For most Courageous students, their first day of step 4 is their first time in a dinghy, a transition from a stabile Rhodes 19 to a more responsive 420. This transition isn’t easy. The rounded lines of 420 belie how uncomfortable it is to sail—you’re guaranteed to sit on a cleat and bump your shin on the traveler bar. Even worse, you have to actually move your weight around. However, students adapt well and get used to the new features. Bruises and capsizes are, after all, just the flipside of a boat that’s exhilarating to sail.
Earlier this summer, one student was uneasy about the transition into a 420. He was afraid of the harbor water and the shadowy creatures that swim in it; he was also afraid of boats that heel over. For him, a 420 was understandably scary. A 420 will not only heel, but also capsize at some point, dumping the sailors into the water. You can’t prevent either from happening, just reduce their likelihood. Since the breeze was building, I sailed with the student for the first half hour to ease his anxiety.
The wind continued to build throughout the morning, streaming in over the Zakim and Charlestown bridges and crashing back down to sea level in splashes of catspaws that sped across the Basin. The student skippered smoothly. At least until a puff would hit us, then he’d fully luff his sail, saying “I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all.” He also didn’t like the mandatory capsize, or that the wind was just as brisk in the afternoon. By the end of his first day, I doubted he’d want to sail again.
Yet, he came back. He continued to come back, and he continued to improve. Over the next week, Alexis and I watched him begin to roll tack, start closer to the line, and sail upwind efficiently. He even kept his sails in through puffs, hiking out instead of luffing his mainsail.
One afternoon of racing particularly stands out. The student and his crew were our two smallest students. This didn’t stop them from keeping their boat flat in the moderate breeze. In fact, they won a few races. As they glided through the finish line, well in the lead, the student grinned from ear to ear and gave a thumbs up to the coach-boat.
I’m sure he’ll come back next summer.
By: Ben Geffken