Life Times, May 2001

Learning the craft of setting sail

by Bob Allen

A range of sailing classes in the area means you don't have to admire the Inner Harbor from afar anymore.

A pale half-moon hangs in the clear blue sky, where dissipating jet contrails are painted muted shades of pink and rust by the soft afternoon sun that dapples the water of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

A barge full of raw South American sugar is being offloaded just across the water at the nearby Domino Sugar plant. Gulls dart overhead and flags on the piers flutter as Water Taxis and the occasional yacht glide by.

These are the things you begin to notice as the wind purrs against the sail and the water gurgles softly under the hull of the sleek J22-one of 35 sailboats that the nonprofit Downtown Sailing Center operates in the Inner Harbor.

You almost feel motionless, suspended in the moment, as the little sailboat serenely rides one of the brisk "thermals'" that blow across the Inner Harbor in the hours before sunset.

``It's clean, it's serene, it's quiet," says Scott Livingston, assistant director of the Downtown Sailing Center, who is teaching a beginner's course in sailing on the J22 on this warm weekday evening. ``We're in a 'broad reach' now, sailing into the wind. That's why it feels so motionless."

Livingston is right. After 15 or 20 minutes in the 22-foot-long J22 - which was preceded by a 20-minute lecture by Livingston at the Baltimore Museum of Industry's outdoor pavilion on the basic physics and thermodynamics of sailing - the atmosphere out here on the water is meditative. The sound of rush hour traffic on nearby Pratt and Light streets seems a million miles away, and the downtown office buildings glow silently in the setting sun.

Washing out a bad day

"There's really nothing like being out on the water," says Baltimorean Gary Harris, 36, one of Livingston's three Level One students on this particular evening. ``It absolutely washes a bad day away."

Harris, who's sailed a few times before, recalls that he really "got hooked" on the notion of learning to sail when he was watching the Americas Cup race on TV a couple years ago. Then about a year ago at a downtown water festival he picked up one of the Downtown Sailing Center's fliers.

Now here he is.

Classmate John Thompson, a 45-year-old Baltimore architect, says he's sailed quite a bit with friends over the years.

"I absolutely love it, and I'm a pretty competent crew sailor," Thompson says. "Now I want to get certified so I can captain a boat myself."

Rachel Borgath, 23, works in the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater. She happened to see one of the sailing center's newsletters in a coffee shop in Fells Point.

Always willing to try new things and meet new people, she's also getting her first hands-on lesson in the J22.

It's hard to imagine a better place to get that first lesson than from an affable, relaxed, yet vigilant instructor like Scott Livingston, who's been sailing most of his life.

Learning to 'reach'

Leaning against the main mast, Livingston demonstrates the difference between setting the main sail in a "close reach," a "broad reach" and a ``beam reach." The choice of reach depends upon which direction the wind is blowing in relation to the direction in which you want to sail.

The refreshing thing about organizations like Downtown Sailing Center is that their lessons are affordable and they have programs for just about everyone, regardless of age or skill level. (It's preferred that students know how to swim. However, portable flotation devices are mandatory apparel for all student sailors.)

"We go through the learning process very slowly and provide a safe environment for you to learn to sail," Livingston says. ``We put equal emphasis on safety, learning and fun."

Beginning students like Harris, Thompson and Horgath pay $185 for classes. That includes membership fees, which allow them to sail all year round. Classes are held on evenings and weekends.

Livingston adds that all instructors have been certified by the U.S. Sailing Association, the governing body of organizations like Downtown Sailing Center.

Inner-city outreach

The center also runs community outreach programs that have introduced more than 2,000 Baltimore inner-city second- and third-graders to sailing. The center also offers programs with handicapped access for students from the Maryland School for the Blind, Kennedy Krieger Institute and other institutions.

Established in 1990, the center's membership has grown to 450, and its fleet has expanded from five to 35 sailboats.

"Our whole mission is to make sailing affordable and accessible," Executive Director Kirk Culbertson says. "Every year it's been great to see this get bigger and bigger."

Adult beginning lessons are given on the center's eight J22s, with a ratio of one instructor for every three students.

"The J22 is an extremely safe boat; it's very stable and won't capsize. Yet it's also very fast and maneuverable," Livingston says.

Each session actually starts on land with a brief lecture-demonstration about the fundamental techniques of sailing. Students are introduced to the basic components and apparatus of the sailboat and the bare bones principals of physics and mechanics that make them go.

Livingston says the vessel is most efficient when the wind is at a 90-degree angle to the boat. "But when your sail is pointed straight into the wind _ you're in the 'no go zone.' The sail won't work."

Besides learning the dos and don'ts of water safety, beginners learn how to rig and set a sail. By the end of the course, they understand maneuvering techniques like tacking (changing direction of the boat by repositioning the sail); and jibbing (shifting from one side to the other when sailing into the wind).

Once everyone is suited up in their inflatable life vests Livingston eases the J22 out of the pier and into the channel.

He points out sights along the shore like the sunken skeleton of an old oyster patrol boat, a pre-Civil- War-era waterfront building that's being renovated near Fells Point and a mama duck and her ducklings paddling around the Inner Harbor.

All of this as each student gets a turn setting the main sail, steering with the tiller and applying what he or she has learned on shore.

"Now we're sailing," Livingston says.

Setting sail

The Downtown Sailing Center is a nonprofit organization that offers a full calendar of open houses, classes, sailing, racing and social events and is dedicated to making sailing accessible and affordable.

* During the spring, summer and fall the center offers reasonably priced beginning and intermediate sailing classes on evenings and weekends. The center also offers "crew level" memberships that enable students to practice the new skills by crewing on sailboats during the Wednesday night open sailings.

* DSC has won awards from The U.S. Sailing Association, sailing's national governing body, as Outstanding New Community Sailing Program (1998) and Outstanding Seasonal Community Sailing Program (2000).

* DSC meets at the pier and pavilion of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, 1425 Key Highway, Baltimore, 21230. 410-727-2884. Check Web sites for schedules, prices, events calendar and membership information: www.downtownsailing.org.

The Baltimore County Sailing Center (2200 Rocky Point Road, Baltimore, MD 21221), which operates under the direction of the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, offers a full season of sailing classes, clinics, corn roasts, Boy Scout merit badge programs, and sailing and racing camps at Rocky Point Park. See Web site for class schedule and events calendar: www.bcsailing.org. For information and registration, call 410-426-8505. E-mail: registrar@bcsailing.org.

Community Colleges of Baltimore County also offer several five-week adult education sailing courses for $120 during the summer and fall at the Baltimore County Sailing Center. Information can be found at CCBC's Web site: www.ccbcmd.edu or at www.bcsailing.org. Call 410-869-0296 to register, and 410-628-0949 for more information.

Getaway Sailing Ltd. (2700 Lighthouse Point, Baltimore, 21224) is a for-profit East Baltimore company that offers adult and "junior" (ages 10-16 years) sailing classes, as well as Chesapeake Bay Adventure Cruises, boat charters and rentals and corporate sailing. For more information, call 1-888-342-3709 or 410-342-3110. Web site: www.getawaysailing.com. E-mail: getsail@erols.com.

BaySail, in Havre de Grace, at the foot of Bourbon Street at the Tidewater Marina, offers beginning and advanced sailing courses, including classes in coastal cruising and coastal navigation. Web site: www.baysail.net. 410-939-2869. E-mail: baysail@mindspring.com.

The Annapolis Sailing School claims to be the oldest such school in the United States, founded in 1959. It offers basic and advanced courses, including cruising courses in 30-foot to 44-foot sailboats, as well as navigating and piloting instruction. Web site: www.annapolissailing.com. 1-800-638-9192.

The U.S. Sailing Association's Web site (www.ussailing.org) has listings of additional regional companies and organization offering sailing instruction.

The Downtown Sailing Center is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit community sailing center.
Located at The Baltimore Museum of Industry
Photography donated by Andy Herbick Photography, and others.