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Set sail: now that San Francisco has won the bid to host the 34th America's cup regatta in 3012 and San Diego the AC World Series this fall, all eyes are on tie water. but it you've never sailed before, or it's been awhile, we recommend easing into it slowly--like on a no-experience necessary daysail. Go, be with the wind.

Get out on a boat

The easy way to hit the water is to charter, or rent, a yacht. A skippered charter includes a licensed captain to do the sailing. (A bareboat charter is for those who already know how to sail.) Because commissioning a 6-ton, 35-foot boat isn't as simple as picking up a Zipcar, here are a few guidelines:

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1 Relax. You're not signing up for a Moby Dick experience. You're hiring a licensed captain to sail the boat for you, most likely in conditions that won't spill your drink.

2 Don't automatically pick a boat or a destination, off the charter company's menu; weather and other factors play into what makes sense on any given day. While you can choose from what's available in someone's charter fleet, talk to captains first about what sort of experience you want; they'll usually come up with an itinerary and a vessel that match up best.

3 While you don't have to help sail, if you want to try it, ask ahead of time about taking a turn steering the boat or working the winches to adjust the sails while underway.

4 It's not easy to compare costs among operators. Some charge flat day rates; others go by the hour or per person. Basic rule of thumb: The total cost of a full day on the water on a 35-foot yacht (the most popular size) with a skipper should run $500 to $800; a half-day, $300 to $600. Split a half-day with friends and you might pay less than $100 for a couple of hours on the water.

WHAT YOU MIGHT RIDE ON

These three boats, commonly available for charter and at sailing schools, are solid options for first-timers. Ask for them by name.

J24 PASSENGERS: 2 to 4

The Honda Civic of sailing--and one of the best boats to learn on. Why? Small boats give first-timers a much more palpable feel of the water and wind than larger, heavier yachts. The J24 is easy to handle and stout enough for a wide range of wind and water conditions.

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Catalina 320 PASSENGERS: 2 to 6

Much closer to yacht territory here, with an engine you start like a car's and a full cabin with fridge, stove, and hot water (if you're dropping anchor somewhere or overnighting). The 320 also sports a large, clutter-free cockpit with spacious seating.

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Mahe 36 PASSENGERS: 4 to 10

Catamarans are better suited than monohulls for bigger groups and smoother (often faster) rides: This cruising cat has a huge, sheltered cockpit--dry under almost any condition--and a 160-square-foot saloon with 3 cabins, 6 feet of headroom, and a table for 6.

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Learn the basics

Love sailing? Then take an intro course. Classroom and on-the-water instruction takes 3 to 5 full days, is offered during the week or on back-to-back weekends, and typically costs $300 to $700. You'll be certified through U.S. Sailing or the American Sailing Association and be able to rent a boat. We asked instructors which skills to master.

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Wind 101 "Every sailor has to know where the wind is in relation to the boat, and what you can do with that to make the boat go where you want it to. Once you have that down, it all flows from there." -MICHAEL RICE, FOUNDER, PUGET SOUND SAILING (pugetsoundsailing.com), SEATTLE AND TACOMA, WA

Safety and prep "We put students through crew-overboard drills and teach them to control the boat, under sail, in emergency situations. Mastering that stuff eliminates the fear and gives them the confidence to do everything else." -ANDREW LAPLANT, LEAD SAILING INSTRUCTOR, MISSION BAY AQUATIC CENTER (mb aquaticcenter.com), SAN DIEGO

Basic boat handling "A lot of people taking lessons have never been on a boat, much less sailed. So we show them how to handle a sailboat under power--how fast to go, how to steer, and how to stop. You need a good departure and return every time you sail." -ANTHONY SANDBERG; PRESIDENT, OCSC SAILING (ocsc.com), BERKELEY

Communication "Good sailors are good talkers--whether they're receiving an instruction, giving one, or don't understand something and need a quick answer. Sailing is a team sport. Everyone onboard must know what's going on." -SCOTT PITTROF, PROGRAM DIRECTOR, WINDWORKS SAILING & POWERBOATING (windworkssailing.com), SEATTLE

Fun Not exactly a skill, but important. "Sailing can be a little scary for newcomers, but you're not going to learn much if you're not having fun on the water. Folks who are enjoying themselves are the ones who move up the fastest." -WAYNE ZITTEL0 PRESIDENT AND INSTRUCTOR, J/WORW SAILING (sailing-jworld.com), SAN DIEGO AND SAN FRANCISCO

TALK THE TALK

A few resources to up your game

Sailing for Dummies

BY J.J. Isler and Peter Isler

It's authored by two experts (an Olympic sailing medalist and an America's Cup winner). For Dummies; $22.

The Annapolis Book of Seamanship

BY John Rousmaniere

TMI for beginners, but it's all there. Simon & Schuster; $50.

Latitude 38

The monthly bible (and online bulletin) of West Coast sailing--including classifieds, crew opportunities, and more, latitude 38.com

MotionX GPS

This app turns an iPhone into a marine GPS to track, record, and share your course. It does the same for hiking trails, too, when you return to land. $2.99; App Store.

Knot Guide

How-to slideshow for every sailing knot known to humankind. Useful around the house and for camping if sailing isn't your calling. $1.99; App Store.

THE ABCS OF WIND

What to expect--generally speaking--when it's blowing hard, or hardly at all.

1 to 5 knots Just enough breeze to get the boat moving--slowly.

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6 to 10 knots Gentle breeze and slight heeling (leaning).

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11 to 15 knots Fast sailing--time to sit on the "high side."

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16 to 25 knots Break out the spray gear; you're in for a thrill ride

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26+ knots Near gale; serious sailing for advanced sailors.

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Where to sail: Bay Area

These suggested daysails are easy on the sea legs. Gather a few friends, charter a boat, and customize the trip to include one of these spots.

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1 | San Francisco Waterfront Enjoy the more spectacular view of S.F.--offshore, that is--and you begin to notice what the onshore tourists are snapping pics of: That'd be you, and your full-sailed catamaran, slipping past the piers. Start at Crissy Field, working your way east. When you get close to the Ferry Building on the eastern shore, tie up at the new public dock at Pier 1 1/2 and walk up for a cocktail at La Mar.

2 | Ayala Cove at Angel Island As close to a Caribbean sailing experience as you'll find in the northern latitudes: Calm winds, a sandy beach, picnic benches and BBQs, and public docks and mooring balls for sailors, who can hike up to the top of the island for a three-bridge, 360[degrees] panorama of the bay.

3 | Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito If sailing under the Golden Gate is on your float plan, most captains will take you out there in the morning before the afternoon winds turn a pleasure sail into a whitewater adventure. On the way back, cruise into Sausalito and Richardson Bay, and tie up for lunch at Horizons' own dock (see below).

4 | Oakland/Alameda Estuary For sailors venturing to the East Bay, there is a there there, despite what Gertrude Stein said. Sailing into the estuary from Treasure Island, float downwind (carefully) past giant container ships on the first leg of this daysail. Then turn into the estuary's main channel with dozens of friendly marinas, starting with Jack London Square.

Favorite charter companies

MODERN SAILING SCHOOL & CLUB, SAUSALITO

FLEET: 24-42 ft. rates; $150$250/hour lessons: Yes; modernsailing.com

OCSC SAILING, BERKELEY

FLEET: 24-82 ft. RATES: $40/person for Wednesday-night sunset cruise or Saturday intro sail; each is 2 hours. LESSONS: Yes; ocsc.com

SPINNAKER SAILING, PIER 40, SAN FRANCISCO

FLEET: 30-40 ft. RATES: $500-$800/boat; 4 hours lessons: Yes; spinnaker-sailing.com

SAIL-UP BARS

Where to tie up and tie a few on (assuming you aren't the designated captain, that is).

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Horizons, Sausalito

SPECIALTY: Sausalito Sling

* On the main waterfront, Horizons (built in 1898) sports a renovated 84-foot dock for boaters, who can shelter here from big winds. If you have a few too many. Horizons will let you dock overnight, Provided you come back for brunch in the morning, horizons sausalito.com

Kincaid's Fish Chop & Steakhouse, Oakland

SPECIALTY: Pomegranate margarita (shown)

* A great stop off during a downwind cruise of the Oakland Estuary in Jack London Square. kincaids.com

Sam's Anchor Cafe, Tiburon

SPECIALTY: Oysters and beer

* The most popular tie-up destination on San Francisco Bay--with a jaw-dropping view looking back at the S.F. skyline. samscafe.com

CATCH AMERICA'S CUP SPIRIT

The event hits the West Coast this fall and culminates in 2013's two-month race in San Francisco

Follow the, America's Cup (americascup.com) and Oracle Racing (oracteracing.com) blogs and websites to stay on top of news leading up to the July-September 2013 event, when 70-foot catamarans drag-race on the San Francisco Bay.

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Watch the AC Worid Series. this fall in Sao Diego, when to international teams compete November 12-20,2011. Charter companies like Sail San Diego will offer group sails. Book now ($85/person; sailsandiego.com).

Stay in touch with Bay Area charter companies, the largest being OCSC Sailing in Berkeley (ocsc.com), which will offer group charters for close-up views of the action along the racecourse. Reservations can be made starting in February 2012; pricing has not been decided.

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Book a thee-hour cruise in San Francisco on an America's Cup yacht: America ($85/person), a 139-foot replica of the 1851 America's Cup winner; or USA 76 ($129/person), the 84-foot yacht that Oracle Racing took to the AC finals in 2003. acsailingsf.com

Join the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the America's Cup Trustee. A $1,000 initiation fee plus $125/month give you access to the clubhouse, where you can watch race starts and hobnob with pro sailors.ggyc.com

SAILING SEASON

Year-round

CONDITIONS

Strong thermal breeze (15 to 25 knots) in summer, ideal for racing but less so for cruising. First-timers should consider fall, spring, or even winter, with lighter wind (5 to 15 knots) and flat water.
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Author:Davis, Jeffrey
Publication:Sunset
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Aug 1, 2011
Words:1738
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