Sailing Charleston Harbor

I just returned from Charleston, having taken a basic keelboat sailing class at the Ocean Sailing Academy. I’ve been sailing centerboard dinghies infrequently for maybe eight years, but I’ve never really stopped and practiced a lot of the basics. Despite being the webmaster for daysailer.org, I’m no expert. I also hope to be able to buy a bigger sailboat someday and this class was a first step to learning how to handle larger boats, since I’ve never sailed in a boat with a keel before.

(details and photos follow)





Intrepid, our classroom



Liahona, my house



Kelly, Kinette, and Dave



Me as skipper

I met up Tuesday with Dave, our instructor, and Kelly, a Canadian from Ottawa who runs a school to teach others to teach English as a second language. She’s lived all over the world and has an interesting perspective on things. And she really says “eh?” though I never heard her say “hoser” or “take off!” :) We started the day with the basics, naming parts of the J/24 keelboat and learning how to rig it. It wasn’t long before Dave had us out of the marina and into the waters of Charleston Harbor. We got lucky as it was a warm, mostly sunny day with a steady light breeze, and more importantly, very little shipping traffic. There we got in a lot of practice with sailing different directions and properly positioning the sails, beating and reaching, tacking and jibing. We sailed out past Fort Sumter to Sullivan’s Island and back. Along the way we saw the sights, including dolphins, fishing boats surrounded by birds, lighthouses and Charleston’s Battery. Dave finished the day by letting me bring the boat into the marina mostly myself, which was a bit stressful, maneuvering next to expensive boats with wind and current to complicate things.

I wanted to stay close to the marina for class, and OSA obliged by letting me stay aboard one of their larger sailboats. I stayed on a Catalina 320 named Liahona. It was nice and roomy for one guy, with a forward and aft berth, convertible couches in the middle, and a galley and head. It reminded me a lot of a camper, except the toilet, which required some manual pumping. Kelly and I ran over to Charleston for dinner. Despite her having traveled all over the world, this was her first visit to the U.S., and she was surprised by how different it was from Canada, especially how conservative we seemed to be. I told her it varied a lot by region…South Carolina’s perspective is not California’s. I spent the rest of the evening aboard Liahona reading and listening to the VHF marine radio.

Wednesday we were joined by Kinette (sp?), who was making up an earlier class. It turns out that she was a fellow Buckeye engineer, and had even gone to school at the same time I had. It shows how big Ohio State’s engineering school is that I never met her there. We all spent some time talking about how to read the harbor’s navigation markers and shallow areas and compare them to a chart. Then we hit the water for some more practice. The wind was up so we learned how to put a reef in the mainsail to reduce the sail’s area. For lunch, we sailed to the lee side of an island and set the anchor. Then we learned how to sail back up while pulling in the anchor line to retrieve it. In the afternoon we did a little regatta-style sailing, sailing close-hauled to one mark, rounding it, then broad reaching down to another mark, and back again. Everyone got pretty good at handling the boat.

Wednesday night, Kelly and I went out to find something to eat in Mt. Pleasant. We ended up near a lot of restaurants on Shem Creek. The first place was packed, so we went next door. It looked OK but something was odd. They had a sign announcing “Yappy Hour,” and the restaurant had at least eight dogs within. Apparently some sort of fundraiser for a humane-society-type organization, but we were astounded to see dogs in a restaurant. We ate there anyway and studied our sailing books a bit. That night I did some more reading while eavesdropping on the VHF radio traffic. It’s not too exciting, but it’s interesting to someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time on the coast. Overnight the wind was up, and despite a protected dock in the marina, it caused the boat to rock more noticeably and the fenders to creak.

Thursday was beautiful. The wind was steady but lighter than the previous day. We talked about using a motor to get in and out of the marina, but the currents were strong early, so we headed out. Shipping traffic was way up, with a lot of container ships moving in and out of the harbor. These huge boats move much faster than they look, and we were careful to give them lots of room, and not try to cross their paths. After a little navigating, we ended up south of the Battery, where we practiced man-overboard drills. I volunteered to be the swimmer :), but we used a fender instead. I enjoyed learning this maneuver…it is pretty effective in getting back to the swimmer with the boat slowing just as you reach him. Then we sailed back to the marina for some docking practice. The Intrepid’s berth is at the very back of the marina, so you have to pass by millions of dollars of boats. Currents and wind complicate things. Each of us practiced using the motor and tiller to maneuver the boat in and out of the slip while the others handled the dock lines. We did it over and over, and I feel better about it, but I think I’ll always be a little intimidated operating so close to all those expensive boats. After a short final sail, we headed in, put the boat away, and took our certification test, which we all passed. Click to see the map of Thursday’s sail.

Dave had to teach a cruising class the next day aboard the Liahona, which he had not yet sailed, so Kelly and I hopped aboard to lend a hand and take a short ride. It was odd to see my “home” detached from the dock and moving. We motored around while Dave figured out how the boat handled. Then he parked her and we tied her back to the dock as if she hadn’t ever left. I packed up my stuff and we said our goodbyes. Kelly was staying on for a couple more weeks to take all the classes at once. Best of luck and no seasickness! Then it was 3.5 hours back to Greenwood and reality for me.

I had a blast and I’m sure I’ll be better at sailing Anhinga here at home. I’ll have to save my pennies and maybe take the cruising class next year.