Sail Your Telltales!

I know how to sail, right? At least I thought I did. I mean, I have a copy of Sailing for Dummies in my office, and I have worked at SAIL for 3 years, for Pete’s sake, so I know how to sail, right? That, at least, was my thinking going into a 10-day sailing course with my dad at the Offshore Sailing School. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We arrived at the Mansion House bed-and-breakfast located in St. Petersburg, Florida, our Fast Track to Sailing textbooks in hand, ready to get on the boat and start sailing. My dad had no sailing experience and, having only been sailing a handful of times, I considered myself an amateur at best.

The Mansion House, an elegant inn built in 1904 and home to St. Pete’s first mayor, boasted gorgeous common areas with guest rooms individually furnished with antiques. There was also a courtyard and pool—a lifesaver on those sweaty afternoons after a day on the water. Owners Kathy and Peter Plautz, along with Kathy’s sister, Diane Heron, did a remarkable job of making us feel right at home. The inn also housed the classroom for the three-day Fast Track to Sailing introductory portion of our 10-day program.

Each day began at 8am, or 0800 in sailorspeak. Mike Warren, one of Offshore’s expert instructors, introduced himself to our small class, which consisted of my Dad, Florida native Hoyt Nichols and me. Right away I knew I could learn a lot from Mike, an ex-military man with a lifetime of sailing experience. The lessons were very much like being in school. Mike would write on a white board while we took notes and nodded and asked questions. The classroom instruction included everything from sailing terms and docking strategies to chart reading and the difference between apparent and true wind.

After three hours Mike looked at our confused faces and asked, “Who’s ready to go sailing?” Dad and I looked at each other with blank stares. The thought of putting all the information I just heard to use was staggering. Would I remember all of the points of sail? Would I remember what to say when I was gybing? I guessed I would soon find out.

Walking out of the air-conditioned Mansion House into the early summer heat was a shock. As much fun as I knew we where going to have, it quickly drained our energy. On board one of Offshore’s training boats, a Colgate 26, Mike showed us how to raise and check the sails and outboard motor, stow sail covers and prepare the cabin and deck. With that, we were off. Once we were out on the water I found myself remembering the morning lessons. The limited sailing I had done on Boston Harbor also helped me understand what I was doing. When preparing for the trip, I don’t think my dad or I knew how much work sailing could be, and Dad’s bad knees didn’t make things any easier. After a few seating adjustments, though, Dad, Hoyt and I all started to get the hang of things.

Mike showed amazing patience. He identified each of our strengths and weaknesses, giving us each different advice. There was also a bit of advice he applied to all three of us: “Sail your telltales!” We heard coming over the waves every time Mike sensed the boat get off track. These words stuck in my head all week. Even now I can hear Mike’s voice bellowing that phrase to me.

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