Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Community Sailing Program: Days 5 & 6 - Returning to Port

I'm certified and I have proof. :) After three nights of classroom and three days on the water, I have completed the  Community Sailing Course offered through The Sailing Club of Central Florida.

All in all, the course was a cherished experience. It fills the niche between low cost introductions to sailing which offer only a couple of hours on the water, and the higher level certifications which can take days of full time effort to complete.

Day 5 returned us to the classroom to learn a few final points and review our knowledge for our exam. The exam was 50 questions of multiple choice, and fill in the blank which covered sailing skills, procedures, safety, and terminology. Continuing the thread established in my earlier posts, the test had many poorly worded questions, spelling mistakes, and even items which were not covered in the course or book. The instructors, to their credit warned us of this ahead of time, and told us which questions we could skip.

This sailing club, like many small grass roots community organizations, is run by passionate individuals. The constant personality challenges faced in the class as well as the the rough nature of the test attest to the small pond, big fish effect often found in these small groups. In small organizations centered around big passions, often those looking to feel like a big fish find solace in dominating a small group. I confirmed this interpretation later at the first club meeting I attended. (Required attendance in order to pick up your certificate, and coupon.)

The test results were very very mixed. I scored nearly perfect, most probably due to my out of class personal reading I have been doing. Two of our participants also scored reasonably well, with one participant really finding the test a challenge.

With the classroom portion behind us Day 6 was our final day on the water. Our last water day was amazing. The wind had kicked up to 9 to 12 miles per hour, increasing our sailing speed, and really letting us hone our basic skills. Each student was again paired with their own teacher, each of us sailing with someone we had not yet experienced. My teacher was very laid back, yet I soon found out, very competitive.

We set up a pattern of buoys in a triangle shaped course. This standard sailing course requires boats to practice all types of turning and sailing directions. Our wind was very consistent, which also made the practicing very enjoyable. In fact, much of the training on that last day was simply in the challenge of getting the boat to a specific spot on the lake to drop or recover a buoy.

While out doing our general practicing, we also were drilled on man overboard technique. A head sized plastic container was thrown overboard without warning and the instructor yelled, "Man overboard!" We then had to react by sailing away from the man perpendicular to the wind, then jibing back to the location to pick him up. My man did make it back on the boat, but not before two head concussions with the side of the hull. Oops.

The wind slowly grew stronger while we were out, the boat became faster and faster, and healed (leaned) over more and more. Our previous sail days had no significant wind so this excitement was thrilling, and mildly intimidating. I reminded my teacher that I had not practiced in this level of wind, so he gave lots of good direction on how to handle the additional power in the sails.

By the end of the day, I was sailing like a well experienced amateur! The wind brought us right back to our landing when it was time to come in. Oh, and my instructor would be happy to note that our boat won three of the three races that day. (I was just happy to be sailing.)

One word on the varying success of the students in the class.  Sharon was not able to come to this last sail day. She injured her knee on Day 4 while rigging a boat, and due to lots of running around for work, was in no condition to finish the sailing course. Another student, while in full attendance to the class, had not yet developed the knowledge or skills to successfully navigate his boat. The class instructors were very flexible in both cases, and were happy to give each person additional boat time on future weekends to get them through the course at no additional charge.

Now for the true heart of the course. This class is designed primarily to introduce you to the club, its boats, and safe use of those boats. As such it is a tool for bringing new members into the club. In order to further this goal, the certificates of completion are not awarded at the last class, but at the next club meeting. This drives the participants to meet the wider club members and hopefully get involved in club activities and leadership.

The club meeting was the next Monday after the last class day and once again held in the Community Room of the Orlando Fashion Square Mall. In addition to the certificate, graduates were given a club t-shirt, as well as a coupon for a two hour sailboat rental at a the Lake Fairview Marina.

Com-Pac 16's at Lake Fairview
The club meeting was as you may expect if you have ever been to a Home Owner's Association meeting. An agenda filled with typos, board members taking procedure very seriously, heated discussion about insignificant subjects, and general loss of the forest for the trees. I experienced the meeting as having an air of insider socialization.  There was almost no one under 50 at the meeting, and a real lack of questioning assumptions and norms.

I signed up for this sailing class in order to whet my appetite for sailing until taking a more serious sailing class later in the season. These and future classes will allow me to charter my own rental boat as a skipper, and spend a week or two along beautiful coasts while having the flexibility to explore or relax as my partner and I see fit.  I see sailing as a tool of discovery of both the world's people and landscapes, but also of personal and relational adventures which the solitude of open water can engender.

The Sailing Club of Central Florida, does not seem to lead to those goals.  It looks to be a group of passionate people who love to race each other in circles and feel the thrill of being big, on a small boat.  If that is the community for which you are looking, I highly encourage you to sign up for this budget friendly class and club membership.  I am sure I will be taking advantage of my six month membership to sail on Sundays on the little Lake Baldwin.

Maybe I will see you there!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Community Sailing Program: Days 3 & 4 - Tacking Along on Shore and Sail

Back to the books.

Sharon and I passed through the halfway point of our six day Community Sailing Course offered through The Sailing Club of Central Florida. As we navigated our experience we found ourselves hitting rough weather and take on challenging tacks!

Day 3 of the course returns us back into the classroom.  (You can read about Day 1 and Day 2 in previous blog posts.) The instructors started the class by reviewing our experiences of Day 2, our first time out on the water. The responses were quite mixed. Sharon and I both were pretty honest about our frustrations with inconsistencies, unclarity, confusion, and personality challenges. The instructors expressed much sympathy if not much causation to expect changes for the future.

Our small classroom in the Community Room
of the Orlando Fashion Square Mall.

With the our difficulties heard, the first part of the class was a written quiz challenging us to name the major parts of a small sailboat as well as name the different points of sail one can aim with relation to the wind. Our instructor challenges around clarity and leadership quickly returned as they began the review of the completed quiz.

One instructor began a review of the boat parts from the front of the room while the other instructor vehemently scolded students to pay attention because we were reviewing points of sail. There was a consistent challenge where one particular instructor completely ignored what the other was doing.  he instructor being ignored did not call out this behavior, and once it came to light of its own time, the one doing the ignoring made only a half hearted apology with no not about how they could avoid the challenge in the future.

I strive to BE the boat in order
 to master the art of sailing

The evening was not all frustration of course. Any review of the material is good review, and we had quite a good time acting out our boat positions for a jibing maneuver. At one time, I even got to play a mast and boom! These land drills for what you had to do in what order to complete a complex maneuver were quite helpful even if they required a large leap of imagination.

Next up we watched a video which reviewed the fundamentals of right of way while sailing.  The video laid out simple rules for determining which of two sailboats should change course if they are closing on each other for possible collision.  This topic on its own is not easy since water has no lane markings, traffic signals, or even an obvious marked wind direction, the rules can often seem abstract, unenforceable, and ultimately not very helpful if the other boater does not comprehend them.

Challenges Again...

Once again during this topic of right of way, one of the instructors proceeded to give us a different set of rules, or rationale for determining right of way.  I quickly realized that this other set of rules often conflicted with what the video had laid out.  (Another example of not trusting the other boater to know the rules.)  It took several objections before the teacher realized their mistake and retracted their statements.

On average this sailing group volunteering to teach this class are wonderfully pleasant people, and they are under no circumstances assumed to be good at teaching.  (In all humility, I don't really believe anyone can be good at traditional classroom teaching but that is a topic for another day.)

It has been my experience that the various club educators are teaching memorized facts and procedures in lieu of rationale.  Many of these facts and procedures they learned at different times from different people.  These facts are a mixture of safety directives, traditions, opinions, and guesses, and all are taught equally as laws of the known sailing universe. The class collides into challenges repeatedly as conflicting opinions are thrown out as facts, collide, and then are waived away as if no problem really occurred.

Reflecting on Ourselves...

This has been a severe challenge to both Sharon and myself.  We have a strong background in learning, psychology, and philosophy, and as such are strong self motivated thinkers. When we run into conflicts and misunderstandings, we see them as the fundamental relationship breaking instances that they can be. We acknowledge the occurrences, apologize for our part in them, empathize with the other's part in them, and pick them apart in detail in order to be sure they will never occur again.

With this concentrated work, our relationship has blossomed to the sky and rooted deeper into fundamental values than either of us have ever imagined. at once with this growth, we have seen an ever accelerating escalation in the speed of development both in our relationship and in ourselves.

As issues are identified, corrected, and made never to repeat we build on our past experience, with each year's effort compounding on the last. In each of the last three years, more has happened in our relationship and lives in each year than in all the years prior. We don't see this acceleration slowing down and boy oh boy are we not used to this trajectory. We are often each quite exhausted, and far afield of the mindset of those around us.

Sharon and I reviewed these topics extensively as we drove home from that Day 3 classroom session. I was filled with mixed emotions, and she was frustrated as heck. By the time Day 4 approached, we both agreed to try a different tack as we approached the anticipated storms of the class. We both acknowledged that we were there for ourselves and each other, not for the teachers or classmates. We would focus on keeping connected as a couple, and on being connected to our own experience. We would use the day as a training ground for sailing, and for life.

Back to the Water...

Day 4 provided a carbon copy of Day 2's weather. Clear sunny skies, warm comfortable temperature, and very light wind. We pulled out the boats quickly and rigged them ourselves. This time around, Sharon and I stuck closer together as we worked as a team to rig two of the boats.  We still had challenges, but in this way they were our challenges. We owned the variables, and therefore had much more control of the outcome.

On the water My experience was much improved over Day 2. I had a wonderfully laid back instructor, which made all the difference in the world. My instructor balanced praise with improvement notes, but also was often focused on reinforcing the control, and freedom I had to pace my own learning.  This made all the difference, and I can't wait for Sharon to work with this instructor on her last sail day.

On Day 4 some of us decided to do our capsize drill. This is a simulation of what to do when your boat is tipped over by a gust of wind. It was turning into a warm day, so I figured, why put off being dumped into the lake? My instructor and I dumped our boat over twice in order to practice two different techniques for righting the boat. The March water was a bit chilly, but actually quite refreshing, and the bright sun means we were not cold once back in the boat and then later on shore.

A retrospective on Day 2's activities.
I have no photos or GPS track for our sailing on day 4. As promised, I left my electronics in the car since there will be plenty of time for that on our own boat someday! Besides, one of the main reasons to sail in the first place is to practice living in the moment anyway.

I did get home to find my ankles very itchy. There may have been some small critters in the muddy bank of the lake where we pull the boats out of the water. Next week, I will plan on wearing socks under my water shoes.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Community Sailing Program: Day 2 - Onto the Water!

My partner and I are enrolled in the Central Florida Community Sailing Program run by The Sailing Club of Central Florida. On day 1 of the class we participated in a classroom session and were given study materials. You can read more about the disparate experiences we obtained on that first day in my last post: Community Sailing Program: Day 1 - Expectations & Attitudes.
Our first day of sailing!

Onto the water we went on day 2! The sailing club has a small fenced compound near the water at Fleet Peeples Park just a few minutes east of Orlando near Winter Park, FL.

Our day started by helping clean up the boats and roll them out to the water. Three of the four class members were able to attend day two, so we set three boats into the water. A fourth boat was rolled out onto the grass nearby in order to review the names of the various boat components and demonstrate how to set up the rigging, sails, and rudder.

Reviewing parts of the boat.
After the overview, we were each directed to rig up a boat. The boats as mentioned were already in the water, this meant standing in the shallow water to do the work. By the time we were in the water working it was about 9:40 AM. It was sunny and about 65 degrees outside and the water temperature was in the high sixties as well.

Sharon rigging up her sails.

Here again our experiences varied. One class member was given constant attention to rig his boat, one was given light attention and assistance, and one was given almost no attention or assistance.

It is also worth mentioning that while rigging was going on, a couple not affiliated with the class came by on a mission to feed squirrels in the park. While the sailboat compound is off limits to all but club members, the water front lawn where the boats were put in is pubic land for all. A serious conflict arose as our lead instructor tried to direct the couple away from the launch area. Tempers were allowed to escalate, leaving the lead instructor perturbed and class members shaken.

This is a very small sailing club with about 10 boats and very limited facilities. Sailing can be held as a very traditional sport with very methodical ways.  The arrival of the strangers was not taken well by the lead instructor and handled quite poorly.  In the end the instructor was not able dissuade the couple from the area and as a result she held a poor mood thereafter.

It was a perfect day for learning to sail!

When we were ready to push off, each class member was teamed up with an instructor.  The head instructor left shore first with one class mate.  This classmate later reported that the instructor was quite distracted by the aforementioned conflict, but that the conversation eventually turned to other subjects and things evened out.  The other two instructors were very relaxed and easy going.

The lead instructor proceeded to set marker buoys out in the lake around which she planned to have us sail figure eight patterns to learn how to control the course of the boat, trim the sails, and properly tack into the wind.

The wind had other plans.  While the day was beautiful, the wind was very very light and changed direction constantly. It varied from 0 to 5 miles per hour.  he training boats were small 14 footers and even in the light wind were easy to steer, if not move quickly. With the wind so light, there was hardly any pressure on the sails which heavily affected boat balance. In this way, many of the conventions we learned in the classroom about the position of the crew in the boat, did not quite apply on this light day.

The wonderful benefit of having such light wind was that the boat moved very slowly. This meant there was plenty of time to think through our maneuvers and lots of forgiveness as we made our first tacks.

After about an hour and a half of sailing we called it quits having sailed between 1.3 and 1.5 miles. It took quite some time to make the last 500 feet back to shore, with almost nonexistent wind, we payed ultra slow motion sailing game. The biggest thrill of the day came as the wind started gusting just when we were 200 feet out, which really sped us up for our landing on the shore.

Back on shore we struck the sails and the lines, hauled out the boats, and rolled them back into the fenced compound. Finally we covered the boats back up with tarps to keep them clean for next week.

This being my first sail in decades, I took lots of photos, video, and even a GPS track of the experience. In doing this, I did take my attention away from the class itself a bit.  This worked out for me as I was quite ahead of the rest of the class in knowledge.

GPS Track from

On our next sail day, however, I will be leaving my electronics on the shore. The head instructor has a strong aversion to phones and cameras on the boats as she is sensitive to distractions.  At this point I think I agree. There will be plenty of time for documenting our sailing adventures since this little class is just a first baby step into our future dreams!

Next up is day 3 where we find ourselves back in the classroom followed by day 4's return to the water.  I am not looking forward to the boat capsize drill if the weather does not warm up a bit soon!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Community Sailing Program: Day 1 - Expectations & Attitudes

Our first classroom day came and went.  Both Sharon and I came into this first evening class with charged emotions and expectations as well as mountains of baggage from both our very distant, and very recent pasts.  This post is to review my experience of the first classroom evening while also looking back on how my feelings differed from those around me.

  My partner Sharon and I are taking a small learn to sail class with a our local community sailboat club.  In my last post, Small Steps to New Adventures, I reviewed the motivations which have driven both of us to start getting serious about sailing.

Sharon recounts her dream of sailing around the world with me; visiting foreign ports of call for whatever duration she pleases, all the while keeping the mental safety of her home base close at hand.  Similarly, I see the opportunity to wander freely, spend much more time with Sharon, and challenge the social, societal, and relational norms which have built up in my head.

Both of these thought groups hold in common the values of freedom, independence, and personal connection which lie at the foundations of our lives and shared relationship.  This is quite a bit of personal expectations to bring to a small, non-profit, volunteer run sailing class operated out of a mall's community room and a tiny lake.

The first day's class started at 6:30 in the evening and ran for a little more than two hours.  Our two volunteer trainers were both multi year members of the sailing club, very friendly, and very outgoing.  There were four people in our small class.  In addition to Sharon and myself, one man was taking the class because he had just bought a boat only two weeks before in Maryland and wanted the basic skills to sail it down the coast to Florida.  The other man has a young daughter who is very excited about sailing so he is taking the course so that he can be more supportive of her activity in the sport.

On this first day we were each handed a US Sailing learning guidebook for basic small craft sailing skills.  The class itself consisted of watching short three minute training videos, after each of which we would have a discussion about the topic presented, its relevance, and how it related to the boats we would sail.  The instructors also had a model sailboat to use as reference in learning terminology, as well as rope and cleats for us to practice knot tying.

The class was very straight forward, and as may be expected, not professional in the least.  The trainers were full of passion, and eager to share their excitement regarding their sport, and their club.

In my personal experience was very positive.  I had been waiting weeks to start this adventure so I doused my experience of the class in a heavy coating of personal symbology: the first steps of a grand adventure.

I later found out that this experience was not universal.  Sharon had indeed not had much of a happy experience at all.  I saw the class as a big symbolic step so I forgave the uncomfortable chairs, poor quality presentation, and overly traditional classroom format.  Sharon instead really took her cue from the disconnected nature of the learning experience.

The information was presented very formally, teacher to student.  This was not a warm one on one mentor to mentee experience.  The students were treated as individuals as one would expect in a government school.  There was no acknowledgement of the value of group or peer to peer learning.  Finally it was made known that we would be each learning on our own when on the water.  The boats only hold two people each; a student and an instructor.

This method of learning, where students are separated, and instructors are not seen as peers, really flies in the face of the value of connection held so important by both of us.

We came to the sailing class to start a new chapter of our lives.  We came to claim a foot hold in a very aggressive climb to connection, independence, reevaluation, and deep personal development.  This class on the other hand is simply a bunch of normal people sharing their passion for sailing.

As we both proceed in this course, it will be interesting to continue to reflect on our personal goals, and hold the honest humility to realize that our commitment to our values is very unique indeed, and outside the scope of most all of the activities in which we will participate.

Our first day of sailing is tomorrow!  I can't wait to share that experience with you as well as check in again with Sharon to see how our experiences continue to differ.

Small Steps to New Adventures

This past Wednesday, Sharon and I attended our first classroom session for our local community sailing program.  Through three evenings of classroom work, and three mornings out on the water, we will learn the basics of sailing with The Sailing Club of Central Florida.

Sharon and I have long valued taking time for our little family to really get out and explore this big world as well as invest time in exploring our own inner worlds.  We agree that our most fulfilling, engaged, life changing experiences have been when we are together exploring a new place, be that physical or mental.

Sharon sitting with herself atop the Smokey Mountains.
During these adventures, we have tended to spend vast amounts of time together which really affords us the opportunity to converse and connect in a deep concentrated way that we simply do not attain during our work a day lives.

Loud to quiet, fast to slow, airboating in Kissimmee.
On a personal note, I find that I am closest to who I want to be when I am out and about exploring the world with my trusted partner.  I find that I can commit to a level of personal integrity unheard of when I am outside the safe, trusting environment I engender with Sharon.  This integrity is a wonderful feeling of calm that arises as my actions and my values become more and more aligned.

As I look forward to expanding my family safe zone to include a new member or two, I see that I will be taking every opportunity to be the honest, open, supportive, and integrated man I know I am inside.

Sailing skills will be one more tool in our shared toolset that Sharon and I will have to keep pushing the boundaries of personal adventure.  Sailing can afford us access to peoples, places, landscapes, and personal time in farther off destinations and for longer durations than I previously thought possible.

This little program is an inexpensive way for us to get our feet wet in sailing, meet a group of local sailors, and tide us over until our big live aboard class we will be taking this May.  In that later class we will be sailing medium and large boats to take on the skills needed to live aboard a yacht for extended periods of time.

The boat we will be sailing in May!
I have so many ideas, hopes, and dreams nestled around this idea of sailing.  I have enough humility to understand that in many ways sailing is a deep metaphorical lense through which I am evaluating myself, my life, and my personal relationships.  I see great opportunity in this inner exploration, while at once enjoying the outer exploration of this big planet.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts, feelings, and experiences here, both for my own self reflection benefit, and for the benefit of anyone else looking for inspiration on their own adventure.