So, you think you want to learn to sail. Perhaps you’ve been sailing and want to formalize your education and learn to do things correctly. Or, maybe you are new to this avocation. Regardless, basic keelboat classes at Club Nautique are a great start on the journey to what could be a lifetime of adventure on the water.
Sign up for class! Obtain the textbook. Read through it twice before your first actual class begins. If you have the opportunity to sail with someone who is “in the know“ then do so. Ask them to teach you a few basics. Frankly, I believe it’s better to come into this series of educational lessons with some basic understanding of the anatomy and architecture of a sailboat, how sails work, points of sail, etc. Having some time on the water, either through the Wednesday eve summer sailing series or the Sunday souper sails would be invaluable experience before you attend your first class.
Classes are usually offered over two separate weekends on Saturday and Sunday or, occasionally, during the week over four consecutive days. I accomplished the latter. I believe it’s probably best to split the class into two sessions over two weekends. Doing so will give you the opportunity to review information and allow it to sit in your mind before proceeding with additional learning. Further, your chances are better at having sailing weather over two weekends, because of how weather patterns pass through the bay area, especially during September and October, than if you take the class over four consecutive days where the weather pattern might be stable. The four consecutive days is fine if the wind is sufficient but if the wind is absent you’re not going to learn much about sailing.
During basic keelboat classes you will learn to sail vessels that use a tiller instead of a wheel. This is always a good way to start. Try to understand what rudder deflection does to the sailboat. The Colgate boats that you will start your education with have gasoline powered outboard motors. Most of you will later progress to sailing vessels that have diesel powered engines. There’s a lot more to learn with the latter. I do, however, recommend learning the gasoline powered engine because one of these days you may be faced with a situation where you will be required to employ that type of engine on a dinghy.
Focus on learning the points of sail, tacking and gybing, working with others, taking and giving orders, how to adjust sails to progress along all of the points of sail relative to the wind, learn to maneuver a small vessel in a harbor, the basics of how to dock, to tie a few knots, etc. A few other things will be introduced. You may anchor for lunch. The instructor might demonstrate one approach to rescue of a crew member that has fallen overboard.
On the last day of class you will be required to demonstrate that you have a basic and fundamental knowledge of sailing a vessel, docking, tying a few knots, etc. You will also be required to take a written exam. You must pass the examination and the practical to be awarded your US Sailing certification as having completed basic keelboat classes. US Sailing maintains a checklist of things that must be completed satisfactorily to receive the certification. Club Nautique instructors readily share that information with all students.
Now that you’ve become certified in basic keelboat, you’re ready to further the process of learning to sail! You’re qualified to charter the Colgate vessels that you trained on. My advice is to join up with others at your level and get out there and go sailing. Be careful. Always wear your PFD. Don’t go out in the Colgate if the wind is more than 15-17 kn at this stage of your learning. Practice what you learned. Continue to participate in club events that will expose you to larger more complex vessels and students that are farther along in their education who can teach you new things. Keep your eyes and your ears open. Continue to review what you’ve learned. Look things up if you don’t understand them. Ask a lot of questions. Find a mentor or a group of people that you can sail with regularly, learning to crew, all the while learning more about sailing. I must say that I am as grateful to those who mentored me as I am to the instructors during my formal classes.
One of my fondest memories of the basic keelboat class is of being at the tiller and the “student in charge” of the vessel traversing the mouth of Raccoon Straight headed back to Sausalito. I had just demonstrated my proficiency in sailing the points of sail operating the tiller and providing orders to my fellow students regarding sail adjustments during tacks, gybes, transitions from other points of sail, etc. The wind was perfect. Our final point of sail was that of a close haul. Periodic gusts required adjustment in the tiller and, rarely, the main sail. For the first time in my life, I was able to fine tune a sailing vessel and allow it progress with little input from me all the while constantly surveying the situation to be ready to make changes in case of need. I was awash in an incredible feeling of joy and contentment. I later learned, however, while that is indeed possible on a regular basis, things can and do happen that leave that sense of contentment blowing away in the wind. You’ll see.