When I was six years old, my father introduced me to sailboat racing aboard his nineteen-foot Thistle, a tender centerboard sailboat. It heeled (tipped) easily and moved quickly through the water. I was terrified. I spent the afternoon crouching low, by the centerboard trunk (most interior part of the boat), crying. Even though my father encouraged me to sit on the rail (edge) to help balance the boat and reduce its heeling angle, I was too scared to move. At the end of the day, after I walked safely down the dock to dry land, the first thing I said was, “Daddy, can I come racing again next Sunday?” My father was incredulous. “But, honey, you were scared all day. Are you sure you want to go again?” “Oh yes,” I responded. “I love sailing.”
Thus began my long and tumultuous love affair with sailing. I sailed on Dad’s Thistle until he sold it a few years later and bought a 26 foot racing/day-sailing keelboat on which I raced with my father every Sunday. At age nine, I joined our yacht club’s Junior Sailing Program and sailed with other kids as a crew member from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday all summer long. At age eleven, my father suggested I could borrow my brother’s Blue Jay and take it as a skipper to a novice regatta for kids my age.
Terrified, I agreed. I remember my stomach in knots, as Dad and I trailered the boat to the regatta location with my crew and lowered the boat from the dock, via the lift, into the water, at the yacht club where the regatta was held. My fear was that I would crash my brother’s boat into another vessel, a dock, or some other obstruction and wreck it. I didn’t. Instead, I participated in each race, crossing the starting line near the time of the starting gun, rounded all the required turning marks in the proper direction, followed the right-of-way rules and avoided collisions, and finished mid-fleet in each race. I was hooked. I have been racing various boats as skipper ever since.
Each time I traveled to a new place to race or sailed a boat that was new to me, I was scared. Every time I was exposed to a sudden squall, I was nervous, but I learned to face my fears head on, quickly identify alternative courses of action, pick one, act as if I knew what to do, and then do it. I survived a lot of challenging sailing situations and learned a great deal along the way.
People who know me as an adult might be surprised to know I was a very shy child. I was not bold. I was not confident. I always had anxieties. I still do. But, among many other gifts that sailing has given me, it has taught me I can overcome each challenge as it appears in my life because I have done that so many times on the water. For me, sailing is comprised of equal parts fear, exhilaration, peaceful communion with nature and the elements, challenges to overcome, pride in accomplishment, confidence in my skills, and goal-setting. I cannot think of another activity that gives so much to its participants.
I hope you will join The Sailing School at the Hudson River Maritime Museum and learn to sail this summer. You’ll have a blast!
Jody Taffet Sterling, Director of the Sailing School at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, learned to sail as a child on Long Island Sound.
We have wonderful opportunities for youth and classes for adults. We hope to see you this spring or summer! Museum members get discounts on classes. Join today!
Sailing class tuition will be increased March 15, so act quickly to register at 2021 prices.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.