First Day of Sailing School

By: Learn To Sail

Join Lauren on her adventure as she embarks on a journey to learn to sail. Follow her as she gets her feet wet as a beginner, gains experience, and earns her ASA certifications. The ultimate goal is to complete ASA 104 and go bareboat chartering somewhere exotic.

ASA 101.2 – Day One of Sailing School

Last night I spent perhaps more time than necessary eyeballing a huge pile of clothes and items on my floor, trying to decide what exactly I should bring with me and what I need to bring with me. The email said: “Being a smart sailor means bringing clothing for any type of weather.” Bathing suit, parka, umbrella… check, check, and check! I probably don’t need the flashlight, phone charger, or pocket knife… Okay maybe I am overthinking this a bit.

I narrowed the pile down to an extra sweater, sunblock, sunglasses, water bottle, a thin rain jacket, a small dry bag for my phone and keys (just in case I sink this thing in the first twenty minutes), nuts and an apple, my waterproof camera, and a pen and notepad of course. This is sailing school afterall. I wore five layers from a tank top to a flannel shirt and a baseball cap.

I got to the marina about an hour early. No way am I letting this ship sail off without me.

The harbor was already full of life. Apparently boat people are early risers. There was a lot of hauling going on; boxes and wheelbarrows being passed on and off the docks. I giggled watching an old man strap a lifejacket on a chubby dog with stumpy legs.

Sailing Gear

I was so happy to have every single thing in this picture today.

The Santa Barbara Sailing Center staff warmly welcomed me in the office and set me up in the classroom. The tabletop was a giant chart of the Santa Barbara Channel and the room was filled with model ships and pieces of rope. My instructor came in and introduced himself. Captain Quincy Briscoe is from a lake town in Oregon and has been a licensed captain since he was 20 years old. It was clear he was excited to get us out on the water. My other classmates joined us: Dmitry, a journalist from Los Angeles, and Travis, a firefighter from Ventura, who had recently purchased a boat. “You bought a boat before learning how to sail?” This was confounding to me. “Yep,” he said. “I figured nothing would motivate me to learn more than buying the boat first.” A very fair point.

Once we got situated Captain Q stood up. “Good morning. Has anyone checked the wind today?

Silence. How does one even check the wind? Is that when you lick your finger and then stick it into the air?
He opened up his phone and showed us different apps and websites to check the current wind, swell, tides, and weather. “Checking these are important: they tell you what kind of day you’re going to have.” We stepped outside to watch how the harbor’s flags were blowing. The wind looked promising.

Using Flags to Check the Wind

We took a short quiz so he could see where we stood with our sailing knowledge. I got nervous – I absorbed a bit less from the book than I thought. Dmitry shook his head and it gave me comfort to see someone else who felt unprepared. After glancing at our three papers, Quincy crumpled them into a ball and threw them away. With a big smile he said, “Okay let’s get started!

We spent the morning learning how to tie different knots, reviewing the parts of the boat and rigging, and practiced reefing the sails. We are learning on a J-24’ sloop, a quintessential sailboat: one mast with a mainsail connected to it, and a jib, the front sail. Before lunch we left the slip and practiced steering as we motored around the harbor. This made me uneasy, like parking a car in a busy lot for the first time. We were cautious as other vessels made their way through the fingers of the harbor. But the boat turned on a dime, I was impressed! After a few times of going sharply left while Quincy patiently repeated, “Let’s try going right,” we each got the hang of it.

After lunch we raised the sails and got out of the harbor. Getting the sails up was quite simple. I’m hardly five feet tall and had no problem yanking on the halyard. With a little teamwork we had the mainsail nice and tight along the mast. Remind me to Google the people who invented winches and pulleys so that I may send them a fruit basket.

As we entered the open water, we saw the occasional seal pop its head out of the water, or some other creature make a splash as it surfaced and dove back down. Luckily the wind wasn’t very strong at that point, because with all the excitement it was admittedly hard to focus. The clouds began to roll in and we were engulfed in a light fog as we practiced tacking, or turning the bow of the boat through the wind in order to sail upwind. Once we had that down we practiced jibing, turning the stern of the boat through the wind. This can be a bit trickier so I took a break from seal-spotting.

Sea Lion on a Buoy

Hey sea lion, how are you not getting seasick on that buoy? What’s your secret?

The wind began to die down so we rolled slowly over the light swell. Captain Q pulled various items out of the boat’s cabin: a fire extinguisher, flares, a flotation device, and spare life vests. He explained that the higher level classes will go into more boat management and regulations but that this size vessel should always have these items. As the temperature continued to drop I was reminded of that orientation email: Always be prepared. I grabbed my spare layer.

As we encountered other ships Quincy pointed out different features or asked us questions about each one.

  • “What tack is this boat on?”
  • “Which one of us has the right of way?”
  • “That ship’s jib is actually a genoa because it overlaps the mast.”

In my world, Genoa is where the good salami comes from. I pulled out my notepad to absorb all his little tips and useful information.

We altered our course back to the harbor so we’d return by five. As we passed the breakwater a young gray whale showed itself so briefly I almost missed it. “Well now we have to follow him!” Quincy said as he directed us to sail along the breakwater. The whale surfaced again and I let out an excited squeal, and admittedly, a profane exclamation. We chased him through the fog for a while, and then as suddenly as he appeared he was gone. It’s incredible how a creature so large can be so evasive.


Well now we have to follow him!

We lowered the sails in the harbor and motored back into the slip. It’s only day one and I feel like I’ve already learned so much. I am grateful I “nerded out” on the textbook beforehand, or Captain Q’s instructions and questions would have been harder to follow amongst all the excitement of getting the hang of the boat. Each step in the process of getting out in the water and returning to the dock brought to life something I had read; it was a day of little light bulbs starting to go on.

Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’m going to go treat myself to a burger. A day at sea makes a woman hungry. I am looking forward to more wind next time!

Meet Lauren Lauren Coiro

Lauren is a marine conservationist, writer, and advocate for ocean-friendly living. She’s spent her entire life in the water, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking, and has traveled to various parts of the world to study the ocean’s biodiversity and explore coastal communities. Lauren realized that the very best way to experience and appreciate the marine world is to get out there and start sailing!

With her ASA certifications Lauren hopes to make sailing a permanent part of her life and to connect with like-minded people who share her love of the sea. She admires the hard work and simplicity that can come with the nautical lifestyle and is eager to share how her ASA experience raises questions, challenges, and new opportunities along the way.