Taking the Tiller: Captain Kitty Reporting for Duty

CW associate editor Kitty Martin reports on the progress of her sailing lessons.

Yes, that's right, I work at Cruising World, but I took my first professional sailing lesson last night at Sail Newport. I've enjoyed recreational boating for much of my life, but now it's time to be in charge-the person at the tiller, not the hanger-on lazily soaking up rays or helpfully mixing sundowners below.

I signed up for group lessons, but as it turned out, I was the only person who showed up for this first session of the summer. I'm sure this is just a fluke easily attributed to it being so early in the season, and not an indication of the quality of instruction. In fact, my teacher, Kate, was top-notch. Besides being extremely knowledgeable, she was patient and calm-two qualities that make for an excellent teacher.

After a very brief tutorial (maybe five minutes) with Kate diagramming the basics of a sailboat on a chalkboard, we were down to the dock and off on the water in no time on Barking Mad, a J/22. Kate got us off the dock, but then she gave me the tiller and I pretty much handled the boat myself after that, with her constant guidance, of course. I didn't touch the sheets at all; Kate took care of that, which was fine with me. I didn't want to be too overwhelmed on my first night out.

We tacked, we jibed, we reached, we entered the "no-go zone"-when the boat points into the wind and the sails luff-we rounded buoys, we set a course. Phew! All that in the first lesson-and the weather was magnificent.
Besides making drinks, I have done some of the actual work on boats before, but this was totally different. I had to pay more attention to the wind than I'd ever imagined. I'm hoping that it becomes a bit more natural in the future, but it seems I had to keep a constant watch on the telltales and vane to keep the boat moving. Kate said that the color of the water is lighter when still and darker when wind is moving across it. I think I might've seen the difference when she pointed it out, but I can't say for sure. That's another thing that I think is going to take some practice.

What's in store for tonight? Kate says more of the same (with me even more in charge) and probably a MOB exercise.

I don't know if Kate's confidence in my novice skills is just an extension of her enthusiastic personality, but hey, I'm game.