27 June 2011

Learning to Sail: Part I

Just got home from another sailing lesson, courtesy of the Hoofers.  Knotty Rascal this time - a 27-foot monohull, and the only boat in the Hoofer fleet with a WHEEL instead of a tiller.  We love, love, love Knotty Rascal.  We've decided, though, that we should stop going out on Knotty until we have the tiller-thing down cold, since our ASA 101 test-out will be on a tiller boat (J-24).  The other big (-ish) cruising keelboat in the Hoofer fleet is Spray, which is a tiller-steered 30-footer.  Spray and Knotty have in common the all-important self-furling jib.  Won't leave home without one, we're quite sure.

We've had some fun on Knotty and Spray, but honestly, the best boat for us to practice on is the J-24: our nemesis.

Our sailing struggles began on Memorial Day weekend, when we took a three-day ASA 101 crash course.  ASA 101 is the American Sailing Association's most basic certification.  Things did not go well for us.  During the official twenty hours of instruction, we had no wind, too much wind, and thunderstorms.  We were frustrated to no end at our inability to turn the boat in the direction we wanted to go and our frequent propensity to go downwind when our instructor Randy directed us to go upwind (and vice versa).  We couldn't remember to trim our mainsail, and even when we did remember, we didn't know HOW to trim the mainsail (in or out?), and on the off-chance we had some clue about what we wanted the mainsail to do, we couldn't make our hands and arms do what was required to pull in or ease out that damn rope that Randy kept calling the main sheet.  We were STRESSED.

And on top of our continuing confusion, we found the J-24 to be a Very Small Boat.  Dang, it heeled WAY over, and the toe rail was in the water, and we were falling all over the place, although not overboard.  Hardly anything sturdy to hold onto.  Most of the deck is NOT EVEN FLAT - it slopes and the decking material is fiberglass, NOT non-skid.  We have been advised by many experienced sailors in the Hoofer community (and we've seen it written online and in sailing books) that the best way to learn to sail is on small boats.  And by "small boats," these well-meaning folks apparently mean Very, VERY Small Boats.  At Hoofers, that means techs, sloops, scows, lasers, 420s....  I don't know anything about any of these boat types except that they ALL tip over regularly.  Capsize, that is.  Astonishingly often, as far as I've noticed.  No, I don't think so.  The J-24 is small enough.

On the last day of the ASA-athon (as one of the instructors called it), Ean decided not to test-out - he knew he wasn't ready.  I gave it a try, but the wind was blowing too hard, and I got all flustered and mixed up - only passed the written test (of course!), not the sailing skills.  We drove home from Madison exhausted and disappointed.  Crabbiness ensued in the Behr household.  Harsh words were exchanged.  Blame was spread liberally around, to Hoofers, our instructor, the weather... but mostly we just felt really stupid and incompetent.

So.  In the past month, we have been zipping over to Madison two or three times a week, getting as much sailing time in as we can stand.  It's been grueling.  I know it's ridiculous for me to say that, but geeze, we have been beat up and bruised and lectured to and advised nearly to death.  God bless those patient instructors.  "Your sails are luffing, fall off a bit."  Pause.  "Fall off."  Pause.  "You're heading up: you need to fall off."  Pause.  "You're about to tack, fall off, turn to port."  Pause.  "Turn to port, that's left - pull your tiller toward you."  Pause.  "Harder, pull the tiller toward you some more." Pause.  "Okay, now we're in irons....."  Ean might say more about the instructors' abilities.  Suffice it to say that they are expert sailors, more than they are expert teachers.

Things were touch-and-go for a while.... but now we have progress to report.  The story continues in Part II.

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