school is in session

We’ve been wanting to do a feature on a sailing school for awhile, so when my girlfriend said she wanted to become a better racer, I sent her to J-World Dago. Here are her observations so far – ed.
j-world-maryJ/World offers classes in San Diego, San Francisco, and Puerto Vallarta, but since I’m lucky enough to live in San Diego and sail here year-round, I figured: what could be a better staycation than spending a week in racing school? I haven’t had official race training since college, so decided to take a week off from my windowless office and attend.
My class is comprised of 8 people with 2 instructors. I was pleasantly surprised to have a class with variety: we are 4 men and 4 women, a wide range of ages, 6 racing boat owners and 2 crew (one’s me), and only 2 of us are locals. One woman’s husband came out with her to enjoy vacation in San Diego while she attends class, then they spend evenings together (this does not seem like a bad idea for snowed-in sailors). One couple from out of town is taking the class together. People came from the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, and one Great Lakes skipper came from Toronto. They all can’t stop talking about how nice the weather is here. (Seriously. Every day they tell me that it’s 26 degrees back home, or that it’s so beautiful here, etc. etc. Please don’t move here; the traffic is bad enough already.)
Day 1 had us in the classroom in the morning (perfect for San Diego, where the winds normally don’t build until late morning/afternoon) discussing advanced racing theory and how to apply that to timing, strategy, tactics, et al. This particular Race Week class isn’t geared toward absolute beginners; I suspect that the more experience you have, the more you can get out of the discussion, because you can apply it to the context you already have and ask targeted questions. My class had plenty of questions, and the instructors Patrick and Sean had great answers and kept the discussion flowing. At the end of the discussion, the skipper next to me leaned over and said, “Wow! That was a lot of pearls of wisdom!” The instructors are not just experienced and knowledgeable racers; they are both articulate and able to explain difficult concepts in a digestible way. I was truly impressed.
After a short lunch break, we went to the J/80s parked just outside and went over the boat’s layout and controls. We sailed out into beautiful San Diego Bay (the view from the water of the city skyline and the cliffs of Point Loma are something you should enjoy at least once in your life. Just don’t move here. Please.) and spent hours applying what we had just learned, both upwind and downwind. Because the groups are small, we each got to rotate through all the positions several times. When we got back to the classroom for a quick debrief, I commented how great it was to drive the boat through all those gybes, because I never get to do that. I learned about the teamwork and timing involved in that maneuver and what contributes to mishaps. (“Spinnakers are the root of all sailing evil.” ~ Mary Hardy)
The skippers in the group said it was really eye-opening to do all the other positions, because they always drive. They commented that they better appreciated what the crew experiences during tacks and gybes, and that they valued the insights the instructors had for the drivers, including what to watch for during maneuvers and how to correct for wind-shifts or crew issues mid-maneuver. Everybody left Day 1 happy and excited, with brains full. I can honestly say I’m a much improved sailor after only one day.
Day 2 held many more pearls and lots of strategy and tactics discussion. We had hours of application practice on the water and we all continued to rotate through the positions, focusing on different aspects than we had the day before. Sailboat racing has an astonishing number of contributing elements, and having an instructor show me on the water each one’s effect in isolation is a lesson I haven’t experienced before.
I’ll admit it was fun to watch the skippers fumble a bit with the bowsprit and spinnaker hoist (they forget what it’s like for the crew on the mast, bow, and pit). Everyone’s improvement by the end of Day 2 was notable. I wonder where we will be after 3 more days?