Start Sailing Now: A Rock Climber From the Midwest Takes the Tiller

A move to a waterfront city leads to sailing lessons

Here is another inspiring Start Sailing Now story. Meet Victoria Shum, who had never been on a sailboat before her move to Norfolk from the Midwest a year ago for pediatric residency after medical school.

start sailing now
Victoria's move to the East Coast prompted her to start sailing.

Why did you decide to learn to sail?

Living near the water was, of course, new to me and my co-residents at the hospital recommended joining Sail Nauticus, which is a nonprofit, community sailing program in the Hampton Roads area. Sail Nauticus primarily teaches underserved kids how to sail and other STEM topics, but it also offers adult sailing courses and social sailing programs for adults. 

My work schedule as a resident was too chaotic for traditional classes, but I made a call to the membership coordinator, who was welcoming and immediately set me up with a social sail and a private sail with an experienced sailor. I was amazed how sweet and inviting everyone was to me. My first sail was with two women who were total strangers. They taught me so much the first day. I remember boarding the boat and saying, “I don’t really like the water, actually.” Then I took the tiller for a small portion and was hooked! One of those women became my close friend and is now my racing partner. To this day, she teases me about that initial comment. 

In addition to the Sail Nauticus formal classes, members are amazingly generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge. Going to social sails, one-on-one sails, and relentlessly asking questions turned out to be more than enough training for me to pass the Sail Nauticus skipper test. A friend also recommended that I read US Sailing’s Basic Keelboat and Steve Colgate on Sailing. Both were excellent. 


Did you have any preconceived notions about sailing?

I’m a rock climber, and I had this idea that a skills test to ‘skipper’ a boat would be very similar to rock climbing. As in, you learn the safety procedures within one or two days; then you’re good to go. It was July when I asked other members how long it would take to become a skipper with Sail Nauticus. I was told that I might be able to accomplish it by the end of the season (and I did), but I have come to understand that sailing is very similar to learning to drive a car. It’s not just learning how to operate the vehicle; it’s learning how a car works and moves, knowing the rules of the road, and having safety plans should something go wrong. 

Introduction to racing

After I passed my skipper’s test for the club, I was in search of a new goal. The woman I sailed with that first sail had also just passed her test, and the club had a fundraising event coming up in a month with a friendly member’s regatta. Being equal in experience and with nothing to lose, we looked at each other and said, “let’s do this!” 

A team of two newly fledged skippers was entering a regatta against some incredibly experienced sailors. We said, “it’s for the kids.” We aptly named our team “Hardalee Skippers” and got to studying. She watched videos and read online blogs, and I read some of The Complete Sailor and asked for advice from the more experienced members. The day came and we were both nervous but excited. She had a more natural feel for the tiller and took the helm while I fed her information and tried to remember every trick in the book to adjust our sails just right. On a light-wind day, we won third place! It was one of the best feelings ever and so crazy that we could get so far in such a short season. 

I’m not certain I’ll get serious about racing in bigger leagues, but I hope to become a mentor and teach other new members how to sail. It brought me so much joy this summer, and I hope to share that with others. 

What would you tell someone interested in learning to sail?

Sailing can be whatever you want it to be—an easy social activity, a serious exercise of your whit in physics, or a high seas adventure. It’s really incredible how big a world it is yet how small a community, and the people truly are very special. You won’t regret it!