Longing to go sailing
There was a time when Melissa McNulty was intrigued by sailing and looked longingly at sailboats from shore, but she had no idea how to get involved in such a world. Sailing seemed inaccessible. About 15 years ago they tried a social sail open to the public at DC Sail, which she and husband Eli Lehrhaupt enjoyed very much, but it just wasn’t the right time to pursue it. As Covid released its grip on us all, one of the couple’s first trips was to Puerto Rico, where they booked a charter day sail on a J/boat. That changed everything.
So this is what my life will look like…
Before the charter, Melissa was told it was a race boat and would heel quite a bit, but that didn’t deter her at all. Neither did the busy shipping area they sailed into after slipping the lines. After a while the captain let her take the tiller, and at that moment she thought, “So this is what the rest of my life looks like.”
Back home in the DC area, the pair enrolled in ASA 101 at Annapolis Sailing School and learned the basics in the school’s sturdy Rainbow fleet. They became members of DC Sail, the Pentagon Sailing Club, the Sailing Club of Washington, and Selby Bay Sailing Center.
For more instruction they returned to Puerto Rico for ASA 103. They found an instructor with a Beneteau First. The captain was an older gentleman, but he was a racer. “Slow on land, but with the energy of a 20-year-old on a boat,” says Eli. Melissa explains, “We sailed on the east side of the island, which is beautiful with good, predictable wind, and we learned a lot about sail trim.”
Back on the Chesapeake they completed ASA 104 at The Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship in Rock Hall, MD. The five-day course took them to Annapolis and St. Michaels with course-mates from Chicago and Richmond, VA. “It was serious learning. We covered how to handle emergencies and other important topics, but it was also a lot of fun,” says Eli.
Next up was docking certification. They signed up at a new sailing school, but there was an issue with the boat and heavy breeze, and soon after the course got underway, they had to abandon the instruction. “The instructor was dismayed and concerned with keeping us all safe, but the students saw it as a great learning opportunity,” says Eli. “We were like medical students geeking out with a sick patient. How did this happen? How do you solve the problem?”
Experiencing lots of types of sailing boats
Sailing on lots of different types of boats is a great way to learn, and Eli and Melissa have had that opportunity by taking classes at multiple sailing schools, chartering, and joining several sailing clubs.
In addition to the classes and charters above, last August they chartered a 42-foot boat with a captain and mate in Cornwall, England. The crew surprised Melissa on her birthday with a cake and anchored the boat where they knew England’s Red Arrows (similar to the US Navy’s Blue Angels) were performing. Last spring, they took another charter, this time with friends on a 52-foot catamaran with a captain and chef out of Sardinia. This summer they began racing at Daingerfield Island Sailing Club, which is located on the Potomac River and run entirely by volunteers.
What do you love about sailing?
Melissa: The feeling of sailing; harnessing the power of the wind; the magical dynamic of boat, wind, and water. For me, it’s physically addicting.
Eli: The life-long learning aspect that includes intellectual challenges and real-world, immediate feedback; seeing cities from different vantage points; and connecting with nature—sunsets, sunrises, dolphin sightings.
What would you tell someone interested in learning to sail?
Melissa: Sailing is way more accessible than you might think. For the price of a nice dinner, you can get an annual membership at a sailing club. Sailors are helpful, friendly, outgoing, and always willing to talk about sailing, and they usually need more hands on their boats.
Eli: Joining a club is a great way to get on lots of types of boats, and clubs bring in a social component. There’s usually a happy hour or similar gathering after sailing. We’ve made lots of friends through our sailing clubs.”