The best-selling picture postcards from San Diego are those that portray sparkling blue Mission Bay or San Diego Bay dotted with white-sailed sailboats. It is this proclivity of San Diego for all water sports and the accompanying healthy image in general that makes smoggy Angelinos, windy Chicagoans, and paranoid New Yorkers ooh and ah when they see the fantasy sailing postcards. And we San Diegans ourselves, we too, fed by the imaginations of Melville and Masefield, get caught up in sailing fantasies at one time or another while we live here. The question is how to get any of these fantasies to come true.
For anyone who has tired of waiting for the wealthy next-door neighbor to invite him or her out on his luxury 21-footer, or for anyone who is certain to be invited out on a next door neighbor’s 21-footer and wants to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing freeboard from starboard, the obvious answer is sailing lessons. Or for anyone who really thinks he’ll be writing an article for National Geographic on a single-handed round-the-world sailing venture by this time next year, the obvious answer is sailing lessons.
The cheapest classes open to the general public are those put on by the City Recreation Department, Aquatic Division.
For a series of 3-hour lessons, once a week for nine weeks, the fee is $6. Both the Basic and Advanced courses are $6 each, but, according to John Lewis — one of the City’s two sailing instructors — the prices will probably be up in September, with Advanced lessons taking more of an increase.
There are three sessions of classes each year, the Spring Program, which began in February; the Summer, which begins the week of June 21; and a Fall session, which begins in September. Though there are some 120 spots in the Basic and Advanced courses, the demand is great enough that prospective students have been known to line up at 11 p.m. the night before registration. Last fall at registration day, there were 200 people at 6 a.m. waiting to sign up. Registration for the next classes (Summer) opens May 19 at 7 a.m.
The Basic course is taught in the 8-foot Sabots. The snub-nosed Sabots, developed in Venice, California after World War II, now account for the most popular beginner’s sailboat. In the Basic Course, however, as crusty, ex-Navy Commander John Lewis points out, the students don’t get near a boat until after they’ve had six hours of classroom instruction.
“I’ve spent 27 years in the Navy. The important thing to remember about this school is our professionalism and experience. Nothing makes up for that . . . We teach ’em knot tying, parts of the sail, the hull, safety, rules of the road, different types of boats, points of sailing ... And we keep ’em restricted to San Juan Cove. Finally, after they’re far along, we let ’em out in Sail Bay. They think it’s the ocean.”
Even for the advanced courses, Lewis begins students in Sabots, then teaches them rigging and unrigging of larger boats and the rules of racing.
The City has at its disposal 42 Sabots, 5 Lido 14’s, 5 Chipmunks, 2 Lone Star 13’s, 1 Rhoades 19, and 1 O.K.. dinghy.
The classes should expand somewhat when Lewis and his school move to their new building, now under construction at the north end of Santa Clara Point. The City, which got funding to improve the Point in 1966, is finally getting around to building the new facility, and it should be ready by the summer.
The Mission Bay Aquatic Center, which now shares the building on the south end of Santa Clara Point with the City, will be the sole tenant there when Lewis moves into his new building. The Aquatic Center is open only to UCSD, San Diego State and U.S.D. faculty, students and staff. Other area colleges have been urged to join, but only those 3 schools have supported the Center. Students take sailing classes and may rent boats but no credit is given.
The lessons at the Aquatic Center go in 4-week cycles and cost $8 for the Basic (two 3-hour lessons per week) and $12 for the Advanced (two 3-hour lessons per week) and Hobie Cat (one 3-hour lesson per week) classes. Run by several young, recent San Diego State graduates, the Aquatic Center emphasized getting the most actual sailing time possible for its students. The first day is classroom instruction, but the second day, the students are put in the water. If someone has had some prior sailing experience, he should start out in the Advanced class where all the students sail sabots the first day and those who need to, go back to the Basic class.
Next year (September) the Aquatic Center hopes to have ten Flying Juniors, boats that the UCSD and San Diego State teams now use in racing.
The commercial boating places like Seaforth Marina will give half hour basic instruction (for $ 1.50) to anyone who walks in and wants to rent a sailboat, but they don’t seem set up for any more than the first half hour. Hopefully, the three lessons of two hours each that Jack Dorsee (San Diego Sailing Club) offers for $80 a person are somewhat more extensive.
Almost all of the clubs, individually and jointly, offer either free or very cheap lessons to their members. San Diego Yacht Club, for example, teaches basic sailing and navigation for no charge to members. The Navy Sailing Club offers the following classes for no charge to members: Mate (4 weeks). Skipper (4 weeks). Senior Skipper (8 weeks), Catalina (3 weeks). Yawl crew (4 weeks), and Yawl skipper (variable length).
If you are far enough along that you merely want to find out where the cheapest place to rent a boat is, you have probably already gathered that nothing is very cheap unless you are a student or in the military. The City doesn’t rent out its boats. The Aquatic Center rents out its boats on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to UCSD, S.D. State and USD personnel for quarterly fees of $5 (Sabots) and S7.50 (Omegas and Lasers). To members of the military, the Navy Sailing Club rents out its Knockabouts and Catalinas for $2.50 an hour and its yawls for $10 a day. The fee is cheaper, of course to actual Club members.
The commercial rates, kept pretty much the same by open competition, range from $6.50 an hour for a Newport 16 at Jack Dorsee and $7 an hour for a Hobie Cat at Seaforth to $60 a day for a Balboa 26 at Coastal Boats (Dana Marina) and $150 a day for a Morgan 41 at Jack Dorsee. Seaforth does not allow any of their boats to go beyond the ocean channel and the wooden bridges of West Mission Bay.
If someone is interested in renting space for a sailboat, the first thing conventional wisdom (anyone he talks to) will tell you is to put your boat in the water only if you plan to be with your boat most of your free time. Otherwise, it’s much more prudent to park it on dry land. It is in the area of space rentals, that sailing club memberships begin to pay off. The commercial rates hover around $1.53 per foot of dock space per month (Dana Marina) to $2 per foot per month (Jack Dorsee); club membership can lower the charge to .65 per foot per month (Southwestern Yacht Club) to .80 per foot per month (Navy Sailing Club).
There are other, larger reasons for the existence of sailing clubs, of course. For one thing, they provide a social refuge for old families steadily assaulted by Southern California’s percolating nouveau riche. If one can’t avoid these bothersome new rich at the Cuyamaca Club or the University Club, at least the San Diego Yacht Club, for example, provides some sort of filter.
One can sense the exclusiveness of something like the San Diego Yacht Club near Shelter Island as soon as he steps inside the clubhouse lobby. On the left, like some kind of shrine, hang the pictures of past Commodores of the Club — Alonzo de Jessop, Albert Frost, Robert Frazee, George Jessop, Jr., Nicholas Frazee. The club is passed on through families like a stewardship.
According to the San Diego Yacht Club’s manager, Mr. William Richards, “money is less important here that at the University Club. Once you’re in, it doesn’t matter if you have $5 or $5 million. Everyone here is very friendly. Everyone here is concerned about the Youth Program — that’s our central focus.”
And according to one non-club member who is very familiar with the clubs, the tightly-knit social structure of the clubs is very good for sailing.
“One thing the clubs provide is continuity. The club is passed on from generation to generation, everyone has his place (each member is assigned a seniority number when he joins), and everyone has his duties. The older members for example. They don’t mind sitting in their power boats and being the race boats — the boats that have to sit around the race course all day. They have to take the jobs younger people would never take — it’s so boring just to sit out there. But they know they’re expected to. When committee assignments are handed out—everyone knows he’s got to do his duty. Just like his father or uncle did it.”
Near the entrance to the San Diego Yacht Club clubhouse the bulletin board announces various races and sailing classes to take place in the next few months. Among all the notices is a sheet of paper announcing the application of prospective members. One is president of a construction company, one is a vice-president of Southern California First National Bank, one is an M.D. Above the names of these prospectives is typed, “Being considered is not tantamount to becoming a member. Solicitation is made of any information you might have favorable or unfavorable (their underline) of and pertaining to the individual making application.”
The San Diego Yacht Club is probably the grandaddy of the local clubs. It’s the oldest (started in 1886), the largest (1550 members), and its fees are the highest ($1,000 initiation fee for flag members, $360 a year dues). It restricts its military members to officers. It has some of the most famous .members of the sailing world — Dennis Conner of America Cup fame and Lowell North, 4-time World Star Champ. And yet the felling of noblesse oblige is strong here: Says Mr. Richards, “Our whole purpose is the juniors. It’s not anything for us to have hundreds of kinds running around here. We allow the Peninsula YMCA to use our pool for swimming. Big Brothers of San Diego had a special day here, and last summer we brought a couple of busloads of inner city kids here who had never experienced the water before.”
Southwestern Yacht Club, next door to the S.D. Yacht Club, and probably next to it in size and age, has 375 members and charges $700 initiation fee and $420/year in dues. Southwestern is celebrating its 50th anniversary next month, but has a brand new clubhouse.
The other clubs — Mission Bay, Coronado, Coronado Cays, Silver Gate — are smaller, generally less expensive and less prestigious, if you are worried about that kind of thing. The real bargain in clubs, as in rentals, are the Aquatic Center and the Navy Sailing Club.