I’ve been called a know-it-all before. And while I’m sure it’s not intended as so, I take it as a compliment. During many a Friday night quiz at the Tamarind Club, our team has argued over a question’s correct answer, and I’ve found the trick to convincing the others that my answer is right is by having a backup source at the ready. Well, my new backup source for sailing expertise is Rob Swain, and it doesn’t hurt that he has a sailing school named after him. Now, I’m dying for a sailing-related question at quiz night, so I can bust out, “I learned that from Rob Swain, as in Rob Swain Sailing School. You’ve heard of him, right?”
During our two-day Basic Keelboat course, Rob exhibited the offhanded self-assurance that comes with being a true expert in his field with decades of experience doing what he does best. His confidence was contagious—to a point. I still had a minor freakout when I was a little overpowered, but he calmly assuaged my fears by telling me to trust my instincts. On another occasion, when I felt I was steering the boat all wrong, he again reassured me by saying I was doing everything correctly and alluded to the fact that as long as I was minding the boat, I was doing fine, but as soon as I started thinking too much, the sails rippled, and the telltales flapped. Once I adopted his easygoing poise, the sailing was smooth, aside from when we were docking, and I banged our IC24 into the sailing school’s other one. Oops.
While in the classroom and on the water, Rob easily relayed information to us through several teaching methods: analogies, observation, demonstration and practical application. A baseball-diamond-shaped diagram analogized the different points of sail, giving me a visual touchstone in my brain that I can easily recall when I need to be able to say whether I’m sailing on a close haul or a beam reach.
Out on the water, Rob explained what we observed around us: whitecaps meant the wind was blowing at least 12 knots; when the distant sky was the same colour from the clouds to the sea, it was raining; dark patches moving across the surface were wind; stationary, isolated dark spots in the water were reef; lighter water indicated shallower areas. There were probably several more tips I’ve forgotten but will remember once I need to apply them when sailing.
In the classroom, we were shown several knots and how to tie them, and though we practiced them on land, their applications didn’t sink in until we were out on the boat utilizing them. My bowline knot was easy to tie when I could hold it stationary and work it through, but once I was out on the boat using it to tie the jib to its halyard, I saw how I had to be able to tie it in different positions and with different sized loops, depending on the task. We also learned to tie a reef knot, a figure of eight, a clove hitch, and a round turn and two half hitches.
Rob Swain chills out on the backstay while he imparts his knowledge. Photo by Traci
I quizzed my sailor friends later with, “What is the best knot to use when tying together two ropes of different diameters?” My friend Chester worked out, just as I’d been taught in class, that a double sheet bend could ultimately fail, so the only choice would be two bowlines. I told him that he was right. As if I’m an expert on the subject. Two sailing lessons, and I’m already a know-it-all.