Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Sailing Instruction with Captain Jim


(photo above) A map showing where on Lake Muskegon and Lake Michigan most of our sailing experiences in the sailing class took place. The smaller box insert shows were Torreson Marine is located, and most of our 'motoring & docking' maneuvers took place.

We received our 'Sailing Instruction' packages a month or so before the class, which included a textbook that we were encouraged to read ahead of time, plus additional information regarding 'rules of the road', safety, and our 'sailing passports' which were small booklets for entering our 'sailing experience' into. We had the option of driving to the boat every day for class (it would span three days), or we could sleep aboard (which they recommended, probably because it helped sell the whole 'experience', and encouraged future customers). Our class would incorporate both Sailing 101 and 103. We arrived the night before class with our sleeping bags and gear and moved aboard 'Pandora', the Torreson classroom boat.

(from the diary - Tim writing unless otherwise noted)

July 8 2003, 6:30 am
We spent our first night aboard a sailboat last night. From what I gather, none of us slept particularly well. I awoke every hour on the hour to check my watch, chalk it up to nerves. We are actually doing this - taking our first tentative steps in a seaward direction. Terri says I yelled "THIRD!" in my sleep last night -- I must still have baseball on the brain (the end of little league season having just finished up). "Pandora" is a C&C 30 ft from what we can gather from materials onboard. A little cramped down below, Terri and I taking the V berth and Keenan on one of the side berths. Sunrise was beautiful this morning, and the rigging on all the boats in the marina sound to me like wind chimes. Swallows flying around the neighboring boats.

July 8, 2003, 7:30 pm
Our first day of sailing class went very well. We all three passed the '101' exam, Keenan with a score of 89%, Terri with a score of 83%, and Tim with a score of 95%. A lot of fun, especially the tiny taste of 'sailing' we got near the end of the day with the headsail. Terri managed to keep her cool, even when the boat went into 8 degrees of heel. Keenan is practicing his knots as I write this, he was a bit apprehensive this morning when our teacher was grilling us on parts of the boat, but once he got behind the wheel, he had a big grin on his face the rest of the day.
(Terri July 8) Well, day one down. Very fun. Last night was something. Found the boat on our own, no power (we later found out how to hook up to shore power), Showers not so good. But we are on a boat. We now know that Pandora is a 32' C&C. 83% on the test was a bit disappointing - but Keenan did great. Tomorrow we sail most of the day. After just today, Keenan wants a sailboat. How to do it cost effectively . . . Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

July 10 2003, 7:00 am
Well, yesterday was very exciting. We practiced sailing most of the day, starting with just the main, we sailed "the circle" (beat, beam reach, run, jibe, run, beam, beat, coming about, beat) - one person at the wheel, and one person on the mainsheet. Practiced some motoring in and out of a slip over at the harbor marina. Then after lunch we got out the headsail and did the circle again - this time with one person on the windward headsail sheet another on the leeward sheet, one on the mainsail sheet and one person at the helm (then switched positions and started again). Passed a big coal frieghter coming in, passed to its stern, then went down the channel to the big lake "wing and wing". Lake Michigan had absolutely no wind, so we hoisted the 'iron genny' and headed back. Once we were back in Lake Muskegon, Captain Jim went below and told us to handle it ourselves. Terri at the helm, she got a bit panicked at the quickly approaching north shore (where someone mentioned that it 'got shallow'), skipped a few steps, came about before we were prepared and we ended up with an accidental jibe, which rattled us all, & the resulting crash of the mainsail caused the teacher to come running up from below. At the time it seemed a big scary incident (capitalized THE INCIDENT in our diary), but in hindsight it wasn't all that bad. Nancy (fellow student) got a rope burn on her hand, Tim bent a fingernail back & Keenan got snapped in the back of the neck with a flailing headsail & the teacher spent the rest of the time that day supervising us. After class we visited the beach, fed the seagulls and came back to the boat to cram for our big 103 exam scheduled for the next morning. A Fun day overall, and we are starting to look a bit more wistfully at the boats for sale in the back lot at Torresons.
(Terri July 10) Me on a sailboat - what could be more odd. tim got this bug and we are trying to see if will work for us. I have been reading a lot about it. Tim reads the drama/adventure books and I read the how-to, we-did-it type self-help manuals. The class went better than I thought. Keenan did great. Now - do we make the jump? I have never liked being on a boat. Like to swim, but only in pools. Now we are looking into sailing. Retirement, far off places, travel, adventure. What would my mother think? As for the 'incident' - it happened very fast. All I remember is that I goofed. Hopefully I get the hang of it. I'm sure other people have had an accidental jibe and got over it.

July 12, 2003 8:00 am
It is now a couple days past our final day on board 'Pandora'. We all passed the 2nd exam, Keenan with an 82%, Terri a 91% and Tim a 90%. The weather that day was wet & the winds were gusty from the south. Steering was difficult at first, we recapped sailing the circle. Keenan is by now an old hat at this, barking out commands in rapid succession. Terri is still a little hesitant about it all and still likes a bit of reassurance about the points of sail & command sequence. It doesn't yet come completely natural to Tim either, but he puts on a confident demanor and hopes nobody will notice the steel grip he maintains on the wheel and the false bravado of his smile.
We then spent some time 'rescuing Bob' (an improvised 'man overboard', in effect: a fender with rope attached). Much easier than I anticipated, especially after reading the ASA Recommended Procedure in the manuals. Of course, it will be much more stressful and difficult in an actual Man Overboard Situation where you are not expecting it. We then learned how to 'Heave To' (still a little muddy on this one afterwards), and we are sure to need more practice at this. Then we headed down the channel and practiced anchoring n the cove. We came home after the class ended, and are starting to look a bit more seriously online at boat listings & newspaper ads. We may have to have a 'family meeting' to see where we think we may be heading with all this. Exciting to see this entering the realm of possibility where it once was just a crazy pipe dream.

(additional notes from margins in the diary - edited for clarity) Our instructor was Captain Jim Thompson, a Hemmingway-esque old salt with a fine sense of humor and thankfully a large dose of patience. A retired college professor, who winters in Florida, he had many a funny off-color story or anctedote, usually preceded by a disclaimer "How old is Keenan again?". Torreson Marina is more of a 'working boatyard' than a 'recreational marina', with nasty primitive shower & bathroom facilities, and it kind of reminds you of a 'auto mechanic's garage', but there is usually lots of activity to watch, boats being serviced, launched, etc.
Our fellow classmate, Nancy, had a boat on the other side of Muskegon Lake, that she got from a boyfriend, and she wanted to learn more about handling it. She was a speed demon, and really liked to see the boat heel over.
(photos, above) (1) Keenan at the wheel while we 'sail the circle', appropriately wearing an 'Old Navy' tee shirt (2) Terri at the helm with a look of "what the hell am I doing on a boat?" while Captain Jim appears to be biting his fingernails.

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