Learning to Sail and Gaining Experience


There are places where learning to sail is easy. If you’re from a coastal city or along the great lakes, odds are you can easily find opportunities to sail. For others, sailing isn’t the norm. As of this writing, I live in Greer, SC. My state is a coastal state, but that coast is about 4 hours away from me. The mountains are in my backyard. Not much sailing in the mountains.

To get the sailing certifications needed, my wife and I had to drive to Charleston, SC to attend classes at Charleston Sailing School. We took the two day ASA 101 – Basic Keelboating course this past May (2022). The price was on par with every other place I had checked out and at 4 hours away, it was “close” to us. They also offer additional courses that we need so we hoped we would like this place. Thankfully, we did like the experience and would recommend them.

Now we get to the hard part of learning to sail if you don’t live on the coast. We have no experience other than this course. To continue on with our certifications (103 – Basic Coastal Cruising, 104 – Bareboat Cruising, and 114 – Cruising Catamaran) we need 40 hours of experience. We could probably get into the courses without it, but that defeats the purpose. We want to learn and know what we’re doing.

So, how do you get experience if you don’t live at the coast and own a sailboat? There are three answers to that.

Option One, you spend a lot of money. We don’t know anyone that owns a sailboat and generally don’t live near a sailing area. For people like us, we have to travel for this. A four hour drive is not so bad. What if you live in Kentucky? Travel costs money. Lodging costs money.

Know what else costs money? Chartering a boat. Oh, you don’t have experience yet needed to charter a boat? Pay for a skipper and the boat so that you can get experience. Money, money, money. You can save money on lodging if you pay for some overnights on the boat… Save money… Ha…

Option Two, if available at a nearby lake, join a sailing club. In theory, this makes sense. You get to sail and gain experience, but without having to spend as much money. This may be ideal for some, but for some old bastard like me, it was a hard no.

I checked out some of the “local” sailing clubs. Looking at the new member information page, I knew it was not for me. I’m looking to go sailing, not join a community group. Some people might really be into this, though. Good for them. I am not that person. I have enough friends without having to pay for some.

Fill out the online application. Afterward, the membership team will contact you and discuss your application. Sign and send in the lease agreement and insurance information. Send in a biography with a picture that includes names of your family, sailing experience, if you’re looking forward to their race/social events/club stuff and whatever else.

Once everything has been sent in, pay the initiation fee, dues, and any other fees. These fees are all based on age, not experience. My age group (35 and up) with annual dues over $600 and initiation fee over $300. 24 years old and below have an annual due that is a tenth the price at $60, regardless if that person has been sailing their whole life.

Add to that you have to give up your time to support the club and the events they hold. It’s a bit much just so you can learn to sail. I’m a too old for that. However, for some this is a great way to learn. Those “some” are probably under 24 years old, though.

My wife and I went with option three.

Option Three, you buy a small, trailerable sailboat. We purchased 1980 Buccaneer 250 (25 ft) sailboat. You can read about that here. This made the most sense for us. We have a few lakes that are an hour or more away that we can take the boat to and get our time sailing in. We can learn everything we need to.

That does mean everything. I’ve replaced the taillights on the trailer and one of the wheel hubs. The wife purchased new tires for the trailer (we had blowouts). I bought a new engine. We’re probably going to replace cushions in the interior. I need to learn how to check/update the wiring. We’ll need to replace some of the rigging in the next year as well. It’s good, though. We really wanted to have some experience with this type of stuff (not the trailer) because it can only help us with our future catamaran.

We spent money buying the boat, fixing up the boat (and trailer), and leasing a slip at Lake Hartwell. This will give us a few years to gain experience. That same money would give us maybe three weeks of experience if we were chartering and traveling. It’s worthwhile. This will also help save us money in the future.

I would like to get to a point where we can help others in our area learn to sail and gain experience. Teaching others helps you better understand and communicate what you’re doing. It would also be nice to help others that are in a similar situation. You simply can’t move ahead in your sailing journey if you don’t have the needed experience and it should not cost you a fortune to do it.

We need that fortune to get the catamaran of our dreams. We won’t have that fortune, or catamaran of our dreams, but we should be able to squeak our way into a good cat that we will enjoy and live a good life on. I don’t want to waste money that delays me from quitting work. I really want to quit.