Thursday, June 8, 2006
The captain’s introduction sounds a little like a warning. “I’m Ward,” he says, standing in the SailTime offices next to Monterey’s Coast Guard Pier. “As in mental…to run a sailing school in Monterey.”
Ward Latimer says he’s been sailing since age 6, when his father left him alone in a sailboat in the middle of a lake in Washington, saying, “You can figure it out from here.” About 53 years later, Latimer runs Monterey Sailing, a sailing school that opened just a month ago. He and his boss, Greg Wolfson, CEO of Monterey Sailing and manager of its sister sailing hub SailTime Monterey Bay, plan to take me out on one of their yachts. But Wolfson says it’s an awfully windy Friday morning for that.
“It wouldn’t be unreasonable if you don’t want to go sailing,” he says.
It’s a thoughtful offer, but one that runs counter to what Wolfson had to say about sailing earlier in the week.
“The beauty of sailing, unlike power boating—where you’re fighting against nature—is that you’re working with it,” he had said. “You have to do a dance with nature. And you get to experience whatever nature is serving up for that day.”
Today that means winds that beginning sailors have no
business braving. But it also means the National Marine
Sanctuary beneath the bow, the purple ice plant of Pacific
Grove seen from the bay, and nobody but us on the water. In
truth, it seems unreasonable not to go sailing.
In the past, just getting on a sailboat in Monterey, regardless of conditions, was difficult. Boats aren’t cheap; training was difficult to find. And beyond those obstacles, getting a slip in Monterey’s harbor was an exercise in profound patience: the waiting list is described in decades, not years.
But thanks to a local sailing boom, so to speak, led by SailTime, Monterey Sailing and a burgeoning sailing program at CSUMB, local sailing is drifting away from its existence as an exclusive activity for the rich and toward the mainstream population.
For Wolfson, who bikes to SailTime’s office on the Coast Guard Pier from his family’s home in Monterey, the inspiration to open up access to sailing was organic.
“About two years ago my father and I learned to sail together in the Caribbean,” he says. “It was a life-changing experience.”
He came back and started contacting people and looking around for a place to sail—and there was none. “Maybe you could pay a couple captains to take you out,” he says.
Wolfson hatched a Monterey branch of the SailTime fractional ownership franchise—which is not unlike a timeshare for condos or jets—so folks could defray the prohibitive costs of buying their own boat and securing a slip. But that was only part of the equation.
“Parallel for me was finding some way to make sailing accessible to people,” Wolfson says. “I wanted to create a resource for people who want to sail on the bay regardless of where they’re coming from.”
As a result, Monterey Sailing was launched, offering an array of American Sailing Association certified classes and a club for local folks who want to take out sailboats for a day or two on the bay.
Keeping with the themes of community and accessibility, the
sister businesses also host barbecues on the scenic deck above
the Coast Guard Breakwater Cove every month. (For more on this
and other local sailing opportunities, see second
CSUMB Manager of Marine Operations Cynthia D’Vincent’s route to popularizing sailing in Monterey differs from Wolfson’s. She first arrived, fittingly enough, on board Varua, a gleaming 93-foot boat, in 1981. She proceeded to direct voyages to and from the Monterey area to places like Hawaii and Alaska as a first mate, marine biologist, ocean researcher, and documentary filmmaker, often working with the Naval Postgraduate School on various projects.
But when more traditional motherhood came calling, CSUMB ultimately ended up with an expert sailor at the helm of their marine and outdoor programs.
“I raised my kids at sea, but it was time for a realistic life in Carmel Valley,” she says. “I was invited to do something with a 56-foot vessel donated to the university. I did a summer of taking students to sea, went to Alaska, and worked on two films. When I returned they asked if I would create a boating program. Here I am, almost 10 years later.”
Under her leadership, CSUMB has seen its program evolve dramatically. Its fleet has surged from four dingys to 29 boats. Its absorption of the distinguished Monterey Peninsula College program last year only further secured its position as a great source for community boating activities: Locals of nearly all ages (7 and up) can take to the bay through a wide range of classes led by Frank Degnan, from basic coastal cruising to challenge racing, or as part of camps and team-building activities, for $30 a semester to $30 an hour depending on the class.
D’Vincent says the only thing limiting further expansion of
the program is a lack of instructors. In addition to several
dozen adults enrolled in classes, she anticipates more than
500 local kids will get involved in boating this summer
through various collaborations with groups like the YMCA and
the Monterey Peninsula Yacht Club.
The stiff Friday wind proves no match for SailTime’s sparkling 33-foot, $160,000 Madeline Schell. In fact, the only thing that even threatens to dampen its passengers—or offer an excuse to lounge below deck on the couch watching a DVD on the flatscreen—are some ornery sea lions annoyedly splashing away from an interrupted group flotilla. And because of its sophisticated rigging, designed for sailor comfort rather than performance, Wolfson can open up his main sail, deploy the spinnaker at the front of the boat and make myriad other adjustments without leaving the cockpit.
The sailboat cuts through the wind-blown blue waves with a quickness, pointed toward a cloud-shrouded Santa Cruz. Not another boat dots the horizon, leaving Madeline Schell and her crew alone with the occasional gull and the water.
The restless wind pushes Madeline to her top speed of 7 knots and presents a teachable moment to Ward Latimer, as he explains how the first sail on the bay fits into their three-day-weekend introductory classes.
“The sail’s gotta be full,” he says. “Full bellies, happy sailors.”
Wolfson now seems delighted with the windy morning. “We’re ripping,” he says happily. But Wolfson contends that zipping along at top speed isn’t his favorite part of sailing.
“The most anticipated moment of sailing is when you set the sails and then turn of the engine,” he says, “Then all is quiet but the sound of the wind on the sails and the boat in the water.”