My First Sailing Lesson: Nobody Warned Me It Would Involve Physics!

The list of items to take to my first sailing lesson concerned me.  It included, “a change of clothes,” followed by the comment, “You will get wet!”  Most of the items seemed fine – “sunglasses,” “US Coast Guard approved lifejacket.”  But I was alarmed to see the final item on the list – “rosary beads.” 

Okay, the list DIDN’T include rosary beads, although I gave it serious consideration – and I’m not even Catholic. But the list did include the, “You will get wet!” warning.

I had envisioned more of a “sip a glass of wine as I slowly glide toward the sunset” lesson. 

I immediately texted my daughter, Zoe.  She was the one who had signed me up for this impending disaster.

Me: “Zoe, I think this lesson is going to be a little more exciting than I planned.” 

Zoe (being an incredibly sensitive and supportive daughter, comforted me by immediately replying): “Buck up, sailor!”

We arrived at the Willamette Sailing Club and met our instructor, Walt.  I figured Walt would take us straight to a boat, but instead, he took us to a classroom.  Perfect, I thought.  A wave couldn’t hit me there!  But to my shock and dismay, I was hit with something far worse – Physics!  Walt explained that the same principle that causes an airplane’s wing to raise the plane off the ground is what causes a sail (which he pointed out was like a vertical wing) to propel a boat.  He briefly explained the scientific principle, and I briefly stared blankly into space. 

Physics lesson safely averted, we headed for the boat. 

The boat’s name was Sunshine.  More relief.  How could a nice boat named Sunshine kill me? 

This is when we realized that we were missing something that Walt had repeatedly mentioned during his lecture was a key ingredient for sailing – Wind! 

Walt optimistically announced that once we were on the river, we might find some wind.  He said this as he put a paddle in the boat.  I immediately envisioned my myself desperately paddling toward the distant shore, sweat dripping from my forehead. 

Low and behold, there was a little wind on the river!

We spent much of the lesson learning how to “tack.”  “Tacking” is how you turn the boat in a different direction. 

Tacking is a three-step process:

First, the person holding the “tiller” (the long handle connected to the rudder) calls out, “Prepare to tack!”

Second, the crew calls back, “Ready!”

Third, the person holding the tiller calls out, “tacking,” and pushes the tiller so the boat turns 90 degrees. 

That’s how it’s SUPPOSE to work.

Sadly, I added a few steps –

Me, gripping the tiller for dear life: “I forgot what I’m supposed to say!”

Walt: “Prepare to tack!”

Me, intently focused on not peeing my pants: “Prepare to tack.”

Two of my crew, my oldest daughter, Zoe, and her husband, Will, called out, “Ready!”  My younger daughter, Emma, was apparently asserting her constitutional right to remain silent.

Me yelling: “Tacking,” as I pushed the tiller out too far knocking us off course.

Walt: “Not so far.  Pull it back.”

Me: “Oh,” as I pulled the tiller too far back, over-correcting.

You may be thinking, ‘Oh, he’s just describing the very first time he tried to tack.’  You would be wrong.  That was pretty much EVERY time I tried to tack.

All-in-all, it was a really fun lesson.  My crew never once threatened to mutiny or even made me walk the plank.  Best of all, I NEVER GOT WET!

***THE END***

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2 thoughts on “My First Sailing Lesson: Nobody Warned Me It Would Involve Physics!

  1. Ahoy matey! Thank you for dredging up memories of sailing disasters-past. Hubs wonders what I am frantically clutching at and i am too embarrassed to tell him it is the old (aka moldy) orange life vest that simultaneously choked and gave me a wedgie, while doing very little to keep my head above water!

    1. Sounds like it’s time to hit the high seas again! Will was the best sailor of all of us!

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