There’s a lot to it (for a beginner), but classes can get you out on the lake and into the wind.

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I HELD ON TIGHT. My job was to hang onto the rope leading to the jib, holding just tight enough so the smaller sail could catch the wind.

Seemed easy enough, until I started to lose sensation in my hands. I decided to hand the rope off to other eager sailors.

I joined an Intro to Sail class out of the Mount Baker Rowing & Sailing Center, which is designed for newcomers to learn basics at a gentle pace.

Mount Baker Rowing & Sailing Center

3800 Lake Washington Blvd S., Seattle


I joined a family of four plus our teacher, Yinjin, on a 19-foot sailboat, which is apparently quite stable, unlike the Lasers used in the Learn to Sail series. Things are a little less gentle in that series; you capsize on the first day to learn how to get your sailboat back up. Maybe next time, and only on a hot summer day.

Once Yinjin showed us how to rig up the two sails on our big sailboat, we were off onto Lake Washington.

At first, I was happy to let Yinjin take the rudder. He talked us through basic sailing terms, like the mainsail and the aforementioned second sail, the jib.

He showed us what it looked like when the sail “luffed,” or flapped in the wind, and taught us to turn more into the wind to prevent the boat from slowing down. But then I learned luffing was not the same as when the jib flapped when we were going downwind. The jib was trying to find the wind, he said.

We decided to sail across the lake for Mercer Island. We were sailing upwind, and he showed us how to tack, turning the boat back and forth at an angle to zigzag our way forward. Going upwind required tacking with the help of the crew, and Yinjin had us trade off on holding onto the jib and the tiller to steer.

Once we got close to the island, we turned south for Seward Park. There, we moved the sails into wing on wing, with the mainsail and jib facing away from each other; it looks like a bird from above, Yinjin said.

Once we were in wing on wing, we relaxed. The boat moved smoothly, with almost no turbulence like there had been upwind. The wind also cooperated the evening we were out. Sometimes it dies down, Yinjin said, and you have to paddle. I thought he was kidding until he pointed out the paddles at the bottom of the boat. Oh.

Two people are all the sailboat needed, and we traded off steering and helping with the sails. I discovered I could use some work on steering — Yinjin reminded me a couple times to stay on course. I preferred holding onto the jib, even though we all had to brace ourselves to hang on. My other preference was gazing off over the water at the scenery around me.

Yinjin has been sailing for many years, and his technical knowledge was impressive. I think I caught maybe half of what he told us. I heard enough to know that sailing in small boats can be quite physical and intense, particularly in rough winds and water. It sounded fun, and possibly cold.

I see the appeal of relying on the elements to move quickly and silently across the water. I might feel bold enough one day to try the sailing series in a smaller boat and, yes, brave the water, too.