Learning to Capsize

March 31, 2012 § 6 Comments

First published in Spinsheet Magazine – April 2012

Learning to Capsize

Any eight-year old in my town can learn to sail in the summer at the local, not-for-profit sailing center. The only pre-requisite is that the child has passed a swim test. On the first day of class, with just a few minutes of basic instruction, the kids put on life jackets, buddy up, climb into prams and are helped overboard in a slow, managed capsize, at the behest of a senior instructor and many watchful lifeguards.

Icy cold lake water produces high-pitched squealing, no matter the gender. Once the noise abates, and if the kids have listened to instruction, their only task is to verbally and visually check on their buddy, and then dog paddle to the exposed centerboard, where in subsequent lessons, capsize recovery efforts will be taught and mastered.

At the same learning center, a beginner adult receives very different treatment. Adults start with classroom training to learn the points of sail, the names of the parts of a boat and the basic controls. On the water, the only thing that is the same is the requisite lifejacket. Adults don’t have to prove swimming skills, in part, because it’s not likely that they’ll do any (although they do have to sign a form saying that they can swim, for insurance liability reasons.) There is usually no capsize test, since they learn on more stable keelboats. Even while sailing, the adults won’t get near water, except, possibly, to dip a fingertip into it or when it comes to them in spray over the bow.

It seems logical that these lesson plans start in different places, given the fact that the students are different ages. But let’s go out on a limb and ask two questions:

  1. Why do kids need to know how to swim to learn to sail while adults don’t?
  2. Why don’t adults start to learn sailing – a water sport – by going into the water, just as kids do?

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