Start Sailing Now: What a Great Sport!

Mark Burrows sailing
Sail number one: a race that included a support boat with beer. Sail number two: a cruise to an amazing destination. No wonder Mark Burrows was hooked!

No sailing experience needed...

My first experience sailing was the summer before I graduated from college. A friend from school invited me to help him race a Flying Scot sailboat in Long Beach, CA. I had no experience, but he said it wasn’t necessary. The race started, and we made our way around the track. At some point, a support boat came by with a cooler of beer and handed a couple to us. I thought, “What a great sport!” A month or so later, the same friend invited me to go with him and a few others out to Catalina Island. It was a great trip with good wind, rolling seas, and an amazing destination. I was hooked. Magazine subscriptions and books followed to learn more about it.

After settling in Virginia, I picked up a copy of SpinSheet in Deltaville, and I became a sailing magazine junkie. As I read the sailing magazines, the lifestyle looked amazing with the destinations all over the world. The projects looked interesting and doable. Something that kept popping up in the articles was to contact a local sailing club about becoming a crew member. It sounded sketchy, but I tried a couple of clubs and got some rides. 

Boat ownership and sailing on OPBs

I learned to sail aboard Flying Scots at Belle Haven Marina’s sailing school on the Potomac River. After taking lessons I bought a trailerable Hunter 26 named Proposal. I was starting a family, and it seemed the right size. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot on that boat, but I didn’t keep it too long as that same family and my career took up more and more time. When I sold the boat, I learned that it’s a terrible thing watching someone drive away with your first boat.  

For several years after that I raced with Herrington Harbour Sailing Association (HHSA), primarily PHRF, but also one-design aboard a Catalina 27 and a Beneteau First 36.7. Eventually, I bought my own Beneteau 36.7, Julep, and raced it with HHSA until, once again, life changes made me sell it. Since then, I’ve continued racing OPB (other people’s boats). A couple of years ago, I started helping with some deliveries, and I’ve also done some cruises with HHSA, which finally got me out into the Atlantic.

My last boat was an Inland 20 scow called 642, which I sailed out of Washington Sailing Marina with the Potomac River Sailing Association. I sold it last year. They are fast boats, and I loved the physical challenge—be fast, be strong, be smart, and don’t tip over.

Going forward, I want to continue to race but have started focusing on long-term cruising. I’m not sure where I want to go, but Europe sounds interesting. I’ve started tracking boat types and prices and looking for the next boat.

How to get started sailing

I would recommend a sailing school. All the instructors that I know are great, and the programs are excellent guides for getting your feet wet. The next step is getting on the water and doing it. Racing is an easy way to get boat time and learn about the community and lifestyle. With racing, you have it on your calendar. You go rain or shine. It’s very easy to sit at the dock waiting for the perfect day, but you won’t get better at sailing and boat handling. When I raced my boat, I was always on the lookout for crew, as were some of the other skippers. Check out the club websites and contact them. More than likely, you will get picked up—if you reliably show up for each race you commit to.

How has sailing changed your life? 

I have met a lot of people that would never have been part of my life. It’s kind of like being in a special club. With sailing as a common thread, we always have something to talk about. Sailing has provided several opportunities to travel and given me targets for retirement. I’m a lot more outdoorsy. Teaching knots to scouts was a cinch! 

by Mark Burrows, as told to Beth Crabtree

Burrows currently served as the rear commodore for racing at the Herrington Harbour Sailing Association.