Professor Salt of the Offshore Sailing School
It's a simple recipe: Take big-boat sailing students and have them learn in paradise.
I know I was learning a lot about human nature. Many of those who said they knew the least actually knew the most. And the ones who asked questions learned the answers, unlike their more timid counterparts who never voiced their queries.
Take the lovely lady named Christine Meade, for example. She’d just come from the hairdresser, and she announced that she didn’t mind sailing if it wouldn’t mess up her ’do. Learning this, I made sure, of course, that her hair got immediately splashed by saltwater and had sun block dripped on it and a tube of lip-balm melted into it, all within the first hour of hoisting the mainsail. Once her hair looked more like the fur on a sewer rat, we let fly with our best stuff: “Who does your hair, Chris? Do you fly them in?” and “How do you manage to maintain that sexy windblown look?” and “I mean, you own the salty-sailor-gal image, Chris, like, totally!”
Chris, however, wasn’t easily distracted. Her goal was to master the crew-overboard drill. She wanted to pick up her husband, Bob, if he ever went over the side of the steel sloop he’d been building for the last decade or two.
“You wanna learn how to go back and pick up Bob?” we chorused. “I mean, if you picked up Fred, at least you’d have fish stories for the rest of your life. But with Bob?”
Bob was one of the kidney doctors, and he was obsessed with the Polynesian wrap, called a pareo, that I wore.
|Casual attire: Fatty does a pair of T-shirt-clad students one better; wearing his pareo to class.|
“Where can I special order one?” he asked, pencil poised to order up one of his own.
“It’s just a piece of fabric,” I said.
“What’s the mechanism that secures it?” he pressed on.
“It is just a piece of fabric,” I said.
“How do you know which is the front?”
“It’s just a piece of freakin’ fabric!” I shouted.
One time, I unexpectedly came down belowdecks and discovered him in my cabin, fondling the fabric. “It’s so soft!” he said, as if that explained it all.
Needless to say, I had the pareo gift-wrapped at Saba Rock and secretly tucked it into his luggage.
The point I’m trying to make with all the silliness above is that I’d worried that the students might be a tad too serious for my laid-back cruising tastes. Not so. They were wonderfully relaxed, which is, perhaps, nurtured by the real instructors. Random events seemed to seamlessly deliver the message that “Hey, sailing is fun. It isn’t hard. Sure, we can learn to sail better and better and sail more efficiently, but the main thing about sailing is to enjoy each other and enjoy King Neptune’s world and savor the pure sensuous pleasure of being propelled by the wind in complete, cosmic harmony with the universe.”
Does that sound too highfalutin? If you’re a sailor, it doesn’t.
You can go to a Zen master or you can go sailing, but in this reporter’s humble opinion, you end up either way in about the same place.
The other thing that amazed me was how nurturing everyone was. Everyone was there to learn and be hands-on, so no one hogged the helm or excluded anyone from any activities.
Instead, we urged each other to expand comfort zones. When Howard Leibowitz, another doctor, admitted that he was slightly nervous to sail in close quarters, we assigned him to the wheel while we were picking up the mooring.
There was a boat directly ahead, and another close on our starboard quarter. The wind was at 18 to 22 knots and gusting. There was a slight cross current. At first, Howard made the classic mistakes of using too much throttle and too much speed, but as soon as he got the slow-is-pro idea, there was no problem.
He slipped into the small slot and stopped the boat nicely at the mooring float as the pendant was secured. I renamed him Big Balls Howard, a boat-handling designation he will take home and wear proudly at his local yacht club.