“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. That started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.” —The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island by George Wyle and Sherwood Schwartz
When I first started this adventure I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. As a Divemaster with close to 100 dives and being with a company named Compass Dive and Sail, I felt it only appropriate to learn the “sail” part of the business. So with proper guidance on where to go and who to seek for instruction, we headed south to Charleston, South Carolina to take the American Sailing Association Basic Keelboat 101 course. All sailing instruction we use is through the Charleston Sailing School. They are very professional, polite, and easy to work with. The Basic Keelboat 101 course is a 2-day class combining a little time in the classroom and a majority of it out on the water.
As someone who has never sailed before, I was quite nervous (and a little excited). I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want to let people down if I turned into Gilligan. My first recommendation is: Read the Book! Like diving, sailing has its own vocabulary and it is a lot to learn initially. The book gives you a foundation on what you will do in class. One day 1 of the class we met in the classroom and after introductions, we went out to the boat we would be using to go over the parts of the boat and the sails, what everything is called and some basic etiquette. After that we went back to the classroom to talk about points of sail and the plan for the afternoon. The boat we used has a tiller to control the rudder. No steering wheel. It takes a few minutes to get used to because you are looking at the wind, the sails, and which direction you want to move the tiller to steer the boat! After a few minutes of getting the feel of it, we were out on the water with the main sail and jib up and we were sailing. The 101 course has a max of 4 students which is the perfect amount. The other students in my class had sailing experience so I was the newbie. The other students were great as they were helping me out as well.
Our instructor’s name was John and he was awesome. He was calm, relaxed and has a passion for sailing. He was easy to approach with questions and is a human encyclopedia when it comes to boats and sailing. It was a great pleasure to work with him. Day 2 started out with practicing some basic knots, and then…the written test! Similar to diving there are written tests to ensure you have an understanding of the terms and basic concepts. It was a 100 question multiple choice test that, if you read the book, and paid attention on day 1, isn’t that bad at all (although if you know me, I was stressing). After the test the rest of the day was spent on the water practicing going to points of sail, tacking, jibing, and running some sailing drills.
From someone who went from never sailing before to being an official graduate of the 101 class, I cannot say enough how much fun it is. It is challenging, relaxing and fun at the same time. Working with a good crew and harnessing the wind to power the boat forward with some speed is a great feeling. I left the class wanting to sail more and continue my sailing education. If you like diving, you will like sailing just as much. Similar to diving the more you do it, the more education you get, the more confident and more safe sailor you will be. A big thank you to the folks at Compass Dive and Sail for letting us stay on SERENITY while docked at the Charleston City Marina (which is where the Charleston Sailing School is too). SERENITY is a gorgeous boat on which many adventures await. See you on the water.
Matt Barrett – PADI Assistant Instructor, New Sailor