The back of Sail magazine was a good place for a dreamer like me to wonder at crewing on a ship to some exotic place, buying things I could not afford for the boat I did not have, and learning how to sail myself. To sit in a comfortable padded bench sipping a spritzer while my friends kept busy watching the wind and making constant changes to lines and sails to avoid collisions with the shore of the small lake we (or they) sailed on left me envious. Boats are big, sailing was a lot of work; there seemed to be a lot to know.
Instead of remaining a spectator, I decided to use some of my savings to learn this craft myself with visions of following in Joshua Slocum’s footsteps and one day single-handling my own sailboat around the globe. An advertisement in my favorite magazine led me to enroll for sailing lessons with Modern Sailing Academy in Sausalito. For only about $1,000, I would get two certifications and what really attracted me was that I could live on one of their sailboats for the duration of the week long class. I had been a voracious reader of anything nautical so with a little study, I went prepared with the proper terminology and practiced the basic knots.
Time allowed me to spend a few days on San Francisco prior to taking the ferry cross the Bay to Sausalito. I misjudged the distance to my hostel and got a good workout hiking through the hilly streets of the city in search of the water front. My pack got heavier and heavier, but I wouldn’t trade the effort; I got a feel for the culture of the place by the time I saw the water.
Settled in at Fort Mason, the military barracks turned hostel, I set about exploring the water front. For two days, I ate chocolate at Ghirardelli, lazily toured ships and submarines, spoke to sea lions, and dreamt of other worlds as I sat on the shore wondering at Alcatraz and wishing I was aboard one of the giant ships plying the Bay approaching and leaving under the Iconic Golden Gate. I hiked the five miles to stand on the bridge and called my dad to brag about where I was as he shivered in the Buffalo snow.
Class was about to start, so I took the ferry across the bay toward my education. My home for the next several days was a 32 foot Ericson sloop. I met my instructor and crew mates, we all lived on different boats in the marina owned by the sailing school. They offer charters to those who qualify. We all had different levels of experience; mine mostly just knowing the right words, so I felt stupid when the others already felt comfortable taking charge. We spent our days in the marina learning how to park, on the water learning how to read the wind and made adjustments for it and practicing radio calls, and at picnic tables or berthed learning the knots and navigation.
The certifications I earned made me feel proud, but it was the evenings on board the sailboat either alone or while sharing with my new friends that delighted my heart. Of course, in my imagination, this was my boat, and I could forget about my apartment, my job, and my stresses of real life.
On the final day of class on the water, we braved the 25 knot winds and adventured off to sail around Alcatraz Island. Learning how to sail in the conditions on the San Francisco Bay made us all feel accomplished. I couldn’t help wonder how many sharks swam below us and what really happened to those men that escaped from the prison inspiring the classic Clint Eastwood movie. Notes to follow-
Sail magazine- www.sailmagazine.com
Slocum, Joshua. Sailing Alone Around the World, Barnes & Noble Classics, New York: 2005
San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel, Fort Mason Building 240, San Francisco CA 94123
Ghirardelli- 900 North Point Street, Suite 100, San Francisco CA 94109 415-775-5500
Modern Sailing Academy-2320 Marinship Way, Sausalito, CA 94965 415-331-8250