Set sail this spring

Jessica Koenig

In a city that is almost surrounded by water, there are still many people who have yet to experience our harbor through sailing. I was fortunate to learn to sail as a child and the lesson was one of the greatest gifts from my parents.

Today, I am the executive director of Charleston Community Sailing, a nonprofit that provides public access to anyone who wants to learn to sail.

Learning to sail is fun, yet challenging. But being at the helm of the boat is one of the most empowering feelings.

In sailing, you learn about boating safety, weather, how to read the wind on the water, nautical terminology and knots, all while making new friends and enjoying the great outdoors. Whether you’re 5 or 85, sailing is a lifelong activity that does not discriminate.

First, you need to consider what kind of boat you would like to learn on. Do you want to sail a small dinghy that can easily capsize or would you like to sail on a keelboat that provides more stability and can accommodate several people?

Small boats are a simple and inexpensive way to get started in sailing. The basics of sailing are most easily learned on these crafts where everything is within arm’s reach. Some small boats are designed specifically for youth, but most provide a lifetime of enjoyment for adults as well.

A keelboat refers to sailboats that have a weighted keel (the vertical fin at the bottom of the boat). “Basic” keelboats are larger than the centerboard and dinghy class of boats and start at about 20 feet and go up to about 30 feet in length. The next class of keelboats range from about 30 to 60 feet and are called “cruising” keelboats. Cruising boats are usually set up for multiple-day trips and include many modern conveniences found in a home, such as a galley (kitchen), sleeping quarters and private bathrooms, better known as a head.

Once you have selected your boat, read up, watch YouTube tutorials and take a lesson from a certified instructor at one of the area schools.

If you already know the basics and want to learn about racing or get more involved in the community, consider joining Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA), Charleston Community Sailing, College of Charleston Sailing or one of the four local yacht clubs to meet fellow sailors and to support sailing in Charleston. You can also volunteer with Charleston Community Sailing, which offers a variety of programs, including the South Carolina Special Olympics Sailing Team.

Each April, the Lowcountry hosts Charleston Race Week, one of the largest keelboat regattas in the country. This is a must-do event. Volunteer to help, race or attend the parties.

OK, we’ve got you hooked, but if you have kids, now is the time to sign them up for summer sailing classes. Give your child the gift of sailing and the opportunity to learn a lifelong skill.

To learn more about area resources, check out I hope to see you on the water in 2016.

Jessica Koenig is the executive director of Charleston Community Sailing.