Learning on his own
My first sailing experience was at about age 12, when I found an old wooden dinghy underneath our rented cottage on a New Hampshire lake. I put her together, rigged the sail, and drifted downwind until eventually I was rescued by my dad in a rowboat and towed back to shore because I didn’t know how to tack or sail upwind.
Fast forward to age 37 and my mid-life crisis. My wife and I were canoeing across a lake in Maine on a breezy day, with my wife holding up a towel to make us go faster. Upon returning home to Frederick, MD, she found me on the phone with LL Bean at midnight trying to buy a mast and outrigger to convert my canoe into a sailboat. Her epic words were, “Why don’t you just drive down to Annapolis and buy a sailboat?”
Twenty-four hours later I had one, with some great advice from Backyard Boats. I brought home my Barnett 14, threw it on the lawn and pulled out the directions. “Put the pintle in the gudgeon, and tie on the traveler with stopper knots at each end, lead through the aft mainsheet block, and secure to the boom with a bowline.” Yikes! I couldn’t understand any of the words, so I bought a book for guidance. Eventually I got the boat together and took it to a chilly lake in Pennsylvania in late April. About 30 seconds after I shoved off, I taught myself how to right and get into a sailboat that had capsized.
An addiction was born
Over the next six years, the Barnett 14 turned into a MacGregor 22 (pop-top), then briefly a partnership in a Tartan 33. In 2000, my office gave me a gift certificate to J/World Annapolis.
My first course was a delivery from Hope Town in the Abacos to Miami aboard a Morgan Out Island 48. After my first time on a real keelboat in the ocean, I was hooked. I did U.S. Sailing courses at J/World in quick succession, including Basic Keelboat, Cruising, Bareboat, and Coastal Navigation. The learning curve was steep, but the classes were fabulous. In 2003 I bought White Eagle, a 1990 Sabre 34 Mk II in Narragansett, RI, and brought her back to the Chesapeake Bay, where my wife and I sail out of Back Creek and have gone as far as Cape May, NJ.
In 2007 I joined the Offshore Sail Training Squadron (OSTS) at the U.S. Naval Academy as a volunteer instructor, and have been involved with the program ever since, currently as a Navy 44 skipper, with opportunities to train midshipmen and sail to Block Island, Newport, Marblehead, Rockport, and other ports up the coast.
I retired from my architectural firm last spring at age 60 and moved to Annapolis. I hope to share my passion for sailing with others as a sailing coach at J/World Annapolis, where I’m teaching cruising courses and coastal navigation.
Advice for getting started
I started sailing the hard way, so my biggest piece of advice would be, “Take some lessons!” There’s nothing like learning to sail on a dinghy or small keelboat, which will give you a very intimate understanding of the fundamentals.
After 23 years, there is still so much to learn and experience. I think many people spend too much money on their boats, gear, and electronics, and way too little learning how to use them, be safe on them, and get the most out of them. I continue to take lessons and learn something every time I go out on the water. Celestial navigation is my current course of study.
--by Beth Crabtree