Land! As the LA Harbor fades beyond a veil of fog, the gentle peaks of Catalina rise out of the horizon. “Hoist the foresail!” Three of us run forward against the salty spray of the ocean. We’ve caught the wind again.
Where did this all begin you ask? Well, as part of my last semester of university, I decided to utilize my last few free units and take a sailing class. The first half of the class is spent in the classroom, learning about types of vessels, navigation indicators, and who turns away in a “you’re coming right at me” situation – basically, the rules of the road, or should I say, sea. The last portion of the class though, before the final, is a two-day sailing excursion from San Pedro harbor to Catalina Island.
Thus, under the guidance of our Captain (who is also our instructor), I and four other sailing class students sailed to Catalina! And when I say “sailed”, I mean sailed. We hoisted and lowered all the sails, plotted our course by hand, and even steered our sailboat for a majority of the journey! While we still couldn’t have done the trip without the constant direction from our Captain, it still felt like we were in control, holding the ship afloat amidst varying winds and guiding the ship through various manoeuvres as sails were adjusted.
When we first set off, we were all a bit nervous, questioning our ability to raise and lower sails or even wondering about the threat of seasickness. Due to some high winds near the coast, we began our journey on a 50-60 degree tilt as the boat leaned with the wind and we got our first taste of real sailing. It was simulataneously exhilarating and terrifying because even though I knew our Captain was a professional and would never capsize the boat, my brain still freaked out everytime the boat swung closer to the water.
After a while, however, the winds calmed and we enjoyed a peaceful ride to Catalina. If you’ve never sailed before, you’d be as surprised as I to learn that once you’ve caught the wind, most of sailing is just steering the boat and maintaining course. With so many of us on board this led to a fairly peaceful journey – blue waves, warm sun, and the quiet of being the only breathing souls for miles. Even as I was holding on against the tilt of the boat, there’s something so calming of being out amongst the waves, just you and your thoughts.
It puts the whole world back into perspective for you – we are tiny little creatures amidst a world full of so much beauty, danger, and excitement. Sailing really proved that to me.
After a night’s sleep in the Avalon Bay at Catalina (with the boat gently rocking us to sleep), we journeyed back LA, running the motor for most of the trip as the wind had officially died down from the day before. It was incredible to imagine sailors from centuries past piloting vessels through month-long voyages, navigating without any electronics to verify position calculations or trying to sail when there was no wind to be found. Luckily for us, we did have the luxuries of modern technology and we returned safe and sound.
Overall, the entire experience of sailing was eye-opening and exhilarating. While I may not throw away my current career plans for a life between the waves, I would eagerly sail again. And I encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest – give sailing a shot!