Learning the Ropes of Sailing the Big Blue Aboard the Zen Yatta
Written By: Nicole Fera
Photographed By: Michael Wesley
Captain Ogden let me trim my first sail, a personal victory in my small world and a workout for my arms. I pulled the rope through and watched the sail change direction before securing the ropes and then turning the helm towards our new course, downtown.
As we sailed closer to the city and enjoyed the amazing view, I learned that sailing is not only about the wind, but also about balance and multi-tasking.
With their amazing staff, beautiful boats and years of experience, it’s the perfect place to get your feet wet and try something new.
When you live in a city as beautiful and warm as San Diego, you tend to seek out new and exciting ways to spend as much time in the sun as possible. That’s what prompted me to set sail with Sail San Diego for a first-timer’s course, where I learned how to “trim the sails, jib the genoa, and man the helm.” If those last few references have you feeling a little lost, don’t worry. I’m here to share all my newfound sailing tips and information so that you can try out my peaceful new hobby for yourself. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with boat jargon, what to expect, and how to make the most of your day on the high seas.
Whether they are fortunate enough to call San Diego home or not, most people are aware of the city’s constant and consistently good weather. This is a big plus in the world of sailing, where a lot of things depend on the wind, temperature and currents. That’s why it’s pretty ironic that my first two attempts at heading out for a lesson ended up being scheduled on two of the only stormy days that San Diego has seen in months. However, I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and when we were finally able to head out, the weather could not have been more perfect. After sitting on the dock for a few moments looking out onto the marina and feeling excited to get out there, I was greeted by Captain Tim Hanley. After a few minutes of talking, he escorted our photographer Michael and me onto the dock to meet our captain and check out the sailboat where we’d be spending the rest of our day.
The boat we boarded was a Catalina 400, spanning 40 feet and named the Zen Yatta. I’m no boat expert, but it seemed to me to have all the essentials for a perfect day at sea. There was cold wine and beer down below in the cabin, a bathroom, a bedroom, comfortable seating both upstairs and on the deck of the boat, and plenty of snacks! What more could you ask for? Our captain, Peter Ogden, was an equally amazing surprise, with his genuine kindness and enthusiasm. Right off the bat I could tell that Ogden had a lot of experience and that he’d have me sailing in no time! After explaining a few basic safety rules and boat terms that we’d be using throughout the lesson, Ogden hoisted the sails, and we set sail into the beautiful San Diego Bay.
The first thing I learned to do during my sailing lesson was to look out for the boom. The boom is a large, horizontal pole attached to the bottom of the mast (which is the long pole in the center that has all of the navigation tools and sails attached to it). It gets its name from the loud noise that it can make when knocking someone over, and on days with high-intensity winds it can move on its own and be the most dangerous thing about sailing. After making a serious mental note to stay out of the boom’s way, we proceeded with our lesson. I learned that for ideal sailing, you need to be constantly aware of the wind and its direction. For example, if you are “wing on wing, ” then you need to keep the wind directly behind you. If you’re on a “port tack, ” then the wind is coming over the port side of the boat. And if you’re “down wind, ” then you are running away from the wind. All these terms filled my head as I tried to keep an eye on the boat’s direction, our speed, and all the other components that drive you to make changes throughout the journey.
After a little instruction, Captain Ogden let me trim my first sail, a personal victory in my small world and a workout for my arms. I pulled the rope through and watched the sail change direction before securing the ropes and then turning the helm towards our new course, downtown. As we sailed closer to the city and enjoyed the amazing view, I learned that sailing is not only about the wind, but also about balance and multi-tasking. “When you’re first starting out, you need to keep four things in mind: the jib, the main sail, the keel and the rudder, ” Ogden explained. All four of these create a balance of effort and keep the sailboat moving on the right course. Like most things, this becomes easier to understand and comes more naturally the longer you do it. Even steering the boat was a bit of a challenge at first because the slightest movement had a huge effect on the way this boat moved. If I turned the wheel to the right, then the Zen Yatta would immediately start to move in response. Ogden taught me to look out to a distant point and keep the helm in line with that for minimal movement and a steadier course when cruising along.
The 3-hour lesson with Peter and Michael flew by because of all there was to learn, the beautiful scenery and good company. By the time we were heading back to shore, Ogden was trusting me to steer and asking me to trim the sails whenever needed. I felt confident from his instructions and excited to be helping. There’s just something so freeing about being out on the open water, and I realized how spiritual the waters can be. Ogden’s parting words stuck with me as we sailed back to the bay. He shared some amazing stories of sailors and things encountered on the seas and told us, “It’s impossible to not be a bit of a mystic when you spend your life out on the water.” Even after a few short hours, I believe this to be true, and can’t wait to get back out there!
If you’re a first-time sailor like I once was, check out some of the sailing jargon to help prepare you for your first lesson. Safety tips and a little inside knowledge are also key and available thanks to Peter Ogden and my amazing experience with Sail San Diego. Located at Shelter Island Marina, with their amazing staff, beautiful boats, and years of experience, it’s the perfect place to get your feet wet and try something new. Their boats hold up to 12 people, so feel free to bring friends and family, or save the lesson for another time and rent out the entire boat for an intimate party! Now that I’ve had a taste of the good life, I know that I’ll be back on the water soon, improving my skills and working on my tan.
Sail San Diego
Shelter Island Marina
2051 Shelter Island Dr
San Diego, CA 92106