It’s an exciting day! Today we celebrate the new co-owners of Argon, a 1979 San Juan 24 moored on Lake Union in the heart of Seattle. Like many new boat owners, these four women are at an exciting moment where they have a boat, a willingness to learn and a lot of adventure ahead.
I am always amazed by how many people buy sailboats without knowing how to sail yet. It’s a brave, bold and downright badass move. What determines if they stick with it and enjoy that bold move is what comes next. How they get through the very real challenges of sailing, boat ownership and being on the water.
More than anything, I want this fine crew to not only learn to sail but to thrive and have a shit ton of fun doing it. Sam, who originally purchased Argon a couple years ago, has come so far as a sailor. I can’t imagine a better person to show new owners Libby, Jasmine and Olivia what I believe to my core: Anyone can learn to sail and it is worth the challenge and reward.
Boating knowledge is often passed on from one person to another. Sam has called me her “sailing sensei,” meanwhile I consider my older brother Chris and friend Kemp my own “sailing senseis.” A great way to get better at boating is to talk with, ask questions and listen to friends, mentors or instructors. It can also save a new sailor from some common mishaps.
There are many experienced people who are willing, or even stoked, to share their knowledge. As a more experienced boater, who also still has a lot to learn, I can’t wait to be there for this crew. For the sailing community to thrive, we need eager novices and patient sailing senseis muddling along together.
So, here’s my advice for these four wonderful women about to embark on their first season as boat partners, sailors, and students (textbooks are coming!). I think it might apply to a few other people too, so read on:
1. Learn the language ASAP. Sailing and boating, in general, uses its own lingo. It is intimidating. It is also essential for communication on the water, in critical moments and as you progress from beginner to salty sailor. Focus on learning the core of that language, dedicate some extra time and maybe even some flash cards to boat parts, directions, nautical terms, etc. Removing the language barrier will make things seem a lot easier and less intimidating.
2. Ask questions. Have you heard this one before? Probably, but I insist that you ask at least one, preferably more, question every time you go sailing. This is essential because when you ask a question, you’re also framing what you know, and what you don’t into words. As an instructor, questions provide insight and shape what to teach next.
3. You will feel overwhelmed, embrace it. I feel overwhelmed too. Any time a lot of new information is thrown at a person, that can happen. Anticipate that feeling and focus on digesting what you can, chip away at it and learn piece-by-piece. There are no hard and fast rules about what “you should remember” or “you should know by now.” You’ll learn at your pace and some days things will “click” and other days, you should just sit back, have a beer and take it all in.
4. Learning this will last you a lifetime. Part of why I’m so passionate about sailing and teaching others to sail is because I know how boating changes your life. From weekend boaters who enjoy the mini-escape to people who travel the world by boat or via sailing gigs, the impact is noticeable. When I think about the lessons this crew will learn, I’m thinking beyond S/V Argon. Whether on kayak, powerboat or other sailboats, they will gain the skills to enjoy boating in so many different ways for years to come. Maybe they’ll be sailing senseis someday too!
5. Go sailing after work/on weekday evenings (we live on the 47th parallel after all). This isn’t just a weekend activity. I can’t think of anything better to shake off a long work day, reset and enjoy some time away. It’s not the gym and it’s not the bar but can offer something in between. Maybe even leave work a little early to get off the dock. It’s worth it!
6. Dress appropriately. Even in summer, bring layers. Being on the water, hopefully with some wind, is often cooler than on shore. Similar to skiing, learning to sail is a lot easier if you aren’t worried about your body temp or uncomfortable being too hot or too cold. You don’t need to “gear out” when you start, repurpose what you have. My go-to list includes:
Comfortable base/mid layers I can run around in. For me, this is usually some thick leggings and a non-cotton top.
- Fleece or a puffy to add on top of that. Usually, this is just an extra jacket but when it’s extra cold out, I have fleece pants I bring too.
- Windbreakers. It’s a term frequently used in the San Francisco Bay Area but I don’t hear it as much up here. Basically, this is your rain shell, and if you have them, waterproof pants. A layer that blocks the wind is wonderful for warmth. They are also usually thin which is great for mobility.
- Hat. Socks. Sunglasses. Gloves. These items make or break a day on the water for me. Not only do hat and socks provide a lot of warmth, but they can also help you cool off real quick. I usually bring both a beanie and a baseball cap.
- This is all optional. If offered to go sailing spontaneously, the only thing I would need to be sure I have are sunglasses and I’m good to go. Never say “no” if you can go.
7. Time on the water is everything. Want to be better? Want things to be easier? Want to know what to do next? Get out on the water as often as possible. Experience is everything and spending as much time on the water as possible is how you gain it.
8. Be humble and be honest. Ego is a common problem in the boating world. You can be good at something, share that skill with others and still be humble. You should also share when you do something wrong, made a mistake or misunderstood. Every time you share, someone else learns. And one of the charming qualities of being a sailor is that on any given day, you can feel like a novice again.
9. Learn how to tie a few knots. Similar to my advice about learning the language, I encourage learning the most important knots early on. In my mind, this includes the bowline, square knot, clove hitch, figure eight, cleat hitch and sheet bend. I recommend AnimatedKnots.com for practice.
10. Tell me if this is advice is wrong or not good enough. I’m learning all the time. I am going to haul out a boat for the first time ever! I’m exploring what kind of racing I want to do this year. I’m also writing about sailing in new ways. I learned early on that knowing how to sail and teaching someone to sail are two very different things. Both take work. I want to offer many, many more aspiring sailors advice so please, let me know if I could do this better.
Cheers to the crew of Argon! The next several months might have tough moments but I know without a doubt it’ll be so much fun. Now, let’s re-rig that mainsheet.