Pages

Monday, April 22, 2019

Visitors from Adventure Sports Podcast, Welcome

Greetings to everyone joining me from Adventure Sports Podcast. (If you are a regular reader, check out the podcast at Adventure Sports Podcast)

Feel free to look around, I have been writing here sine 2009, and there is a lot of material here relating to trip planning, kayaking, and gear selections.

There are also links to my books on the right for just about every platform.

So make yourself at home, have a look around, and feel free to call me names because I said the Appalachian Trail is dead!




Monday, April 8, 2019

Adventures is Sailing, Part 2

The Bad.

This may piss some people off. Take it with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that I am outsider to the world of sailing, and the comments I am about to make are based solely on my experiences. I will also say that I am difficult, because of three things. My advanced level of outdoor experience, my training as an educator with a focus on outdoor education, and my understanding of how retail and outdoor education mix.

Okay, with that out of the way, the sailing community in the United States - at least in my experience - doesn't understand its potential customers, how to get them, and most importantly how to educate them. Let's break that down.

Sailing doesn't understand its customers or how to get them. Just about every reputable kayaking dealer knows the importance of educating kayaking customers. I live in the southeast US, and near me I can take kayaking lessons from no less than three different outdoor retailers. One of those retailers offers kayaking lessons from Alaska to Florida, and Boston to San Diego. I use kayaking as an example because that is what I do, but it is equally true for mountain biking, rock climbing and backpacking. I had a very hard time finding access to sailing instruction. I finally found a wonderful instructor based out of a yacht club that is very welcoming to new sailors - and I had drinks with a friend who had a similar experience in Georgia. Once you are hooked up with a yacht club, life is pretty easy. Getting started isn't.

For example, because of my schedule I couldn't wait until May to start lessons and I couldn't do the group lessons that were Monday evening to Friday evening and all day Saturday. I reached out to sailors I knew, and said "hey, if you know an instructor I'll pay cash for private lessons." everyone said yes, they knew many sailing instructors, and yet I never heard back from anyone. I finally found my instructor - did I mention she is fantastic!? - by emailing a local yacht club and explaining my situation, and it still took close to a month to get started. In researching other yacht clubs in my state I see similar things. People like to sail, they start a yacht club - but really they are sailing dinghy sailboats, which are small, and not very yacht like - and they offer sailing lessons and access to boats. This is an inherit misunderstanding of where the growth of your sport comes from. The sailing community is great at teaching little kids to sail - usually at camp - and a small percentage of them become life long sailors. It is very difficult to start as an adult. Don't get me wrong, the sailing community is very welcoming to new people, but it has to be super engaged new people, who are willing to put themselves in a difficult situation - walking into a yacht club, and saying "I don't know anything" which is intimidating. The people sailing are very nice, and super welcoming. But I suspect most of the people who are thinking about learning to sail hit too many roadblocks along the way to make it happen.

Sailing doesn't understand how to educate new sailors. When I google sailing lessons, I get two options. Moderately expensive lessons from a yacht club. Really expensive lessons to learn to sail a keeled, full size boat, and a minimum of three days to learn both. Here is the problem with the yacht club sailing schools: Who do you think the instructors are? I'll tell you, they are highly skilled sailors who are leaders in the school. Here is the problem, while someone may be an expert in a topic, that doesn't mean they can teach the topic. One of my employers says they don't want their instructors to be the best outdoor practitioners, they want their instructors to be the best educators of outdoor practitioners. Do you see the difference? They want their people to be educators first. In my experience it is far easier to be good at something than to be able to teach something. I work with a woman whose background is in education, and she is new to outdoor ed. She is an amazing educator, and I learn from her every time I work with her. Sailing has fallen into the age old trap of, because I am good at this, I can teach this. That isn't always wrong, but it frequently is. Sailing schools should be hiring people that teach, and then teach them to teach sailing. I'm not saying those people can't be sailors also, but it isn't the most important thing.

I suspect these problems are similar to becoming a private pilot. But at least in the case of private pilots (meaning aircraft pilots) there is a governing body - the FAA - that says this is how you become a pilot. I could go buy a boat and just teach myself to sail, which I guess I couldn't do if I wanted to become a pilot. Maybe my mistake is that I am thinking of sailing like I think of kayaking, and I should be thinking about it like learning to fly an aircraft... I'll have to give that some thought.

Stay tuned for Part 3, the Ugly.


Friday, April 5, 2019

Adventures in sailing, in three parts

Part 1 - The Good.

Keep in mind I have had a long life on the water. Growing up I spent time on my fathers power boats, and got pretty adept at life on the water. I started kayaking - for real - in 1994, and started earning a living - or part of my living - in kayaks in 2003, when I started teaching privately. In that time I have done many long distance expeditions on the east coast of the US, as well as Alaska. My point, I have a lot of experience on the water. I have a good understanding of how a boat is affected by wind, and how water is affected by wind.

I had no idea.

I am working with a wonderful sailing instructor who primarily teaches people how to race sailboats. Her ability to judge wind, is incredible, and far more refined than mine. This is a sport that relies heavily on understanding the wind and seeing what is about to happen.

Let's take a step back. I decided that 2018 was going to be the year I learned to sail, and there were a couple of false starts, more on that in part 3. There was also a dog with a broken paw, which drained finances and time. It wasn't until the beginning of 2019 that I was really able to start making it happen. But in 2018 I did a lot of studying. I read a ton, and figured out what my path would be. My path is different that most people, certainly most adults learning to sail. More on that in part 2. All of my reading and studying led me to believe that this was actually a pretty easy sport.

You need an understanding of where the wind is coming from, and how to set the sails based on that wind. Simple. I even used a simulator put out by the American Sailing Association to practice sailing a little boat. I had it down. To a certain extent that is true. You can get into a sail boat and set the sails and go, but there is far more to it than that.

There is a level of nuance in trimming sails, which I am sure with practice - or as my instructor says "tiller time" - will become second nature. Frequently when I am sailing I feel like I am grasping for something in the dark that I know is there, but I don't quite know what it looks like or feels like in my hand. It is an interesting place to be, I have spent the last twenty plus years finessing a kayak in good weather and bad, and to feel like a complete novice is incredible. There is so much to learn, and absorb and I am taking it in as fast as I can. Yesterday, my instructor turned to me and said "are you ready to go in?" and I replied simply that yes, I was, as my brain was mush.

We spent the day in a 15 foot Wayfarer Mark 1 GRP which was originally released in 1965, and is the fiberglass version of the even older, original Mark 1 which was made out of wood. It is just slightly older than I am. My instructor dropped a buoy with an anchor overboard and we spent the day sailing around it. With the wind constantly changing on the lake we had to constantly adjust our approach, and in the course of four hours we circled it from all points of sail, and with gusting wind and nearly dead calm. Spending four hours hyper focused on sails and tell-tales (the small ribbons on sails and standing rigging that tell you what the wind is doing) is absolutely exhausting. Late last year my wife and myself spent a day on a 41 foot sailboat getting an idea of what sailing is like. It was much more calm and predictable than the little boat on the lake. I am thinking that getting a grounding in what is called Dinghy sailors will give me a better understanding of how to sail bigger boats.

My previous lesson was in two parts. We started in a Hobie kayak with outriggers, and pedal drives. It also had a single mast, and a hand control for the rudder. We spent about two hours in what is essentially a trimaran sailboat. Having only a mainsail and a simple rudder made the boat easy to control and super easy to get a handle on sailing concepts, and this confirmed my thoughts that sailing was easy. It really was just like the sailboat simulator I had used. However, the second half of our day was spent in a 16 foot RS Quest which was like jumping ahead about 30 years in terms of what was happening. All of a sudden I had a jib to control as well as a main sail. I also had a tiller, to control the rudder, and it does this with a handle that is articulated in the middle. Because it isn't hard enough that a tiller gets pushed the opposite direction you want to go, adding an elbow just makes it more confusing. There was also the little fact that the boat could now heel over to one side, which the trimaran couldn't do. It was a lot to keep track of. It was just starting to make sense when the lesson came to an end.

I have a lot to do in 2019, there are four phases to this project, the learn to sail project, and I am only on part one. It should be an interesting time.