Advice for the crew of S/V Argon

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.

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A real role model: Sam is learning, living and recommends rosé in plastic bottles on boats.

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.

20180717_1956423. 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:

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    This is Jeanne, she always says “yes!” to going sailing and it shows. Read her advice for the Argon crew.

    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.

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Sailing a lot, with lots of ladies

For me, 2018 is The Year of Lady Sailors. We stretched definitions, made monumental gains on the water and perhaps most importantly, reimagined sailing culture our way. This is the second of three short essays about women in boating. ~ a 6-minute read ~


A good sailor is an experienced sailor. The more time on the water, the more you know, the easier it is to stay two steps ahead and soon enough, you’re nerd-ing out with the rest of them.

Last year, a new friend of mine bought a boat and wanted to learn how to sail. A year went by without connecting, the tiller broke and luckily the boat moved to a marina closer to us. When I finally got onboard Argon, a San Juan 24, this spring it was with a purpose: To teach Sam how to sail her boat, to help her feel comfortable taking others out and have fun along the way.

There was no lesson plan, just a notebook I think we misplaced. I recruited Jeanne, who still teaches sailing, and we taught by doing it, figuring it out. You step on a new boat and it’s unexplored territory. With Argon, we explored together and had a blast.

“What’s this line do? Oh! Spinnaker halyard.”

“Hmm, there should be a cleat here, guess it runs that way…oh yeah, makes sense!”

“What a cozy slip you’re in. I mean, seems possible to back out so let’s try that.”

For several weeks, the three of us regularly took Argon out on Lake Union and hardly saw another boat. We experienced light wind, puffs and breeze from every direction. Some things got labeled, others were memorized and we encouraged Sam to do as much as she could on her own. Soon enough, she was sailing without us!

That would’ve been enough to make this year memorable. See, I believe anyone can learn to sail and do so confidently and safely on the water. What makes a sailor is a perfect storm: enthusiasm, a positive learning environment and enough great experiences you keep going.

I also believe that’s hard to come by, especially for women interested in sailing.

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Even in this ideal scenario, we experienced the sour side of boating. The sexism lurking just beneath the surface which is perpetuated by an older generation who knew a different world and a young generation that should know better.

A man on the dock once joked our departing boat and crew was “unlucky,” we didn’t laugh. Others not-so-subtly watched us from the corners of their eyes, questioning our approach because it was different than their own. Later in the summer, we were prepared to boycott Duck Dodge because the theme felt detached from reality. There are more opportunities for women in boating, but barriers and tasteless traditions still remain.

Long before I bought my boat, I dreamed about using it as a vehicle to teach other women to sail. Nothing formal, but to provide a vessel where more experienced sailors and those who are interested in sailing more could safely set out together. This summer, my dream came true.

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Ladies sailing trip 2018

On Friday, June 15, two sailing vessels (Argon and my boat Capi, a Catalina 34) departed from Shilshole to Poulsbo for the first annual ladies sailing weekend. For three days, nine women across two boats shared everything: space, dreams, food, wine boxes, knowledge, laughter and more than I can capture in this essay.

The weekend was humbling, inspiring, hilarious and, at one point, brought me to tears (the good kind). We navigated, we chatted, we set sails and we had space for our version of sailing. One friend learned at 6 a.m. she’d passed her nursing exam, another caught the sailing bug and another tested out her new kayak by paddling among harbor seals at night.

This weekend, more than six months since that trip, we are all getting together again and the excitement is feverish. When I think back to that June weekend, and every time on the water with these ladies, I know I’ve experienced something special and I can’t wait for more. We’re planning future sailing adventures and hopefully more perfect storms leading to more lady sailors.


I’m beginning a project for Women’s History Month (March 2019) and I need your input: What do female sailors want? Share your thoughts with me at ckuhlcat@gmail.com.