For a few weeks now I’ve been going to sail out of the Berkeley marina.  The Cal Sailing Club (not affiliated with the University) has members give lessons to other members in co-op fashion.  It is apparently one of the best ways to learn how to sail and a great deal in terms of the price for the bundle of boat rental, equipment rental and instruction. In fact, it is probably the best deal in the world in terms of quality instruction and membership fees.

My first day I came quite late for a lesson.  Luckily, I caught a friendly member who was just starting to take down his rigging.  He was hesitant at first, but then agreed good-naturedly to take me out.  We went out and I noticed right away that he was not only very knowledgeable but a good teacher.  He was Asian and spoke with an accent but was entirely intelligible.  His grasp of the business of sailing came through as clear as a bell. (It was a case of someone who has obviously lived in a country speaking another language for years, is well-educated, and yet has not lost their accent.  This is a curious thing, I think.  Why don’t they eventually just straighten out all the kinks?  Why does our governor still say Cah-lee-for-nee-ah?)

Later on, as we’re practicing jibing, I went too far with the turn and the boat was broadside to the wind. Suddenly the broad expanse of the mainsail was being pushed over by the perpendicular wind.  The boat started listing very far over.  At this point I should have let out the line that holds the boom, which would’ve let the mainsail swing out of the way of the wind.  But I didn’t. The mast kept tilting all the way over until we were capsized with the boat on its side.  The boats they use in the club have a styrofoam float on the top of the mast, so there’s little chance that they’ll turn all the way over.  The boat ends up half in and half out of the water.  With his wits about him, and no doubt years of experience with student sailors, my instructor managed to scramble onto the dry side of the boat and was looking down at me as I held onto a metal rail in the center on the boat, half submerged.  Without so much as a “whoa,” he started calmly telling me the drill for righting a capsized boat.  (“First step: make sure your crew is all right.”  At which point I asked, “You OK?”)

After he got the thing up and scooped me inside, we actually stayed out sailing for a little while longer.  Then we went back in, and since it was the end of the day, readied the boat to be removed from the water.  This involves taking down the rigging and then attaching the boat to a crane that’s fixed there and lifting it out.  So, at one point he is down on the boat attaching the crane’s cables and I am up on the land, maybe ten feet above him.  He’s walking on the boat which is quite wobbly because the centerboard, a type of movable keel, is retracted.  At one point he almost fell, and he said, “Not here, not now” and then after he attached the cables he started wobbling again.  And this time he capsized the boat all by himself and fell all the way in the water.

Later, after he had gotten out and we got the boat up on dry land, a guy comes running out from the clubhouse with a travel mug of hot chocolate for the instructor.  Upon receiving this, my instructor says, “That’s why it’s good to be the Vice Commodore.”  So, I found out in that instant that he’s the second in command at the club!  He had not only been cool enough to teach me, and nearly taken a drink because of my capsize, but even he had fallen in on his own.  It assuaged my embarrassment and made me feel really good about joining this club in particular – it’s just too cool.

So, I went back last weekend for another lesson. They keep telling me that I’ll probably have enough practice in a few more lessons to take the test.  Then I can take a boat out by myself and even take a guest.  Any takers?