Weirdly, I’ve been on a boat more than my husband, the real sailor of the house, during the past few months. Part of this is pandemic-related. With live music and travel drastically curtailed amid Covid, I’ve had the time to fill in the gaps in my knowledge about other subjects I’m already involved in. This has turned into my past couple years into a sort of a ‘pandemic U,’ with a self-designed curriculum which has included additional study of avian conservation… and sailing.
Sailing is another cat that has kept coming back into my life despite my initial neutrality, and at times aversion, to the animal. Growing up in Santa Cruz County, I encountered sailors regularly, although, my parents were land lovers who rarely mentioned the subject. At the beach, we’d occasionally see boats on the horizon. The father of a classmate was lost at sea in murky circumstances. Sailing circled closer to me as I got older: a high school friend had a dad who sold canvas sail covers and he hired my friend and I for a two-day job handing out Latitude 38 magazines to boat show attendees. I sat in a beach chair at the edge of the parking lot at the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor as people streamed toward the marina, wondering what the fuss was about. I recall barely flipping through the actual publication.
I didn’t actually board a sailboat until college. As an Environmental Studies major, most of my friends were outdoorsy types who spent any free time climbing or cycling, kayaking or spelunking, and sailing. Two of my good friends delighted in taking groups out — likely as much for ballast as company — on the larger boat they eventually raced from San Francisco to Hawaii. Captain Dave worked summers on a boat in Ketchikan, Alaska, leading fishing trips, Pete was an Outward Bound instructor. They knew their stuff, but sailing with them was never about the cruise. Sails with them were about about speed and performance, long days on the San Francisco Bay navigating gusting wind, heaving water and adrenaline. I was perpetually scared. After one harrowing incident under the Golden Gate Bridge when part of the sail ended up in the water, I turned squarely toward land-based recreation.
But over the years, I kept meeting men with boats. And then I moved in with one. When Kwame and I met, I was unimpressed when he told me about his boat and love of sailing. It took some time for him to warm me to the idea of even boarding Phoenix, the Cal 27 he owned at the time, but it helped that he wasn’t in it for racing…and didn’t need me to go out every time he did. But when you move in with an avid sailor, in an island town that is surrounded, boats, sailing consciousness become a given. Plus, I found I love being out on the water, not for gonzo sailing, but for all the beauty and wildlife that you can’t get close to on shore: bottling seals, porpoising harbor porpoises, low-gliding Brown Pelicans, whistling Surf Scoters. I began to understand the contours of the San Francisco Bay in a whole new way. Then we starting doing music on the boat which morphed into our Love the Bay video series. Lighted-boat parades and ‘round-the-island cruises inevitably followed.
During a pandemic, the boat became an even bigger refuge: we could ‘get-away’ safely. And by 2020, I knew it would serve me well to know how to do more aboard a boat than to stay out of the way or follow instructions.
Pre-Covid, I discovered the Alameda-based Women's Sailing Seminar, an annual educational weekend two women sailors founded nearly 30 years ago to empower other women sailors. I thoroughly enjoyed the first WSS I did in 2019, impressed by many of the women of all ages, with racing credentials that include a single-handedly sailing from San Francisco to Japan. I signed up for the seminar again in September 2021… more puzzle pieces about sail trim and jibing safely started to fall into place. And then my $20 purchase of raffle tickets won me a series of prizes including a Latitude 38 (!) t-shirt, several bottles of wine, and the grand prize, a series of classes at Club Nautique. What luck! And kind of funny. There was no more denying the fact that the sailing cat had not only come back, it wasn’t going away. And it seemed to need my attention.
So this weekend, I was back on a boat for two days, learning about docking and stopping quickly and man-overboard procedures and setting anchor. …to be continued