A Newbie Sailor's Discoveries

As a newbie sailor I am continually making discoveries about sailing, both good and bad. For example, anything with the word “marine” in its name costs twice as much as its land-based counterpart. However, the number of positive things overwhelmingly outweighs the negative.

Here are a handful of things I did not know about sailing until I learned to sail:

Sailing is definitely an active sport. Unless you’re looking at photos of people racing sailboats, it seems everyone in sailing pictures is kicking back in the cockpit reading a copy of SpinSheet or hanging over the bowsprit doing an imitation of Kate Winslet in “Titanic.” Sure, once in a while you’re lucky enough to get a wind across the beam that just happens to allow you to point your boat in precisely the direction you want to go, and you can relax and sail on a single tack for an hour or more. But eventually, you have to turn that thing and that means jumping out of your relaxed, cushy perch and adjusting lines in a perfectly orchestrated motion. Fickle winds translate to a good day’s workout. Wanna head north against north winds? Get ready for some exercise.

 Three quarters of the planet is covered by water; what sailors know is that a portion of our planet can be uniquely serent and thought-provoking. Photo by Al Schreitmueller

Of course, there’s more to sailing than simply knowing how to get a boat to move in the direction you want. There are currents, tides, depths, weather, and shifting winds to consider and none of those things are constant. Sometimes they change as you’re leaving the dock, thus rendering all the chart plotting the skipper has done fairly useless. As a sailor, you have to always be thinking in multiple dimensions which makes sailing a mentally challenging sport. You can’t just hop on a sailboat, turn a key, and go.

By the same token, sailing can appear complicated but it’s not. Before I learned to sail, I would look at all the wires and ropes on sailboats, and it seemed like a very complicated mass of confusion. It reminded me of a drawer full of tangled necklaces my mother once kept, never wearing any of them because it was just too much effort to try to free any of them from their hopelessly knotted state. I imagined sailing to be somewhat akin to standing in the middle of those tangled knots but on a much larger scale. Once I learned the purpose of all those “wires and ropes,” they made sense. The same was true with other aspects of sailing, such as aids to navigation. Before I learned to sail, they were just a bunch of seemingly random colors and shapes bobbing pointlessly on the water. Now they are my road signs on the liquid highway.

Learning to sail also opens up a peaceful new world. Most everyone knows that roughly three quarters of the planet is covered by water; what sailors know is that portion of our planet can be uniquely serene and thought-provoking. Wind rippling past your tell-tales, waves lapping against the hull, and an occasional splash on the deck are a tantalizing combination of sounds that have a tendency to lure some people into a state of calm contemplation. You would think there’s no room for the mind to wander, but there is. Just don’t be lulled into inattention and find yourself run aground or failing to notice those ominous storm clouds approaching from astern. (You looked, didn’t you.)

What’s the biggest discovery I made when I learned to sail? It’s a blast!

About the Author: Russ Borman is a writer and new sailor who sails his S2 11.0C in Annapolis.