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August 2011
Got a membership to Community Boating Inc., sailed, capsized, confused all dock staff by wanting to then continue sailing, continued sailing, had a great time. Recommended. Including the capsizing part.

Community boating is $260 for unlimited sailing and classes for a year. Less exciting than constant ocean sailing, but cheap, and they do trips into the harbor a couple times a month, including some camping trips out on the islands. And they do racing stuff.

I planned to go Saturday morning, 10:15am, Orientation, then Rigging class, then Shore School all in a row. It was a fine plan. Except the 10:15am part. I went back to bed, and went for the later Orientation and Rigging classes (no later Shore School that day). Rigging + Shore School = Solo Rating = you can take a boat out by yourself.

There was a guy in my class who I got a gradually increasing impression was a bit off. When we were sitting in docked boats doing our rigging test, we had just had it pointed out it's important to keep the main sail loose when you're not going anywhere so a gust doesn't hit it and knock your boat over. We noticed this guy's sail was entirely taut, and suggested he let it out. He said "I know what the problem is, but my phone is ringing." I said "I think you should not worry about your phone and let your sail out before it knocks your boat over." He answered his phone, I held his boat. I briefly felt like he was in the wrong place, then quickly decided that much like yoga, people who seem to get it the least may end up benefitting the most.

Then I waited longer than I should have for "informal instruction" - which is basically any other member volunterring to take you out on a boat and teach you. I was given a useful estimate of how long it would take, it took about that long. I was first in line when I finally headed home.

Today I went back for Shore School. I really liked the teacher. I think his name was Barry. They keep flags up to indicate how strong the wind is - green, yellow, and red. You start out only rated to go out on a green flag. The teacher said if you go out on a green flag, and it turns yellow... and you're having fun, keep sailing, that's the best time to learn.. If the flag turns red... and you're still having fun, keep sailing. If anxiety overcomes fun, turn upwind, lower your sail, and they'll come get you. And he said a quote I'm fond of: "If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough" - Mario Andretti
And said if everything is going fine, you're not learning much.

Took the test after, then got in a boat. Not long after, I tried my first jibe (turn while facing away from the wind). The teacher had said if, as soon as you get the sail over, you start turning, you will get wet. I did, and I did. Despite what I was told, I attempted to do a slow continuous turn with the rudder, because that's the kind of thing my brain is used to. I fully intended to capsize, but not today, and not on my first attempt at a jibe.

The teacher said once you are in the water, be zen (which immediately made me think of "step 1: do nothing"). Accept that your fate is to be wet, and just be wet. Do not attempt to right the boat, basically because it's dangerous (you could end up with an unmanned boat sailing across the harbor, or get knocked out by the boom). Just wait for staff to come get you. I think that I did that very well. It was all much less dramatic than I expected. I was just going along, and then suddenly instead of sitting in a boat, I was sitting in the Charles River. Turns out life vests work real nice, and I somehow have less objection to the rule requiring wearing them at all times on the water. Also, combat boots feel funny underwater.

I waved at a passing Duck Boat, they waved back. The driver explained to the passengers how a sailboat can be righted by standing on its centerboard. I really wanted to shout back to them why I wasn't doing that.

A staff person came out on a power boat and took me back to the dock. The first words out of her mouth were "You weren't waiting too long were you?" I filled out a form sayng yep, I capsized a boat, checked off the appropriate boxes, and handed it back. I'm not sure why they even do that, nobody really seemed to think anything of me capsizing. Another person hauled my sailboat back in with another power boat, while pumping out most of the water. I pumped the rest of the water out of my boat with a vacuum on the dock.

I asked if I could go back out, which seemed to confuse everyone, but they had no objection, so I did. Apparently nobody ever does this, weird.

I got in at least one semi-successful jibe, although I lost the main sheet (line controlling the main sail). Barry said many times "Nothing bad will happen if you let go of the main sheet." It's an important thing to learn, but now I couldn't reach my main sheet, and nobody told me what to do then. Ended up using the rudder to steer into the wind till I was able to grab it, and that worked out fine.

I eventually noticed I was missing the cap to my sunblock, and remembered I had seen something that looked awful similar to it back on the dock, so I headed back in. I decided that was a good time to head home. I was there from about noon to 5:30pm.

Going back tomorrow. I expected at this point to be anxious to take the next class, Mainsail, required for the Helmsman test, to be allowed to take passengers out. I'm not. I just want more practice. And maybe some of that informal instruction.

I think everybody should go sailing. And I think everybody should capsize, preferably accidentally, and under circiumstances so easy to recover. It seemed like a useful lesson in humility.

More technical explanation of how I capsized:

I was in a run, possibly near a broad reach. Pulled the tiller away from the sail a little, and held it there - this was my error. Pulled the sail in at about the right time, then since I still had the tiller pulled in, and was therefore still turning, noticed the wind started catching the sail, in a bad way, and let the main sheet all the way out, but it was too late, and I got wet. I just should have straightened the tiller out and used it to keep the boat pointed directly downwind until I had the sail back out and the boat stable again.

Mega-yacht racing promo video, to the sound of Sail by AWOLNATION.
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