February 3, 2010

I Go Where No Man Has Gone Before


This past weekend, manly men of San Francisco were out flexing their testosterone on the Bay in one of our premier events of sailing derring-do - the Three Bridge Fiasco - a day-long test of man, machine, machismo, and meatball sandwiches.

But off in a quiet corner of the Bay, on a 22-foot training boat, I was going where no man had ever gone before - or at least had ever admitted to going. I was making giant strides for our gender, pushing back walls of intolerance and hateful traditions of prejudice.

I was the lone man in an all-woman sailing class.

Uh, let me explain.

For about 20 years, I've been trying to gradually lure my wife into going sailing with me. I may have mentioned this once or twice or two dozen times before. On balance, things are going pretty well.

We are still married and I don't have to sleep in the garage or on "that damned boat of yours". My wife tells me she actually likes sailing and, a few months ago, we reached another major milestone, or waypoint I guess, on our lifelong voyage towards lasting bliss afloat.

Out of the blue - and I swear I'm not making this up - my wife told me she finally wanted to sign up for one of those sailing classes I've been trying to get her to take for, lo, these 20 years.

We long ago went through the classic husband-wife ars poetica of, "You're just making up all of this halyard and mainsheet and bowline bullsh..." - uh, I'm editing on the fly here - "because you're a typical male and have to always control things and make me do it your way just to satisfy your fu..". - uh, editing again - "ego."

In short, I learned long ago that there was no way I or anyone else of my gender was going to teach my wife how to sail. The litany of luff, line, and leeward would be coming from lips more lovely than mine, or from none at all.

Things had stood at this gender impasse for years with about as much hope for a thaw as there is at Panmunjom. My wife has always helped with sailing the boat and is pretty good on the helm or on the winches, but has always shied from learning enough to skipper. Points of sail have always been a mystery to her and the closer we draw to the dock, the farther she retreats from the helm.

What finally changed her mind is probably best left to another post, but, at any rate, there we were last weekend finishing up a woman's sailing class.

We? What the halyard was I doing there? Wasn't she trying to get as far away as possible from my smug, male face while grappling with the mysteries of tiller and sheet?

Yes, she was, until the only other student bailed after the first day (please, no snide comments about the weak and fickle gender here - I'm on thin enough ice already). So, the instructor suggested that I fill in, in the role of perpetual crew. It seems they break eveything into roles of helmsperson and crew, so needed a minimum of two on the boat, besides the instructor.

Could I be persuaded to spend two days on San Francisco Bay on a sailboat for free in the interest of making my wife a better and more enthusiastic sailor? How could I not?

I shall break the tale here, understanding that anyone who's still reading this is either hungry, thirsty, or needs to relieve themselves by now.

Suffice it to say, that it was one small step for man, but two great daysails for mankind.

I learned some things about my wife (she never fails to amaze me).

I learned some things about how people learn some things.

I learned how what may seem like a dream job of teaching sailing is actually a lot of hard work.

I learned I had forgotten how much fun sailing a small boat can be.

I learned that even experienced sailors can learn new tricks in a beginners class, if they pay attention.

And I learned the real evil, sneaky reason the instructor wanted a third person on the boat.

To be continued...


  1. I think you should change your name to O Spocker.

    congrats on getting the dear wife to sail - mine claims to be interested, but has no interest in a Sunfish... too much of chance to touch the dirty lake water.

    cheers, my2fish

  2. Thanks for the break. I was starting to get the munchies.

    By the way, what equation do you use for calculating the optimum length of a blog post? I hope there's no calculus in it.

  3. my2fish, there is indeed a history of touching dirty lake water in our sailing past which is largely responsible for us now sailing a sturdy cruising boat that exposes us only to refreshing salt water spray and the gentle cleansing wash of rainwater dripping from leaky cabin portlights.

    Zen, I've learned a newfound respect for those of you who brave the challenges, uncertainties, and moments of sheer terror that arise in teaching beginners to sail.

    Tillerman, your comments here lately show a wry wit, a succinct economy of expression, and a talent for finding the perfect phrase that is truly impressive. Somehow, they have a certain familiar ring, but that must be because I appreciate true brilliance when I see it.

  4. I must be blessed. My wife claims to enjoy sailing even more than I do. She goes on to claim however, and I can not agree, that I just like all the stuff and the messing around with, and the having more than the actual sailing. My position is that I like them all equally well, no favorites. I hope your wife goes on to out-love your love of sailing, makes life sooooo much easier. I'd say have patience but I'd be 20 years to late for that advice, plus it isn't needed, obviously.

  5. What organization taught this class? Cal Sailing? SEA? or a pro school?

  6. Joe, it was the ASA school based in Richmond.

  7. Ah, the Richmond Rivera. That means Tradewinds. I almost joined their "sailing club" back in the cough, cough, cough 80s. Yikes, I'm getting old.

  8. It's 'seasoned', not 'old'.

    That's about when I went through their program, too (so I could rent boats in the BVI).

    It's a different club now - new owner, new clubhouse (in Marina Bay), better attitudes by most accounts.

    Their BKB trainers are new Capri 22's - a boat I like a lot. Sails like a big dinghy - not at all like the C-22's they used to use.

  9. Captain Kirk was a bowler?

  10. Bonnie, Kirk probably wasn't a bowler, but there is a connection with sailing.

    I've never been a Trekkie, so was reading up a bit before replying, and discovered this on Wikipedia:

    "...series creator Gene Roddenberry changed the captain's name to James T. Kirk after rejecting other options like Hannibal, Timber, Flagg, and Raintreee. The name was inspired by Captain James Cook, whose journal entry "ambition leads me ... farther than any other man has been before me" inspired the second pilot's title (Where No Man Has Gone Before)..."

  11. EscapeVelocity2/5/10, 11:11 AM

    If I remember that episode correctly, Kirk is actually the one on the left.