Learning How to Sail with Autumn

My first sailboat trip was here in Cozumel, Mexico with friends of mine—Gina and her husband, Captain Ian. Ian and another captain race sailboats against each other as an excursion for vacationers, and I have to say, it was a rush! The very first thing we learned was the importance of knowing which direction the wind is coming from. It sounded as though it is common for the wind to come from the south side of Cozumel because of how the weather patterns and wind patterns are formed in relation to the position of the island. Of course, wind direction changes, so there is a simple trick to quickly assess where the wind is coming from. Turn towards the wind, and when you are aimed directly at it, you will feel it evenly on both ears, cheeks, and hair.

We were each trained to do one very specific task during this trip, and it was important that we learned where and where NOT to put our fingers. I was given a task of manning (woman-ing?) the ropes. I was to tighten or loosen the line on the drum in the back of the boat, and my partner locked the line with a winch. I was on the starboard side with my partner. There were two others on the port side. When my partner and I tightened the rope, the team on the port side loosened theirs. The objective behind this manoeuver was to take the pressure off of the main line when the sail’s direction was being changed. It was important that each team watch each other and be aware of what they were doing, when, and how quickly or slowly. It was like a dance—move when your partner moves.

Each person’s task on board relied on someone else listening to the captain’s orders and completing their task.  We had to learn to make our moves fluid—flow with each other, one move after the other.

We did not sail straight into the wind; if we did, the sails would have flapped like flags, and we would have been stuck in the water. To use the power of the wind, we made soft zig-zag movements across the race course. The sails divert wind from its original direction toward the back of the boat, pushing the boat forward and sideways, which is why there are ropes to hang on to when the boat leans one direction or the other. However, the rudder and the centerboard keep the boat from sliding sideways, thank goodness.

It felt so exhilarating working with a team and racing across the Caribbean (ok, it wasn’t that far), feeling the wind – really feeling the wind – and working with it. The race was neck-in-neck for a while, but our team pulled a bit ahead just in the last few seconds, and won the race by about 10 feet. I suppose that means we were all a good team.

I definitely have more to learn in relation to the wind direction, how to steer, and how to manoeuver the sails properly, but for a first lesson, I thought it all went well. I’m looking forward to more time on these beautiful Caribbean waters.

written by Autumn la Bohème 

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