The Saga of Pas de Deux, Part 2: How to Learn to Sail from the Comfort of Your Own Home


This has been a slow couple of weeks on Pas de Deux, as Benn has been sick and unable to continue any of the work on the boat, and I have been struggling with preparing my visa application. I’ve realized that my plan to somehow obtain my marriage visa in time to move to the UK before Christmas was completely unreasonable, so we are delaying the application until the end of January. This means that I won’t be moving onto Pas de Deux until March at the earliest, assuming, of course, that my application is actually accepted.

Teas and coffee for some.  Loneliness and exclusion for others.

All of this visa-anxiety has resulted in me neglecting this blog entirely. This neglect wouldn’t be so bad, except that I’ve also been neglecting to think about the whole concept and practice of sailing, including anything that pertains to the renovation of our boat. And, this might not be so bad either (I do have until March, after all), except that in November, exactly one month from today, Benn and I will be doing a week-long catamaran sailing course in Florida.

Pile of neglected things

One would assume that two people who have bought a boat would be proficient and experienced sailors. This is not the case with Benn and me. He has had plenty of sailing experience and has even crossed the Channel once or twice, but hasn’t stepped aboard a sailboat for about 16 years. I, on the other hand, have almost no experience with sailing and only a very rudimentary understanding of how it all works.

Although a sailing course would theoretically be a good first step in remedying the situation, the people who attend that sort of thing are generally expected to know what, for example, the word “jibe” means. In fact, many people have had years of sailing experience and only take these sorts of classes to get a certification to prove it.

The course instructors have assured us that you can be a total novice and successfully complete the course, but it requires a lot of study beforehand. They have sent us four textbooks for just that purpose, and we are supposed to have them pretty much memorized before we even arrive at the marina.

Four books!

Benn started reading the books the instant he received them in the mail — which was maybe 2 months ago. I’ve read most of the first textbook, skipping the parts about boring things like Coast Guard regulations, and have flipped through the first 10 pages of the last textbook, just to see how difficult it was going to be.

I think that what’s holding me back is that it seems to me that learning to sail from a textbook is like reading about Algebra without ever being required to solve a math problem or learning to run without ever having had to walk. You come to understand the relationship between wind and sail through observation and to respond to it intuitively after a great deal of practice and experimentation. How can you grasp what it means to jibe and tack without ever having held a sheet or watched the wind pull into a loosened sail? Otherwise, you’re reading a technical manual without any concept of technique — and I’ve never been a big fan of technical manuals.

The textbooks do contain several bits of interesting information, though, like the origin of the word “head,” which was so named because the toilet used to be located beneath the masthead. I have learned what halyards and mizzenmasts are, which means that when I read Moby Dick or Horatio Hornblower I no longer have to skim over the parts about operating the ships. I’ve also learned that the sail is not, as one might think, just a bag that propels the boat by filling with wind, but a foil like the wing of an airplane that corresponds in shape almost exactly to the arch of a seagull’s wing. That is pretty cool.

Helpful or not?  You decide.

Textbook complaints aside, we’re both so excited for the course. Benn is arriving in just three weeks — just in time to witness the collapse of American society after the election — and we’re driving to south Florida a few days later. Neither of us have been there before, and we’re expecting to find a whole new world of exciting colors and tacky tourist spots and revealing clothing just waiting for us to discover it.

We’re also hoping to film much of the course and maybe finally get some videos up on our YouTube channel. In the meantime, you can enjoy this photo Benn took from the top of Pas de Deux’s mast.


Just so you know, a lot of effort went into this photo. To get the Gopro to the top of the mast, he hoisted it up there on a spare halyard (I know what that is now) — but didn’t quite take into account that it would be too light to actually bring back down again. No matter. After a bit of trial and error, he realized that if he wrapped the tail of the main halyard around the bitter end of the spare and then raised the main halyard, it would drag the spare along with it, bringing the Gopro safely back to the ground. (If you want to understand what all of that means, I have a few textbooks I can loan you.)

Disaster averted. So, if any of you ever want to take a photo with your Gopro from the top of your mast and then get it down again, that’s how you do it. You’re very welcome.



  1. Oh my goodness. It is true when learning a new topic you need to have something minimally meaningful to hook onto… I recommend YouTube videos as an introduction to your texts, thus to your sailing life.
    You are going to get so many new grooves in your brain!


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