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Learning to sail San Francisco Bay.

Calmer September winds make this a great month for beginners

YACHTSMEN REGARD windswept San Francisco Bay as one of the most challenging and picturesque places to sail on our watery planet. On any given weekend, hundreds of sailboats ply the unpredictable waters inside the Golden Gate, tacking into stiff coastal breezes, hoisting colorful spinnakers, and anchoring in quiet coves.

Bay-watchers might think this vibrant scene is a playground open only to wealthy boat owners. But many of these yachts are actually charters, piloted by skippers who have found renting a boat a vastly less expensive alternative to owning one.

Learning to sail a 30-plus-foot boat, the best size for San Francisco Bay, is surprisingly easy and relatively affordable. And since winds are generally calmer in September and October than during other months, now is a great time for would-be sailors to get their sea legs. For around $600 you can go to sailing school for a multiday "coastal cruising" course. Certified by the American Sailing Association, the course covers sailing theory, rigging, and on-water skills--from tacking to basic navigation.

Once certified, you can charter a boat at sailing schools up and down the coast and around the world; your school can even help you arrange an out-of-town rental at no extra charge. For a few hundred dollars more, you can buy a lifetime membership in your school's sailing club, which brings the cost of a day's sail on the bay with family and friends down to as little as $30 per person.

I recently joined two students on the final day of a five-day course at the Modern Sailing Academy in Sausalito. Over three previous weekends, John Connolly, the school's head instructor, had taught them the basics of sailing a 32-foot Pearson. On this day, the student sailors worked repeatedly on specialized sailing skills such as crew overboard (they rescued a plastic foam dummy), chart reading, and navigation.

As we sailed though Raccoon Strait into San Pablo Bay, Connolly quizzed his pupils on seamanship skills, covering everything from reefing to right-of-way. This on-the-water evaluation would be followed by a written exam; students must pass both to meet the requirements for basic coastal cruising certification.


Seven sailing schools, from Sausalito to Santa Cruz, have recently grouped together to form the Sailing Advancement Information League. All have membership programs that provide discounts for sailboat charters, and all follow a standard curriculum. Lessons are structured differently from school to school, however, and the type and size of boats used for instruction vary. To choose the program that's best for you, call the sailing schools for information on their respective programs.

In Sausalito, call Cass' Marina at (800) 472-4595, Club Nautique at (800) 559-2582, or Modern Sailing Academy at (800) 995-1668.

In the East Bay, call Club Nautique at (800) 343-7245, Olympic Circle Sailing Club at (800) 223-2984, or Tradewinds Sailing Center at (800) 321-8972.

On the Peninsula, call Spinnaker Sailing at (415) 363-1390 (Redwood City) or 965-7474 (Mountain View).

In San Francisco, call Spinnaker Sailing at 543-7333.

And in Santa Cruz, call Pacific Yachting Sailing School at (800) 374-2626.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Davidson, Ben
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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