Town's sailing school catches wind
Published 11:45 pm, Saturday, July 10, 2010
On the hottest morning of the year, Marina Pipher learned a new way to stay cool.
Climbing to her feet, she grabbed the mast of her Laser sailboat and yanked. The boat toppled into Long Island Sound.
Pipher toppled with it.
"How's the water feel?" asked her instructor, Jay Lipp, cruising by in a motorboat.
"Good!" she said.
Pipher, 13, had just "capsized" for the first time in her life. And coming at 10:30 on Tuesday morning, it was scarcely an hour after she'd climbed aboard to pilot a sailboat for the first time, too. Along with two other youngsters, she was taking part in one of this summer's first "Learn to Sail" courses offered by the Parks and Recreation Department through the Fairfield Sailing School. The courses are run out of Jennings Beach.
For the past six years, the sailing school has been managed by Lipp, 52, a former U.S. Navy man who's been plying Long Island Sound since fourth grade.
With summer in high gear, Lipp hopes the recent heat wave will convince more teenagers and adults to plunge into his program.
There are several levels of study. For youngsters, there's "learn to sail," "skills building" and "introduction to racing." Each costs $300 per session and uses Laser sailboats. But there's also a "U.S. Sailing" course, which adds in motorboat skills, uses a 16-foot Daysailer and costs $350 per session.
There are also adult sailing lessons, similar to the "U.S. Sailing" course, which meet on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Adult sailing courses cost $275.
The sailing school runs from late June to mid-August. It generally operates in two-week cycles, meeting Monday through Thursday, for four hours a day. The next session for youngsters starts July 19; for adults, this coming Monday. There are spots open at every level for residents and non-residents, ages 12 and up.
On Tuesday morning, Lipp steered his motorboat atop the waves, glancing through sunglasses at the two sailboats that belong to his class. A lifejacket was wrapped around his chest.
"Typically, by the fourth day, most kids are ready to sail on their own," he said. "But by the eighth day, we want them all to be able to do it."
As he spoke, Pipher drifted by in her Laser, which was tipping over.
"Turn the tiller left!" Lipp bellowed, referring to the lever that controls the boat's rudder -- its back fin, which helps steer the vessel.
Pipher gritted her teeth. Her sailing partner, Annabelle Wanner, spun the tiller, sending the sail lurching for their heads.
"Move up front, Marina!"
Pipher crawled forward. Wanner ducked. The sail swung by -- missing them -- caught wind and steadied the boat. Pipher's face relaxed. Wanner settled into the other side of the cockpit.
"Great job," Lipp said. He then gestured toward Black Rock Harbor.
"Now aim for the lighthouse," he said. The boat tacked left. "Now for those two buoys!" The boat tacked further. "Now for that house with the black shutters." The boat now cruised parallel with the shore.
"You guys want to capsize again?" he asked.
With that, there was another splash and Wanner paddled around the boat to its orange hull. She clung to the dagger-board -- the fin sticking out the bottom -- tugged down and steadily up-righted the boat.
Lipp looked on, approvingly.
What makes sailing difficult for beginners, he said, is how counterintuitive it can be: Turn the tiller left, the boat veers right. Turn the tiller right, the boat veers left. Catch too much speed, one needs to loosen the sail, or perhaps tighten it. Start toppling left, a beginner might spin the tiller left, push the boom right. Or maybe the reverse. Or perhaps neither.
All of this, Lipp said, gets fleshed out in a beginner sailing course, designed to introduce students to foreign words and concepts, such as "tacking," "jibbing," different sail types, sail sizes, capsize recovery methods and man-overboard saves.
In the process, students develop a nautical vocabulary set: cleat, clew, halyard, hull, hank, heel, keel, leech, puff, tack.
The course ends with a written test, which covers the material that's explained in the "Learn Sailing Right!" course book. The book, Lipp added, counts for summer reading credit at some middle schools.
Occasionally, someone arrives at the first beginner's class with considerable skill -- or a knack for sailing -- already.
One such student is 13-year-old Cor Wanner, Annabelle's older brother, who was already sailing zigzags by himself on Tuesday morning.
After recovering from a few capsizes, Cor tacked and jibbed his way to the waters off the Fairfield Beach Club. Tom Lipp, Jay's son who is also an instructor, pointed his motorboat in Wanner's wake.
"Get him to try a `walk-over,' " Jay said, referring to the method of capsize recovery whereby the sailor scampers atop and straddles the tipping hull, leans back and straightens the boat.
Done correctly, the sailor returns to the cockpit without getting wet, and saves time, which is important when racing.
"You think he's ready?" Tom asked.
"He's got the size," Jay said.
Tom flashed a smile, and sped off to teach his student how to stay in the sun.
This was, however, the hottest morning of the year.
Cor plunged into the waves.
"Feel's great!" he called from the water.
For more information about the Fairfield Sailing School programs, e-mail Jay Lipp at: JLipp3@aol.com