I really had no idea what to expect when we signed up for a package of sailing lessons at a fairly small man-made lake in the next canyon from where we live in Santiago. I think “fairly small” is a generous description as well. When we told our boss that we wouldn’t be returning to teach at Nido, that we would be sailing around the world instead, and that we were signed up for sailing lessons at Piedra Roja, he chuckled and said, “you realize that lake is about the size of the fountain in front of school.”
But alas, everyone has to start somewhere, so we were excited to begin. Our first lesson was spent with Gaby, our instructor, five adults and two children in a small dinghy. Gaby started out by manning the tiller and the main sail herself, but quickly allowed us to take turns steering and working the mainsheet, tightening and loosening it (sheeting in and out, technically) as the wind pushed and pulled at us.
On our second lesson, we advanced to little Walker dinghies, meant for 1-2 people. We spent our hour in pairs, zooming around the little lake, and taking turns getting the hang of the wind, the sheets, and hopping from one side of the boat to the other as we tacked and jibed.
The next week, we did more of the same, with the exciting change of being solo skippers of our Walker. I was slightly nervous to be out on the lake, alone in a sailboat, but these are quite possibly the most forgiving dinghies one can find, and try as I might, making a billion mistakes, I couldn’t tip the thing over.
For our final lesson, we took turns in a Laser, which was the polar opposite of our comfy, safe, beamy Walkers. One wrong move, and you’re immediately in the drink. I can still remember our instructor yelling “sueltalo” or “caza la vela” as she followed in her inflatable dinghy, attempting to fix our mistakes before they toppled us over.
The Laser was both a lot of fun and quick piece of humble pie. After only four short lessons, we felt like we were getting the hang of things, yet this little buddy instantly highlighted our mistakes for all onlookers to see (did I tell you there’s a mall at the entrance to the lake? How chileans do love their malls.)
So, yes, Piedra Roja was a tiny man-make lake. Yes, we tooled around on boats with a fraction of a percent of the displacement that our cruiser will have. Yes, Pete (being an experienced sailor) was probably bored out of his mind. But, we had fun, and this girl has to start somewhere. The books that I’m reading about sailing have become instantly real to me, as looking at wind diagrams is one thing, but truly feeling the wind is another.
This certainly won’t be our last sailing lessons or courses, but it was a start. I’m looking forward to taking lessons is my first language. When you have literally milliseconds to respond, and your brain has to first translate “gira el timon hacia la vela ahora” into English, you soon find yourself bobbing in water thinking, “oh, NOW I know what she meant.”