsibilities at the ASF Director of Sailing Education.  This was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  People along the way had given me a lot, more than I even knew.  Now it was my turn to give back.  The surprising thing was that the people I encountered (and still encounter) all have a fresh enthusiasm for our sport and their enthusiasm invigorates me.  I got at least as much from spending time with them as I hope they got from me.  You don’t have to be a “qualified instructor” to give back either.  I’m sure you know someone who has expressed interest in learning to sail.  Take them on as crew.  Give them that chance.  Come out and help with a Start Sailing Right class or a High School Sailing class on the water some afternoon.  You don’t need to be certified…you just need to want to give back to your sport.
Then it was the Buccaneer North American Championship campaign.  18 months of prep and training with crew Patrick Edwards resulted in the B Fleet Trophy coming home to AZ yet again.  But when that was over, I decided that now my two kids were both big enough to be out on the water, but the Bucc wasn’t the right fit.  After much discussion with my loving wife, we decided to get a bigger boat.  Reluctantly, I traded my Championship steed to Mike Parker for a sporty, but decidedly more pigish, Santana.  What I enjoy about sailing now is not the thrill of victory or the intensity of competition.  It is time with my family and friends that would dare crew with a 6 and 3 year old on the boat (we almost named the boat “Stop It” after one weekend.)  It’s seeing my daughter drive the boat while my son sleeps in the v-berth.  My wife starting to “get it” when it comes to launching and dousing the enormous spinnaker.  Having my son come help me drive the boat.  These moments, and many others, are what I get out of sailing now.
The point here is that every step along the way, sailing has fulfilled me in ways I’m only just starting to understand.  And every step along the way the people I encountered are what made the difference.  I hope I have been that person for others.
And now here is the challenge.  This season, be that person for someone else.  Take on a greenhorn as crew for a season.  Sponsor a Fleet Tuning day to bring everyone’s level of competition up.  Come out on a Start Sailing Right afternoon and help out.  Volunteer to help with the Leukemia Cup.  Our club has hit a bit of a plateau in membership and event participation.  The only way to push through isif everyone takes the opportunity to be that person that makes a difference in someone else’s sailing experience.  Make this the first season that you make a conscious effort to give back to the sport and club that we all love so much.
(Thanks to Mike Ferring, Chrisann Tortora for Photos)

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