Labor Day: the unofficial end of summer and my last opportunity to wear those white capri pants. Alas, I didn’t get a chance, because Jenn was in sailing school.
I rarely enjoyed being out on the water on the high holidays of summer, so it was a good time for Jenn to get some lessons from someone whose pedagogical approach is more nuanced than simply yelling the same things more loudly on each subsequent yell. I decided to conduct an interview with her following her training so that she could share her experience.
CHIP: So, Jenn, welcome to Sailing Fortuitous.
JENN: Thank you, nice to be here.
CHIP: I understand that you went to a sailing school.
JENN: Yes, I did.
CHIP: What was your sailing experience prior to going to sailing school?
JENN: Well, I have sailed maybe one or two dozen times with you…
CHIP: For the purpose of this interview, can you please not do this “second person” thing? I’d like to preserve the appearance of journalistic integrity.
JENN: Ok, with…someone. With “a person” on “their boat” in Barnegat Bay.
CHIP: Thank you. That’s in New Jersey?
JENN: That’s in New Jersey.
CHIP: Uh huh.
JENN: I’ve done some daysailing and then one overnight trip to Myers Hole. I’ve had the helm many times. Not much experience, but more than a passenger.
CHIP: Great. What did you want to get out of the school experience?
JENN: What I was looking for in signing up for the sailing class was more foundational knowledge that would allow me to have a strong base in my sailing. The things that I’ve learned thus far, prior to sailing school, have come from one-on-one instruction and from some reading that I’ve done on my own, but I wanted a way to combine things that I’ve learned on my own and practiced on the boat and just make sure that I really have a firm grasp on the basics.
CHIP: Cool. Can we talk about the format of the class a little bit? Did you have to do things in preparation before you attended the class?
JENN: Yes, I received a book called Sailing Made Easy, which is the official book from the American Sailing Association. I read most of that, which covered everything from how to prepare for sailing, how to put sails on the boat, raising the sails, points of sail, sail trim—it covered a wide range of topics. There were a number of quizzes in there about identifying parts of the boat (that was a big emphasis of the book and the class) and the various pieces of rigging. So there was some homework prior.
CHIP: How much time do you think you spent in preparation?
JENN: I’d say I probably spent about 8-10 hours reading, doing the quizzes, reviewing the glossary, and things like that in the book.
CHIP: Cool. Please continue with what you were going to say about the format of the class itself.
JENN: I took a weekend, two-day class. 9am to 4pm each day. On Saturday, we started in the classroom with three classmates and myself with one certified sailing instructor who’s also a captain. We had about two hours of classroom-based learning: reviewing the points of sail, talking through the right-of-way rules, a lot of the basics. And then we went out to the boat and we learned everything from how to get on to the boat safely, got our life jackets on (which was mandatory), and my three classmates and I learned how to leave the dock and put up the sails—we were all kind of assigned a job at every point and worked together to make those things happen. We spent about five hours out on the water and learned so much. We rotated through positions on the boat, so each person got ample time to be at the helm as the “designated skipper” (our instructor/captain was there helping us, but the person at the helm was called the designated skipper). We each rotated through that, and there were two people on the jib sheets and one on the main sheet. We got a lot of time on the water to practice tacking and jibing, changing points of sail, and we heaved-to for lunch. We got more of a chance to see the “stand-on vessel” rules in practice. There were a lot of powerboats out on the water.
CHIP: This was Labor Day Weekend, right?
JENN: This was Labor Day Weekend, and there were a lot of boats out, so we learned how to handle the boat in heavy wakes. There were also a lot of sailboats out, and we asked questions about their sail trim, etc. So that was Saturday, lots of basics: tacking, jibing, points of sail, things like that. Then we headed back to the marina and another of my classmates was put in charge of docking. We learned how to do that at that particular dock, which I think would apply to most docks, but it was kind of a tight fit with a number of sharp turns, so it was good practice. We talked about how the boat would be affected in the slip by wind, which lines to grab first, the importance of a spring line, and then we put the boat away for the day (flaked the sail, tied off our lines in lark’s head knots on the pulpit, put the sail cover on the appropriate way, etc.) On day two, we started with an hour in the classroom. The normal format would be to have an hour the classroom, about four hours on the water (in which there’s a practical skills exam), and then back to the classroom for the written test, however our captain determined that there was not enough wind out on Sunday morning, so we did our written exam first to allow time for the wind to pick up. The written exam was very straightforward. I passed.
CHIP: It’s good that you passed.
JENN: And then we went out on the water. On the second day, one of my classmates did not come back, so there were only three of us plus the instructor.
CHIP: Was that like a diarrhea situation, or…
JENN: Well, she was feeling quite seasick on Saturday, but I don’t think that was it.
CHIP: Sorry, please go on.
JENN: The big part of the skills portion was learning the man overboard procedure and practicing it. That’s a complex procedure. Someone has to be watching the “man overboard” the whole time, so we had a spotter who kept their eyes on our man overboard (which was really a buoy), plus a helmsman and someone working the jib sheets—helmsman and main sheet were combined into one position. We had a few practices with the instructor and then a few practices with each of us at the helm, and then we each took the helm to do it as a portion of the test. Once we all did our drills, we did more tacking and jibing and changing points of sail. The wind was significantly heavier on Sunday than we had on Saturday. We had 15kts steady, 18 with gusts, and on the little Capri 22 when we were close hauled there was a lot of heeling and we had to learn how to control that to be comfortable.
CHIP: What kinds of things did you do to control it?
JENN: We learned about changing our point of sail, shifting our weight…we might release the main sheet a little bit to reduce some heeling.
CHIP: Did you have a reef in?
JENN: Yes, after our MOB drills, we learned how to reef the mainsail, and left it with a reef in for the remainder of the day. We also adjusted the amount of the jib out throughout the day, but spent most of the day with it at about 50-60% of normal size.
CHIP: What was your feeling on the equipment that was used in the class? How did you like the boat?
JENN: I thought the boat was great. It was very responsive to every movement of the tiller and sail trim. It was nice to have a large cockpit for the class size. The boat was great. Very comfortable. Very easy to sail.
CHIP: What was your favorite part of the whole experience?
JENN: I think my favorite part was just increasing my confidence in what I’m doing. There wasn’t like a particular stand out moment, but I got a lot of time at the helm and handling the sheets and my confidence in doing those things increased.
CHIP: So do you think it met your expectations?
JENN: Absolutely. It was great.
CHIP: I have just one more question. Did you order the Code Red?
JENN: You want answers?
CHIP: I want the truth.
JENN: You can’t handle the truth. Son, we live in a world with walls that must be guarded. Who’s gonna do it? You? I have more responsibility than you can fathom. You weep for Santiago and curse the Marines. You don’t know what I know. Santiago’s tragic death saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque to you, saves lives! But deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. They’re the backbone of our lives. You use them as a punchline! I haven’t the time or inclination to explain myself to a man who needs my protection but questions the way I do it. Better just to thank me. Or pick up a gun and stand a post. But I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!
CHIP: Did you order the Code Red?
JENN: You’re damn right I did.
CHIP: Ok, well thank you very much for this interview.
JENN: Thank you. It was…great.
Since Jenn had to be there two days in a row for the class, I came down late on Saturday and we went for a brief evening sail. It wasn’t too remarkable, but I’m glad I got to sail a little.
While we were sailing, I noticed an odd blue cloud over the decommissioned Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant. While I contemplated that, some jets flew over and made another one. I’m not an expert, but they looked like fighter jets from the 50s to me.
I initially thought that they were F-104 Starfighters, but upon further inspection, the stabilizers are in the wrong place. There was nothing that I could find in the news to explain what they were or what they were doing. There had been a “L’il Reichsparteitag of the Seas” that morning out near the Mathis Bridge, so maybe it was related.
We sailed on past Oyster Creek then turned around and sailed back.
Jenn had to be back early the next day (arriving late was not an option) so we stayed on the boat at the dock.
I bummed around the marina for most of the day on Sunday, hoping to find someone to go sailing with. I considered singlehanding, but going out into the Labor Day traffic alone was not enticing. It didn’t materialize. Things are still not normal, and the timbre at the marina has been unusual all year.
I’m glad that Jenn is trying to learn more about sailing (and was willing to sit through a weird interview about it.)