In April, Rich signed me up for a Cruise-and-Learn trip with San Juan Sailing in Bellingham. A charter and sailing school, San Juan routinely offers week-long trips in which participants earn their Bare Boats Certification afterwards… all but me.

While I’ve sailed with Rich in the past, I’ve never gotten the hang of which way the wind is blowing, whether to turn up or bear off, how to trim the sails, and a myriad of other details that somewhat intuitive for most of mankind, but elusive to me. I simply don’t have a “feel” for sailing.

Rich, therefore, when he learned of an all-woman’s Cruise-and-Learn. Certainly a professional instructor could figure out how to teach me to sail. He couldn’t be more wrong!

After months of studying sailing books, tying knots, getting quizzed by Rich, and observing sailboats as we cross over waterways, I felt somewhat confident with my knowledge of sailing. And sure enough, I got 93% on the initial certification test I took prior to getting on the boat on Saturday morning. My confidence quickly petered away after I took the wheel of Kookaburra, a luxurious 37-foot Island Packet sailboat.

Once again, I was completed lost when it came to adjusting to the wind. I over steered. I under steered. I turned the wrong direction then the right way. Desperately, I tried to make sense of everything and write formulas in my head… if the sails are on starboard (right), turn to the right to fill the sail then back off. Do the opposite for port (left). It worked great for sailing long runs, but failed miserably when I had to do figure-8 man-overboard skills. And forget about jibbing (when the wind is at the back of the boat). 

The tears came quickly and didn’t diminish for seveKukkaborran days!

Adding to the angst was the less then charming behavior of my friend who joined me on the boat, as one of the four students. While formerly a minister, she was challenged by the concept of compassionately reaching out to help others. By day two, she was angry that she wasn’t getting enough instruction and others were now “allowing” her to do her job.

On a sailboat, teamwork is essential. One person can’t possibly pull up and trim the sails and also steer by themselves on a 37-foot boat. More importantly, because it was a cruise-and-learn, everyone was trying to learn from each other and help out where necessary. After all, you’re only as good as your weakest member. My ex-friend, while smiley and nice, ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. She barely passed the first exam and could only tie a handful of the knots when she showed up at our Mount Vernon house the evening before the cruise.

Not only did she not want anyone to help her, she didn’t want to help anyone else. That meant, when it came time to pitch in and help cook the meals, clean up, make sure everything was in shipshape, she did little to nothing. Her key focus was on her needs and only doing a job when it was her turn.

The day we were in Friday Harbor, I was the chef. I got up at 6 a.m., went ashore, took a shower then returned to the boat to cook eggs, hash browns and fruit salad. I put the dishes in the middle of the table thinking my friend would spread them out. Nope. She was the skipper for the day and it wasn’t her job! She was more interested in taking her shower (everyone else had gotten up early to shower), washing her clothes, and buying a pair of sailing gloves.

When we walked to the store, everyone had something in their hand like bags of trash and recycling. Not her. Throughout the day, she did as little as possible, at one point, telling me that I had to fetch someone a Coke because it was my job as the chef.

By the time we tied up to a mooring ball at 8 o’clock, I was exhausted and in tears. Nevertheless, I started to cook dinner… spaghetti sauce with sausage, left-over steak (mine because I don’t eat beef) and chopped up vegetables. She washed up, brushed her hair, took a seat at the table then wanted to know if I was cooking with the wine because she wanted a glass.

Need I say anymore?

Also contributing to my angst was severe Rich-withdrawals. On several days, I didn’t have cell phone reception so we couldn’t talk. Rich has an amazing way of calming me down and putting situations into perspective. After a few days, I longed for Rich so much (or maybe just opportunity to be by myself and regroup) that I didn’t want to eat and could barely sleep for more than a few hours.

By the time we got back to Bellingham, earlier Friday afternoon, I had reached the fruit loop stage. I questioned my ability to do anything, including helping clean up the boat. Happily, Rich was at the dock when we arrived… he is my ballast, my courage, my life… and within a few hours, I stopped crying and felt like I might be able to one day master sailing.

Was the trip all bad? No!!

Highlights included:

  • Six days of amazing weather
  • Amazing wind, the boat skated across the water for much of the trip
  • Outrageous scenery along the Puget Sound
  • Fabulous evening and morning in Friday Harbor
  • Three pods of orca whales with two of the whales surfacing six feet or so off the stern of the boat
  • Dolphins!
  • Great and understanding instructor, Mary Ross
  • The other two students – Peggy and Sheri – were fabulous. Sheri is an event florist (how could she not be great?) and Peggy is a counselor with Chehalis Community College (near Olympia). Both of the woman own boats in the San Juan Charter fleet and were the type of woman that I’d like to keep in contact with forever!
  • Gorgeous boat with top-of-the-line furnishings, instrumentation, and features
  • Good food supplied by the charter company… lots of healthy fruit and vegetables, seedy breads, variety of cheeses and meats for sandwiches, Odawalla orange juice, salmon, chicken, steak (eck for me), crackers, and cookies (very important)
  • Wonderful woman on another Cruise-and-Learn with whom we rafted (tied) up with twice to socialize and share appetizers (i.e. brie, crackers, brie, wine, fruit, brie, olives, and brie)
  • I actually learned some stuff… I got a 95% on my second test… and plan to ace my third test
  • I learned navigation, how to plot a course, take compass readings, etc. Navigation is so much fun!

What’s next?

The day after the cruise, Saturday, we signed up with the Island Sailing Club in Kirkland… a few miles from our house. We’ll be able to sail after work and on weekends on Lake Washington. The boats are fairly small so it’ll be easier for me to grasp basic sailing concepts and hopefully get a better feel for the wind and steering challenges.

Rich and I will be chartering a 34-foot boat from San Juan Sailing in late September. We’re making arrangements for my instructor to come on board on the last day for a few hours and verify that I’ve “mastered” (cough, cough) basic bareboat sailing skills. Rich will also be on the boat… trimming sails and following my commands.

If I pass (I need a miracle), I’ll take the third written test (much easer than demonstrating sailing skills)… and then I’ll be bareboat certified. Being certified will allow Rich and I to charter a boat in the Greek Islands, which requires that at least two people be certified. In the meanwhile, I look forward to sailing in the Puget Sound for the next 6-7 years!