Editor’s Note: The picture above was taken just moments after the events described below, a testament to the healing power of being on a boat, safe and sound for the night, and post-sail drinks.

 

I will never forget it.  Our first solo sail!

It was October of 2014 and we were anxiously excited. We’d been on two sailing adventures – once during our 10 day sailing school with Sunsail in the BVI (with the greatest sailing instructor and quite possibly the greatest human in the land, Matt Holt) and then once two years later with the friends we’d taken the course with.

But this time, it was just us, Sanchrissa IV, zero wind, and a bank house of nervous anticipation. We motored out of the marina toward our first destination of the trip: Norman Island. After about 30 minutes, the wind picked up and with that good fortune my husband exclaimed “Let’s put up the sails!”

“Great idea!” I said. Then silence. “How do we do that?”

See, this whole sailing thing did not come easy to me. Mechanical stuff isn’t really my bag; I sit at a computer all day. It had been two years since we’d sailed and apparently it wasn’t exactly (at all) like riding a bike. Fortunately, my husband remembered more than I did, and together we roughly pieced together a course of action: I would sail us into the wind and he would raise the sails.

Best laid plans.

Suffice it to say, I struggled mightily to keep us “in the wind” and rather had us pretty much going in circles, trying to manage the halyard while trying to figure out where the wind was, and…this part is key…stress out mightily about what our little twirling boat must have looked like to the other more capable skippers on the Sir Frances Drake Channel. That was the worst. Surely by days end all of the radio traffic would be about our ineptitude. Was Sunsail, our charter company, going to come find us and escort us back to the base?

By the time we got the sail up I was a basket case. And the wind had completely died down.

We took down the sail and motored to our destination with plans to pick up a mooring ball. My husband grabbed the boat hook, headed to the bow, and as we slowly approached we saw that about half of the mooring balls were free and the other half had boats with relaxed crew members enjoying their afternoon cocktails and watching us approach. Crap.

“This is all I need,” I thought. “An audience”. Expletives ensued. My blood pressure escalated and my tone of voice became a bit (a lot) more high pitched and urgent. You would have thought I was preparing to execute a balance beam routine in the Olympics. One shot, or you’ll lose the gold and be an international disgrace. SO. MUCH. PRESSURE.

We took one pass at the mooring ball, and I missed it. The Horror! Then another pass. Then another pass. AAARRRRGGGG. I was having a full-blown conniption at this point and could practically feel the other boats mocking us. I loathed them all. We finally were successful and began drinking immediately (see photo).

Now, of course this drama was only in my head, and thus, the title and theme of this very helpful blog. The reality is that no one cares whatsoever.  All sailors miss mooring balls from time to time. Everyone recognizes that when you are new things take longer, and no one is paying any attention to what you are doing unless you are carelessly putting yourself or others at risk.

In other words, Chill the F Out.

This is hands-down the biggest lesson I had to learn the first few times out. Here are a few important takeaways to avoid an unplanned aneurism the first few times you sail:

  1. It isn’t a timed event. Go slow and communicate with your partner.  Using a tone that is this side of frantic also appears to be helpful.
  2. When turning into the wind, do it slowly – no big moves – otherwise you over-correct and go in circles, or at least in half circles which isn’t going to do anyone any good.
  3. If it is just the two of you and you are steering, hang onto the halyard with one hand (this is the sheet (rope) that is used to hoist the main sail) so you can steer and simultaneously pull the halyard’s slack into the boat to keep it from bunching up and getting tangled on deck.
  4. Auto Pilot! Hooray! If you are seriously struggling, get directly into the wind and put it into auto pilot. I don’t do this as much now, but it sure came in handy when we were first learning.
  5. Give yourself a break. It gets easier – much easier! Now some of you are probably pros out of the gate. Good for you. I wasn’t, but like anything else, practice makes perfect, or at least makes better. And in any case you are the only person who is going to know.

You are on a boat.

Relax.