It was the fall of 2011 and I was tending bar at Trinity at City Beach in Sandpoint, where my daily view consisted of sailboats and powerboats entering and leaving the marina with the vastness of Lake Pend Oreille and the Cabinet Mountains in the background.
Many of my regular customers would come in after they were done sailing, whether after Thursday night "beer can" racing, one of the club's Saturday social sails or the more intense J24 fleet racing, held every other Sunday morning throughout the summer. They all seemed excitable as they discussed the day's racing. I knew many of the faces and names from skiing at Schweitzer and living in Sandpoint for more than a decade. There was always encouragement from them to get involved.
One mid-September Friday evening, a friendly gentleman named Matt asked me to join him for a Sunday afternoon sailing adventure before my evening bar shift.
Matt quickly got the boat ready, and we were soon off the dock, joining the view that I had seen so many days that summer. As he was showing me the uses for the different lines and equipment, the sky became dark and the weather was changing, fast and furious. Since I had no idea what to do, every time he tried explaining to me what the different halyards, lines and winches did, all I heard was the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher: "wah wah wah wah." It was all a foreign language to me.
As Matt hurried around the boat's deck, getting sails and docking lines ready for the incoming storm and the rapid return to the marina and slip, he had me guiding the boat, expediting the process. As we neared the jetty that protects the marina, he anxiously asked me, "Are you OK?"
"Yes. Are you?" I replied. I was immediately hooked.
Five years later, I'm engulfed in sailboat racing on Lake Pend Oreille, racing the south end out of Bayview on Wednesday evenings and the north end out of the Windbag Marina in Sandpoint on Thursdays in addition to Sandpoint Sailing Association club races, Lake Pend Oreille Yacht Club weekend races and the J24 fleet races.
I have traveled with local boats to away regattas on Whidbey Island and on Flathead Lake in Montana. I've jumped aboard with like-minded strangers for long-distance racing on Puget Sound and the coveted Tuesday night J24 fleet racing on Lake Washington. All of these opportunities arose by simply showing up on the dock, getting to know the boats that like to travel and are looking for crew.
I can't imagine my summers without the camaraderie of those après-race beers and smack-talking with the other boats on the deck of our self-proclaimed yacht club — my old bar, Trinity at City Beach.
Most boat owners are looking for someone who is willing and excited to learn. Most people think that sailing and sailboat racing is expensive. There is some truth to that, and that expense is one the owner accepts in exchange for the enjoyment of sailing and the thrill of competition. I bought into a J24 four years ago, and quickly realized that the cheapest thing on the boat is beer. So if you're looking to contribute, bring a sixer. Or more.
Little did I realize five years ago that throughout the infinite number of smiles, hundreds of bruises, several regattas throughout the Pacific Northwest and many evening races watching the sun go down, how drastically my life would change by just answering "Yes" when someone asked me to go sailing on a Sunday. ♦
SAILING FOR BEGINNERS IN NORTH IDAHO
City of Sandpoint
The City of Sandpoint Parks and Recreation Department and the Sandpoint Sailing Association collaborate to offer beginner and advanced sailing classes throughout the summer. 208-263-3613
Lake Pend Oreille Yacht Club
Visit the Lake Pend Oreille Yacht Club's website for more information on how to connect with boats for crewing opportunities. The LPOYC is based out of scenic Bayview. lpoyc.org
North Idaho College
As part of the curriculum for its Resort Recreation Management program, NIC offers sailing courses for beginners at its Sandpoint and Coeur d'Alene campuses. nic.edu
Sandpoint Sailing Association
Show up on Thursday evenings around 5 pm for a skippers' meeting before the races to discuss the course for the evening and other upcoming club activities. Post to their Facebook page, and one of the club's officers will get back to you and quite possibly connect you with a boat looking for crew. sandpointsailing.com
J24 Fleet 174 Racing
This fleet based in Sandpoint is second in size only to Seattle's fleet in the Northwest. Racing takes place every other Sunday, and the best way to get in touch with this group is via their Facebook page: J/24 Fleet 174 Sandpoint ID