Updated: Mar 9
Jumping in a sailboat for the first time and really feeling the power the wind can have when its blowing even a little is an eye opening experience.
I used to sail.. a long time ago. It's a funny thing about time, one moment it was yesterday that I was out with one of my closest friends (Marco) on his 1983 Catalina 27, then a moment later it was a long time ago. I remember enjoying the hell out of trying to get every point of a knot out of her that we could.
Marco had taken the ASA101 course at the Annapolis Sailing School years before I joined him on his boat, but he passed on every ounce of instruction to me. (He's a helluva' teacher and at times my big brother.) So after a few times out on his boat "Umbra Lunare" we had a rhythm, we got in tune, and the boat would fly. We loved a good beam reach out of the South River with the boat heeled over and our adrenaline pumping. She was a good little boat and responded well to our inexperience.
But as I mentioned, that was a long time ago, the late 90's / early 2000's. So when I decided last year to rekindle my relationship with sails on the water I decided to be more like the adult I am today and take a sailing course. I was always jealous of Marco having taken the sailing course in Annapolis so naturally I had to follow suit.
I looked up the Annapolis Sailing School and found my way to their website. I navigated to the courses and proceeded to sign up for the Basic Keelboat Sailing course ASA101. This was roughly January of 2020. I was all signed up for the first available course of the season in April.
I received the ASA101 textbook to study, which I must admit, as an executive in a learning development company, that book is pretty good. I studied and studied, learning all the basics: points of sail, parts of the boat, all the weird words that I'm convinced were done as a practical joke by some drunken pirate, rules of the road, you name it.
The introductory materials were extensive and very well put together. Each major section provided a practice quiz for review. I found it very helpful to review the quizzes often so that I could retain the strange vocabulary, and truly delve into the physics of sailing, sail trim, and the general mind-freak that is the idea that someone can sail upwind.
Well, 2020 decided to throw a pandemic party and my class in April was indefinitely suspended by order of the governor. (please don't get me wrong, I truly respect the gravity of what was happening and believe that the state and the sailing school did the right thing.) I was able to speak with the staff at the school and they warmly offered to refund my money, but I was determined to take this course. They gladly rescheduled me to the next maybe-possibly-we might have a class in the summer. I was able to book the first weekend in July. And this gave me a lot more study time with the book.
The class was run by a lead instructor and there were other supporting instructors. We started the first day with a classroom discussion about basics and a primer before heading out to the keelboats.
The keelboats that the school uses are Rainbow 24's designed by Sparkman and Stephens specifically for the Annapolis Sailing School. They are the perfect vessel to learn the basics on. See my article "Stick & Rudder" to learn more about my thoughts on these boats. Suffice it to say they are rock solid, impossible to flip vessels that will teach you much about the rhythm of the wind, boat, & sea... if you let her.
I was paired up with two other students and we rigged up the boat and headed out into the Severn with our instructor Dan.
It was hot day on that first day and we were begging for any puff of wind we could get. We quickly learned that sailing in little to no wind was much more difficult than with wind. But we pushed on, practicing tacking, jibing, identifying our point of sail, who has the right of way with other boats, etc.
To be honest, the training truly is basic as the title suggests, "Basic Keelboat" but the fundamentals are exactly what you need at this stage. To break down sailing to it's core components, and then build up from there is the only true logical path.
The tests were not hard, so long as you studied the book provided prior to the course. The instructors emphasized points in class that are commonly misunderstood as well.
Taking the course created a hunger in me to want to know more & experience more.
We all passed the practical and hands-on evaluations and we were super excited. I immediately decided to rent the rainbows again and again over the next few months to reinforce what I had learned. I also signed up for the ASA 103 "Basic Coastal certification which I also passed.
The point is that I highly recommend the 101 course for anyone who has not taken it.
Tips For The Course:
Study the book. Seriously.. don't slack on it. Everything you need to know is in there and even if it doesn't click perfectly for you while you are studying it, when you get to class it will. The concepts, parts of the boat, points of sail, all of it.
Relax. When you get on the boat, relax. If you are anxious it gets in your head and you start to forget what you've learned. The boat will be fine, you will be fine, your instructor has your back. Relax. You will do much better.
Practice tying the knots before you come. They aren't hard but take some muscle memory. If you practice them well ahead of time you will not need to worry about them at class. (I wish I had). Youtube has a vast amount of good knot tying tutorials.
Enjoy the hell out of it. I was lucky enough to learn on the Rainbow as I mentioned. Sailing, above all else, is fun.
Heave Away.. this is the start of something amazing!
Mike D. is the founder of Sail Junky Magazine. Striving to find more purpose in life, Mike writes and shares about his journey to rediscover his passion for living a fulfilled life, especially through the medium of sailing. firstname.lastname@example.org