I remember walking back from the dock on Houghton Lake to my dad’s cabin when I stumbled across a small sailboat for sale in a neighbor’s front yard. I recall thinking how cool it would be to actually know how to sail it. The Jimmy Buffett in me had this idea of what sailing must be like. Escape and adventure. But…there’s no way I could ever afford to learn how to sail. At the time, it seemed like I had a better chance of landing on the moon that learning how to sail. I had NO idea where to start, and I assumed sailing was a ‘rich person’s sport’. So, I’d be forced to stick with playing basketball…that’s what I was good at. And it didn’t cost much.
Fast-forward a bunch of years and I had migrated from ‘downstate’ to Petoskey, Mi. I wasn’t there long…2 years maybe. But one of the very first things I did was search “learn how to sail” on the good ole internet. I was still lost. It still seemed like this unobtainable Buffett-esque dream that I’d never actually fulfill.
And then came the move to Traverse City 14 years ago. One of the very first people I met was Dave Conrad. At the time, he was the captain of the Nauti-Cat on West Grand Traverse Bay (Dave and his wife Kristen now own Great Lakes Sailing Co.). I was invited along for a sail one evening aboard the Nauti-Cat (a 47′ catamaran). It was the first time I had ever stepped foot on a sailboat. It was much different than the ski boats and pontoons I grew up with on Houghton Lake.
I was hooked. And that was just from riding along on a big ole barge of a catamaran. We were sailing…but we weren’t really ‘sailing’, if you know what I mean. But you may not know what I mean if you haven’t learned how to sail…yet.
Dave and I became good friends. And all these years later I’ve managed to put together my own little sailing resume that would surprise the heck out of that same young kid staring and dreaming at that small boat all those years ago.
Sure, it’s not much compared to all the old salts out there who have been doing this for a long time. But for me, it’s quite the accomplishment for a Flint kid who obsessed with basketball growing up. Highlights include:
- ASA 101/103 sailing course through the Great Lakes Sailing Co. sailing school
- Several Caribbean sailing trips, including one that was a boat delivery after hurricane season.
- Crewed on a race boat
- Captained a 39′ monohull during our own West Grand Traverse Bay sailing trip with friends
- Sailing to Beaver Island from Northport…in the dark…and the rain…alone at the helm at times.
- Countless hours spent sailing West Bay in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of boats (we’re lucky…we all live blocks from the water and work in the industry, so impromptu sailing is pretty much the norm)
- Purchased a small 23′ Hunter. Crazy right?! Sailing is too expensive! A ‘rich person’s’ sport. I bought that boat for $3500. I keep it on a mooring ball…no expensive slip fee. It’s 2 blocks down the road, right on West Grand Traverse Bay — the “Snoloha”, pictured above (a 23′ foot boat would have seemed like a mega-yacht at one time). Sure, $3500 is nothing to sneeze at…BUT it is WAY more affordable to own a sailboat and to learn how to sail than I, or most people, realize. My boat cost as much as 3.5 new iPhone X’s.
- Sailing the “Snoloha” to Omena Bay. Watching from ashore as the anchor broke loose, experiencing a busted jib halyard, a torn main sail and a 17 mile motor home into the wind with a 4HP outboard and fuel capacity of .75 gallons — all on the same trip.
- I now work in the industry with the crew at Great Lakes Sailing Co.
This list is not meant to come across as braggadocious. It’s suppose to prove my point.
My point? Learning to sail IS obtainable. Yes, it can be daunting at first. Where do you start? Can I afford it?
If there is any advice I can offer from my learning experience of getting involved with sailing, it would be this:
- Hire a captain for a day sail. That’s right. You could always book a boat for day, with a captain. Pick his brain. Get involved. It’s not the same as a full on sailing course, and there are no certifications, but it would be a great way to at least get a feel for sailing if you’ve never had the opportunity before.
- Hang out around sailors. I’ve learned sailors typically are more than happy to take people out for a sail. I love exposing people to sailing for the first time aboard the “Snoloha”.
- Check out your local yacht club. There’s bound to be someone that needs an extra body on board — ‘rail meat’ as they call it. I’m grateful that Scott and the crew of “Illusion” had welcomed me aboard. I didn’t know anything about anything…but I learned. And before long I went from rail meat to working the foredeck and actually had some responsibility.
- Take a class. Great Lakes Sailing Co offers some great options to “learn how to sail“.
- Join the Boat Club. A Great Lakes Sailing Co. Boat Club Membership is the PERFECT way to have access to a fleet of smaller day sail boats, at an affordable price.
- Look into community sailing programs. Here in Traverse City we have TACS – Traverse Area Community Sailing. TACS is a local non-profit organization that provides affordable sailing opportunities to residents and visitors of the Grand Traverse Region.
So what’cha waiting for?! If some dude from Flint who thought sailing was only something Jimmy Buffet sang about can figure out how to do it, I’m sure you can as well.
The ‘Snoloha Dude’