I headed out to Gig Harbor’s West Shore Marina with my co-worker, Lauren Smith, on a warm, sunny Monday afternoon, eager to learn about the Gig Harbor Junior Sail program. The club, coached by recent Gig Harbor graduate Bekah Ashpole, has a Learn-to-Sail program, as well as a program for more advanced sailors.
Twenty-one-year-old substitute coach Chance Busey gave a short presentation to the sailors regarding starting techniques and Lauren and I were paired up with a couple of the experienced sailors.
I was paired up with 17-year-old Zeke Ward, a laid-back, easygoing Gig Harbor High School student. I told him to take it easy on me, as I had never been sailing before, and wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. He laughed and told me that I’d be fine.
Ward, whose been sailing since he was 8 years old and racing since the seventh grade, prepared the Flying Junior boat, or “FJ” for us to take out. The FJs are manned by two people. The race course concept seemed simple enough: There were several buoys to sail around, and the fastest boat wins.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. When we set out, Ward explained to me some of the intricacies of sailing — gaining an advantageous position on your opponent, reading the wind (which at this point, Ward is able to simply “feel”), pulling the ropes to put the two sails into the right positions.
There’s some funny vocabulary, too, much of which I didn’t pick up on right away. The left side of the boat is called the port side, while the right side is referred to as the starboard side. The FJs have two sails: The main sail, operated by the skipper, and the jib sail, the smaller sail in the front of the boat. The ropes used to control the jib sails are simply called “jibs.”
I quickly learned when to pull the left and right jibs in which situations, although I’m convinced I wasn’t doing it exactly right. Ward, who seemed to know his stuff, was behind in most of the races while I was on the boat. While he was too gracious to call me out on it, I’m sure I’m deserving of most of the blame for that.
The most unnerving part — at least the first couple times — was turning sharply. The boat feels like it’s falling over, and one side of the boat literally submerges into the water. The first time Ward did it, I felt like I was probably going for a dip in the bay. Luckily, the water was warm enough, so it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. But the boat bounced right back into place. After a couple times, I got used to it.
Now, I can say I’ve been sailing. It was a fun experience and the views of Mount Rainier in the distance were stunning, as always. The Junior Sail Program, sponsored by the Gig Harbor Yacht Club, has spots open for those interested, for youth ages 9 to 18. Each student will be coached by a U.S. Sailing certified instructor. Courses emphasize on-the-water sailing experience and include instruction on basic boating safety, seamenship, rules of the road and knot tying. Each session lasts five days, Monday through Friday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. and concluding and 4 p.m. Cost per student per week is $295.
For more information, visit GHYCJuniorSail.org or call 253-214-6131.