Getting into sailing

I have been sailing small boats and catamarans for over 20 years. I first learned to sail when I was 15, or thereabouts, at scout camp. I had gone to work for the BSA as a lifeguard and swim instructor. One day while exploring the camp I came across a few kit sailboats sitting unassembled in an old shed.  They had been donated to the scout camp, however as no one on staff knew anything about sailing, they just sat for a few years collecting dust until my friend and I stumbled into them. We got permission to build the kits and after a few weeks of experimenting with fiberglass, we got them ready to ride the winds of West Texas. We learned to sail by reading the BSA merit badge book on small boat sailing and trial and error. This was a hard way to learn and left one of our 3 boats at the bottom of the little lake after a huge gust of wind ripped into the boat, breaking the sail and rig from the boat and tearing the fiberglass in two.

Young and just married at the age of 21 I convinced my new bride that we needed to invest in a broken-down old Hobie 16. I rigged a hitch to the old Subaru and we were soon off, the next 20 years filled with sailing adventures.

As our kids have grown out boats have grown also. Our latest catamaran the Hobie 21 is the largest Beach Cat Manufactured by Hobie. It is a great little boat that has given us countless hours of fun. However, over the last 2 years, I have become interested in sailing larger boats and potentially sailing farther and having bigger adventures.

I didn't really know how to go about learning to sail big boats as we live in landlocked Utah. One day while having lunch with a lawyer friend of mine I was introduced to Marina Sailing in California. This is a sailing club in California that offers training and access to a nice fleet of boats in southern California.  In order to charter a boat, you must complete the appropriate ASA  sailing courses and certifications.  I ended up sailing for the Ultimate Sailing Course offered by Marina Sailing. This was a week-long sailing class that covered ASA 101, 103, and 104. At the end of this course, you were given the stamp of approval to charter boats up to 45 feet in length from the club.

The week-long sailing course was taught on a Beneteau 45 monohull named Freedom. This was a very comfortable boat for the 4 students and our Captin Chuck. Over the next few days, we would practice knots, systems, navigation, charts, docking, fueling, anchoring, and sailing. Turns out that sailing a 45 actually a little easier than sailing an 18-foot beach cat. The boat handles wind and weather gracefully. We sailed from Oxnard California up to Santa Barbra, then over to the Channel Islands and back to Oxnard.  The weather was somewhat cooperative with some pretty heavy winds picking up on our crossing to Santa Cruz island, reaching 30 knots, accompanied by some pretty large swells. I've sailed in some pretty stiff winds on a beach cat and it was nice to be on a big boat that allowed reefing sails and does not threaten to pitch poll when the wind comes up.

While sailing made sense to me and I felt very comfortable before the mast when we were out to see, navigating the marina was a different story. A 45 boat makes for tight maneuvering in between the slips. A 45-foot boat is slow to stop and slow to respond to the helm. I took every opportunity I could to practice pulling in and out of tight places. It was really nice to do this with a qualified captain at your side ready to jump in and take control in the worse case.

The first day we sailed from Oxnard to Santa Barbara. We snagged a guest slip in Santa Barabra which are available on a same day first dome first come bases. As it was early spring there was good slip availability. After we checked in at Santa Barbara, we went back out for some man overboard drills in the Santa Barbara Bay. The Santa Barba bay offers great flat seas and nice wind on occasion and while we practiced sailing up to our pretend MOB we watch a fleet of boats sailing in a local regatta.

The Channel Islands are a beautiful place to sail. We crossed over to the Channel Islands from Santa Barbra the next morning. Wind and seas picked up as we neared Santa Cruz Island.  The wind meter on our boat didn't work, but I had brought along my handheld anemometer, that I use for sailing beach cats in Utah. The wind was blowing 30 knots, but we had double reefed and the boat felt strong and confident. 

We sailed around the backside of Santa Cruz looking for a protected anchorage.  We passed a few potential anchorages, finally settling on a little cove called Willows that was protected from the wind and waves. We dropped the hook in 30+ feet of water, fired up the grill on the boat and roasted some bratwurst.  I was disappointed that we didn't leave the boat and head onto the beach to explore the island but it was late and I hoped this would not be the last trip I would make to this tiny island. 

Sleeping on the boat proved difficult, I was nervous that the boat would drift into shore and I woke up several times that night checking our GPS to check that our anchor was secure.

The next day we sailed back to Oxnard. Once again the weather favored us and we 15-knot winds blew Freedoms home to her slip in the little Oxnard Marina. We where accompanied by several pods of dolphins splashing alongside us cut through the beautiful blue sea. 


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