M y husband Patrick has been dreaming of the sea. After blazing through all 20 Patrick O'Brian Master and Commander novels in 10 months, he began to throw out wild statements such as, "I decided we're going to sail around the world." He was quite serious, and so was my refusal. Last week it was, "Let's take a week and sail down to Cabo, just you and me." You'd think after all these years of marriage he would realize that he didn't marry an adventurous sea woman. A firm ground underfoot suits me just fine. But I understand the man needs to sail. So I thought I would surprise him with a sailing class. And maybe this summer, he and his brother could take a weekend and sail to Catalina. I spoke with Scott Lowry, director of sales and marketing for Harbor Island Yacht Club (800-553-7245), about lessons for Captain Patrick. "Our school teaches a curriculum called American Sailing Association, commonly known as ASA. It is the most widely available curriculum. The standardized curriculums are offered in schools all around the country, and people [who take them] can get certified at a variety of levels. The levels technically correspond to the size of the boat. So you start off at beginning sailing levels in smaller boats, and as you gain experience, you start sailing larger and larger boats and you get ongoing certifications. You have a logbook, and because it's a standardized curriculum, you can take this experience, which is documented in the logbook, and go to other charter organizations around the world. The Caribbean and the Med are really popular these days. So when you go to charter a boat in the Caribbean or anywhere else, the charter organization knows exactly where you stand [skill-wise]."
Lowry filled me in on some class details. "The ASA curriculum is geared primarily toward adults. A mature 15- or 16-year-old we would accept into our school, but that has to be on the judgment of the parents. For a beginner, they would be sailing a 22-foot sailboat. Ours are called Capri 22s. They're built by Southern California boat-builder Catalina Yachts. The boat can hold up to six people. That is the smallest type of boat that schools teaching adults generally use. The boat is called a keelboat. They have big lead keels on the bottom to keep the boat from tipping over. Most students are apprehensive in the beginning wondering whether or not they are going to get wet or whether the boat will flip over. So we use the kind of boat that can't flip over."
I know Patrick would never take time from work to take sailing classes. Not to worry, Lowry said, "We teach our introductory class on a weekend. You come down here for Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 3:00, both days, and at the end of the weekend you are certified to sail boats up to 25 feet in length without supervision. It is not a huge investment of time to get going. Sailing is the kind of sport where you can learn it in a weekend and can spend the rest of your life learning more. Sailing is a lifelong endeavor for lots of people. There is a lot more to learn as you start sailing bigger and bigger boats. Maneuvering a bigger boat requires more experience because the boat coasts longer, it stops slower, and the bigger boats have more systems on board that you need to know how to run.
"There is also more to learn as you start setting your sights on broader horizons. Our folks that finish this class sail primarily around San Diego Bay, which is a large sheltered body of water with very friendly conditions. As you start venturing out onto the Pacific Ocean, taking trips over to Catalina Island, and then thinking about sailing to places like Mexico and Hawaii, there is a lot more to learn."
How is ocean sailing different?
"In Southern California, not a lot different," he answered. "The waters that we sail in here in the Pacific Ocean are a fairly sheltered part of the ocean. Southern California is shaped in a big hook, and the Channel Islands act as a kind of a natural breakwater. So out of all the oceans anywhere, it is a very mild patch of water, and it provides an excellent training ground."
What are the popular boats?
"At our club, the 22-footers, the boats that people learn on, and the Catalina 290, which are just under 30 feet. They are popular because they are easy to handle, but they are a big enough boat and have enough amenities that you can go out day sailing around the bay and be happy."
Lowry said Patrick and his brother could mix sailing certification and vacation with "a Learn to Sail vacation. It's five days, and you live aboard a 32-foot Catalina, and it includes two classes: the first ASA class that we talked about, and the second class, the basic coastal cruising. And the whole weeklong deal, and certification for two people, which is a private class, is $1695 . That includes your accommodations and two levels of sailing certification for two people."
Lowry says you can set up the Learn to Sail vacation with a trip to Catalina, and sail home on your own. This was just the gift I was looking for; something to appease Patrick's sailing appetite.
Lowry added one last detail. "If you join our sailing club, which is a lifetime membership, $399 , it includes this first ASA 101 basic class that we have been talking about, and you get discounts on all the ongoing classes and rental of boats. The class for a nonmember costs $350 . The second class that you take, ASA 103, as a member costs $350 , nonmembers pay $475 ."