Stories on the dock

The emotions of the first sailing course

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Sailing, the emotions of the first course

Luffing, bearing away, easing, hauling. Jib, boom, mainsail, close-hauled and abeam. For two hours my instructor keeps filling my head with what he calls ‘concepts’, while I think I will never be able to memorize all these new words. My first sailing lesson went like this: a quick and sudden dive into a world that was completely unknown to me, and which became incredibly familiar within a day. Sergio, my sailing instructor, has the classic look we think of when we imagine a typical sailor: tanned skin, unkempt beard and cigar always in his mouth. In his previous life he was an advertising graphic designer, then he started teaching others how to sail a boat. For 40 years, he tells me, he has been going out to sea every day with a passion that can be felt as soon as he scans the horizon. And exuding experience in every ‘concept’ he conveys to me.

The first lessons take place on a Meteor yacht. As soon as I get on board, Sergio invites me to take the helm. ‘It’s easy,’ he tells me, ‘it works the other way round compared to a car steering wheel: if you move it to the right, the boat turns to the left, and vice versa’. I am incredulous, I don’t know how to steer a sailboat and yet this stranger entrusts me with the helm in his hand while he takes care of opening the sails as we leave the harbour. From that moment on, I will never let go: inside the channel I keep the hull in the middle and in the open sea I follow Sergio’s directions as he teaches me how to tack and gybe. The excitement is sky-high, it is the first time I have steered a sailboat and it is something wonderful, racing over the waves, avoiding the fishermen’s creels, watching out for other boats approaching, and above all learning all the fascinating nautical terminology that my instructor passes on to me.

sailing lesson
My instructor Sergio and the funny FIV sticker

The day is perfect, with a stiff wind, warm sunshine and flat seas. For two hours I do nothing but learn the art of steering a boat and I am very happy about it, I have always had a fascination for this world and it seems incredible that I am actually doing it. I’m so happy that I am continually tempted to abandon myself to looking at the horizon and enjoying the sailing, but instead I have to pay attention and concentrate on listening to Sergio who continues to teach me new words, nautical rules and sailing techniques. In the middle of the lesson, however, he too takes a break, stops for a moment, lights a new cigar and lets out a sigh admiring the beauty of his surroundings. I take the opportunity to linger over a funny sticker from the Italian Sailing Federation: ‘Navigate safely’, it says to keep at least a metre distance between student and instructor as a measure of Covid-19 containment, but we are aboard a Meteor and following this rule is really hard.

My lesson goes on like this, and as soon as it ends and I’m back on dry land, I realize two things: being at the helm seemed easy but in reality I feel very fatigued, perhaps also due to the mental effort of concentrating for two hours on learning new things; and above all, all the nautical terminology that I feared I would never be able to memorize actually entered my head immediately and naturally. In fact, for the rest of the day all I do is think about it enthusiastically, and likewise in the days that follow, especially when I earn my upgrade to the Grand Soleil 34, which is so much more satisfying than the little Meteor that I wish I could get on board a superyacht. My two weekly sailing hours thus become an appointment that I look forward to, and after five lessons I feel I have learnt many new and fascinating things. There is something beneficial and therapeutic about sailing: boating is really a wonderful world.