Start Sailing Now: Meet Jerry Lee, Who Dreams of Expanding Sailing's Demographics

From learning to sail to an ocean passage: Meet Bay sailor Jerry Lee

My first exposure to sailing was in college, when my friend took me aboard his Westsail 32 out of Coronado, CA. I didn’t know anything about sailing, but I knew I was hooked. I loved every part of it— punching through Pacific waves on that heavy boat, staying in its beautiful teak and bronze cabin. Ever since that day, I waited for the time where I could be in a position to go sailing regularly.

Sailing vessel Sonora
Jerry Lee's Bristol 30, Sonora del Viento

My first time really figuring out how to sail was when I was in law school. I would rent Sunfish dinghies at Lake Wauberg, where the University of Florida aquatics center is located. All you needed to do was to pass a swim test, and voilà! You could take that tiny thing anywhere on that alligator-infested body of water. I also sailed the pants off of a boat named Jindo, a Montgomery 17 that I purchased just after law school with the money I earned from my first job. I sailed Jindo all around Tampa Bay, and even did a motor-sail trip from Marathon, FL, to Key West. 

Boat ownership and sailing the Chesapeake

I moved to the Chesapeake region in 2013 and a few years later purchased my 1975 Bristol 30, Sonora del Viento, which I now keep on the West River, just south of Annapolis. I spent the first two years with Sonora doing various trips up and down the Chesapeake Bay, starting with day trips, and then sailing to places like Annapolis, Baltimore, Chesapeake Beach, and other nearby destinations. Eventually I made it to Norfolk, and I started doing the trips solo. It was sort of painful—running into storms, damaging my boat, and surviving all of it. Last July I did a solo trip around the DelMarVa, which you can read about here.

In 2018 I joined the Sailing Club of Washington (SCOW), and last summer I got my feet wet racing Flying Scots, which has helped me learn a lot about sail tuning and has translated to sailing with more safety, comfort, and speed while cruising. I also own a classic Boston Whaler to run around the Potomac River.  

sailing with a tiller
Jerry Lee, pictured here on the Potomac River, learned to sail while attending law school in Florida. Later he moved to the Chesapeake Bay region where his love of sailing has expanded. 

Future sailing plans

I would really like to do a Bermuda trip this year, but perhaps not solo. I’d also like to try racing my cruiser in some casual races. One day I’d like to spend about half of the year on the water, visiting different parts of the world. I’m also studying for my USCG Master’s exam. I am hoping that in 2020 I could be a commercial mariner and maybe one day offer sail and power charters.

Sailing on the Atlantic Ocean
Lee aboard Sonora during an Atlantic Ocean passage.

Advice for would-be sailors

Start slow and easy on a small boat. An easy way to try it out is to join one of the many clubs designed just for this. For example, my own club (SCOW) gets you access to a fleet of Flying Scots and two small cruisers for a very modest fee. Another way to get started is to make friends with a boat owner and crew on their boat. I encourage people who are already hooked to not shy away from buying a sailboat. There is nothing like sailing on your own boat. 

Jerry Lee dreams of expanding sailing demographics
Jerry Lee is all smiles on the bow

Expanding the demographics of sailing

I’m a young-ish Asian American sailor originally from South Korea. While I’ve met a great deal of close friends through sailing, it remains popular mostly to a specific demographic, and most sailors I meet walk a very different life than I do. I think I would have become more deeply involved in sailing much sooner if it were more diverse, with more women, minorities, and young people.  

One day I would like to make it my mission to expand the demographics of the people involved in sailing. I’d love to help people discover it and help them understand that it isn’t an unattainable hobby. I’d help them with the learning curve too. Of course I’d do all this while continuing to learn more myself, since sailing truly is a lifelong passion, with no limits on how much one can learn. Read more about Jerry’s adventures here.