For me, sailing had nothing to do with the physics of setting your sails to maximize speed. It was about the lulling motion of the boat rocking through the waves, the sound of the water lapping against the hull, the feel of the wind in my face.
Those ethereal pleasures were set aside when the wind picked up and the boat began to heel, sending us high on one side of the deck as the toe rail on the other edge dipped into the water. It was an adrenalin rush both my father and I relished.
Fast forward a few decades. I’m back on the water sailing in Charleston Harbour aboard a classic Alden Caravelle 42-foot yawl. The wind, the sea air, the intoxicating rhythm of the rolling surf leaves me longing for those carefree days sailing in the bay.
Equally enthralled by the experience, my husband suggests we take a beginner’s sailing class at the Lanier Sailing Academy in Lake Murray. Practical Sailing for Basic Keelboat Certification is a three-day American Sailing Association course covering everything you need to know to skipper a 20- to 26-foot boat on your own.
As many hours as I spent sailing with my father as a young teen, I never got much beyond manning the jib or front sail. At his command I would release the line holding the jib on one side of the boat and pull in the line that brought the sail to the other side as he redirected our course.
I never learned how to jibe, heave to, sail on a run or reach or stop the boat should someone fall overboard. After all these years, it was time I learned the fundamentals.
Our instructor, Brian Adams, a salty sailor with a charming British accent, introduced us to all the parts of the boat. And there are many. Every piece of rigging, every side and corner of the sail, every knot, line and fitting has a name. Some have two, like the downhaul, also called the Cunningham after its inventor.
On a boat, ropes are called lines. Lines are called sheets if they control the sails and halyards if they’re used to haul sails up and down the mast. The wires that hold the mast upright are called shrouds — unless they’re fore-and-aft (front to back), then they’re called stays.
Confusing? Not after a few days of talking the talk. It’s like language immersion. I quickly learned what the English chap wanted when he told me to use a shackle to secure the head of the jib to the halyard and hanks to attach the luff of the sail to the headstay. He was directing me to get the jib ready to hoist up the mast.
Along with learning the lingo, we were trained how to rig the boat, run the engine, raise the sails and cast off. After just a couple of hours on the first day of the course, we were on the water practicing the points of sail, maneuvers used to get the boat moving forward and those used to turn the boat. I was having so much fun tacking and jibing, I forgot I was in class.
Standing in the cockpit of our 22-foot Capri, Brian put us through our paces, redirecting us every few minutes to head up or bear away. We sailed close-hauled, the point where the sail is closest to the wind, and from a beam reach, when the wind is coming at a 90-degree angle to the boat.
To keep us on our toes, he would unexpectedly throw a buoy in the water simulating a man overboard. To retrieve the buoy, we had to maneuver through a figure-eight course to end up in a close reach, the point of sail easiest to control the boat.
I was amazed at how quickly we cruised through the 20 hours of on-the-water instruction. By the end of the third day, we were sailing without coaching.
Now I understand the exhilaration my father experienced skippering our 18-foot Typhoon. But captain or crew, I’m just happy feeling the wind in my face.
The Practical Sailing for Basic Keelboat Certification course costs $575 and includes “Sailing Fundamentals,” the official American Sailing Association sailing manual. The three days of classes can be scheduled over a long weekend to accommodate visitors who are in town for just a few days. A two-day course is available if you have some prior sailing experience. Cost is $500.
If you just want to go out for a sail, the Lanier Sailing Academy also offers two-hour sunset sail excursions for $140 to $240 for two to six people. A four-hour day sail for two is $275 ($25 for each additional person).
Want to learn more about the Lanier Sailing Academy? Call (803) 317-9070 or visit www.laniersail.com.