Crash Course: How to captain a yacht

When the astronauts in space look back down on our planet, they see blue. Seventy percent of our world is made up of salt-water oceans and we are living in the remaining minority – land.
This is common knowledge to anyone who had to draw and color the globe back in grade school. It was always the blue crayon that came back to the box shortest. Our world at a glance may be green with the grass and the trees, but this is only a small part of it. To really call earth our home, we must live in its biggest part, the blue part. To do this, we will need a few things.


A captain and his ship

“He needed a crew for his monthly races so I joined him.”

Diego Garcia (III, CAM-MKT) is referring to his father, who brought him to the Taal Lake Yacht Club. TLYC is sometimes referred to as the sailing mecca of the Philippines, which isn’t a bad place to learn the figurative and literal ropes of sailing. It was here where Garcia was taught the basics. The rest he would learn by observing his father during races, and also through firsthand experiences. One of these experiences was his involvement in a five-day rally that would bring him to the beautiful islands of the Philippines by way of the seas that surround them.

“I’ve twice joined a weeklong race with my dad, called the Philippine Hobie Challenge,” he shares.

The Philippine Inter-Island Foundation is an advocate of the saying ‘By the people, for the people’, as it is made up of local and international sailors with the goal of promoting the sport of sailing in the Philippines. They require for this challenge a specific ship, the Hobie 16. Hence, the Fourteen years ago, the PHINSAF created the Philippine Hobie Challenge. They held their first race in 2000.

This beach catamaran was introduced back in 1972 and today is the second largest boat fleet in existence. It is known for its banana shaped body, which resembles a curved surfboard. It is with this boat, Garcia and his father sailed through the Philippines. They got from point to point along the archipelago’s western coast as part of the Philippine Hobie Challenge. But before we even think about sailing through the Sulu Sea, we first need to learn the basics.


Getting your Sea Legs

First piece of advice? “Always wear a life jacket!”

This was first thing taught to Garcia when he was getting his sea legs, and he relays this as the first thing to take note of for any newcomer to sailing. Beginners can initially dismiss this for being something so basic and seemingly commonsensical, an unimportant detail; far from true.

Even someone with decades of experience in sailing and the most advanced equipment will sink in the water without a life jacket. Try not to outsmart the water by taking even this simplest precautionary measure, and ensure that when you need to float, you will.

Besides this imperative first lesson, there is an importance of mastering more than just fundamentals when sailing. Unlike when driving a car, one sees only a few things. These are the wheel, the transmission and the pedal. Everything else was almost secondary as a need and didn’t seem too important to get familiar with: sailing will not be as forgiving.

One needs to learn about all the parts of the boat, starting with basics such as the hull – the body of the boat – and the rudder, the device for steering. One also becomes familiar with the concepts of up-wind and down-wind, the directions of the sources of wind, which is your vehicle’s fuel. Without it, you will not move, and sometimes, it will move you the wrong way.

And just like you can’t wear your shoes without tying your laces, you need to learn the different knots. These knots are applied to tie the boat to the dock, or to tie the rope to one of the stanchions or bars onboard. This is to keep everything where you need it, lest the waters have too much fun with you and the boat.

Now that you know a scant bit of what it takes to commandeer this boat, let us talk about getting it to move.

It might not be a question of what is the first thing, or the most important thing one has to do to sail the yacht. Rather, starting to sail is a question of what newcomers find most difficult.

Garcia explains that without understanding the basics such as the direction of the wind, the boat ceases to move. Oftentimes it can be frustrating, to the point you just want to jump off the boat and swim and push. These difficulties do not vanish anytime soon.

Although this can definitely sound disheartening, it is actually motivating for some; for instance, Garcia has met old men who have yet to master sailing. Even these supposed veterans are always learning something new, on how to better read the wind or control the boat. This very fact, that age has caught up on them but not total mastery, of course does not stop them, but drives them further to become better sailors. And to become a good sailor, one needs more than just years.

“A good eye, and a good touch,” says Garcia on the characteristics he says that are needed to become an ideal sailor. One must be observant of what is happening, at sea and otherwise. This is not limited to sight, as one must have a feel of the wind, and other delicate conditions like direction and a sense of the aquatic terrain.

A good touch is also needed to properly treat the boat; understanding how much power one has will help in maneuvering the yacht. Garcia says that a good sailor is gentle with the boat. Being patient does this, without forcing the boat to do something it cannot. This means having to be familiar with what it can do, such as how far it can go and how long it will last, just like a good car driver knows what speed his or her car can sustain and what turns it can make.

With knowledge and intimacy of this vessel, a sailor can do the right things, like minimize water friction and maintain momentum when sailing. It is these rare abilities that separate the good sailors from the simply capable ones.


Open Waters

“All you can hear is the wind blowing and you can’t see land anywhere.”

Garcia is slightly nostalgic. His favorite memories are of the long hours spent on the Philippine Hobie Challenge. As he leans against the waters of a non in particular sea, he appreciates what is there, and that he is part of it. He is one with his family and friends, some sailors and some land people, with the beauty of the open water. When at sea he isn’t submerged in urban noise or the congestion of people in the city. With no sign of land, there seems to be no sign of problems.

There is an enigma to be found in the sea. Despite the waters being vast in size, it is also so simple. There is no business or politics here. There is just a sailor, and the sea. And this sailor is learning and experiencing more of life than can be assumed when trapped at land.

It will always be the blue crayon that comes back to the box shortest.

Jose Felipe Montinola

By Jose Felipe Montinola

Leave a Reply