‘The trick is to make yourself useful’: a beginner’s guide to sailing

‘The trick is to make yourself useful’: a beginner’s guide to sailing

From land, I always thought that sailing was best enjoyed. Sydney Harbour is dotted with crisp, white sails. It’s a sight to behold rather than something you should get involved in.

Since I chose a journalism career over, for example, owning a gambling establishment, I have assumed that this disqualifies me.

If money were not a barrier, then skills would. Sydney to Hobart, Australia’s most famous yacht race that starts every Boxing Day, makes it seem daunting.

Here I am in Sydney, at a beautiful marina on Rushcutters Bay. I’m boarding Karma, a 35ft Dufour, for a lesson.

David Kelly, my instructor, took up sailing “because it was cheaper to fly” in 1985. We haven’t yet dispelled the rich man’s sports theory, but we will.

Beginners should start with at least a two-day course (595 dollars at EastSail). We only have two hours. We’ll have a quick discussion about the wind direction and different modes of sailing – which I hope will help make sense of the water – before we pull out into Sydney Harbour on a beautiful summer morning. Kelly assures me that the only time any student has fallen in is when they were trying to leave the boat before the floating dock was installed.

In no time, I was at the helm of a “close haul” sailing boat. This term is related to the wind and the sails, but I’m still not sure what it means.

Many new nautical terms have been introduced. I turn the boat 90° and pull some ropes before we reach the Harbour Bridge to help with a “gybe,” where the sail is switched from one side to the other.

Kelly drives so that I can see the underside of the bridge, which I have gone over numerous times. It’s a different but no less stunning view of Sydney.

I realize how anxious I have been at the wheel, worried about falling over when the wind tilts the boat alarmingly one way, about keeping the sails on the right spot, or about avoiding other boats zipping around. Kelly is the exact opposite. It’s just so natural. Sailing was my sanity. “You have to slow down. It’s all about the feeling of the water.”

Is it only for the rich? Kelly assures that it can but doesn’t necessarily have to. The only thing that you won’t find in a typical wardrobe are gloves, which cost about $30. But even those aren’t essential.

You don’t have to own a vessel. Those who do require crew.

The cost of gaining competency is the main expense. After the initial two-day training, there is an option to complete a third day to reach the level of competent crew or day skipper ($1,125 with EastSail). Other models are available, but the Royal Yachting Association’s certification is internationally recognized and widely known.

You’re now ready to join a boat. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia offers a concierge program that matches skippers and crew members. You can also show up at a race a few hours before it starts to ask boat owners.

Kelly advises that the trick is to be useful. Kelly believes that everyone can play a part, whether it’s folding a sail in the galley or making toasties.

He warns that some clubs can be “a little posh and a bit full of their selves.” You’ll find many events that are suitable for graduates if you look at races organized by clubs with sail schools.

Chartering a boat is also possible for groups of 6-8 people. Prices start at around $1,000 per day. Kelly has been sailing in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Seattle, but Sydney is her favorite. “My favorite thing to do is to sail up to Quarantine bay, drop anchor, swim and have a beer.”

It is still possible to have fun sailing without having to be a mogul. However, enthusiasts will inevitably dream of one day owning their boat, which would cost a small fortune in maintenance and ongoing costs. Kelly shows us his yacht, which he shares with three other people, as we cruise around the harbor. Sanity is the name.

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