Videos: Bay Area Backroads with Doug McConnell

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Bay Area Backroads


Transcript of the OCSC Sailing Backroads Show:
No matter what time of year, no matter what the weather, San Francisco Bay is always breath-taking from every angle. But there's nothing like seeing the sights of the bay from the deck of a sailboat. Expert sailor Anthony Sandberg explains, “First of all, we have the power of a tremendous current coming in and out of the Gate. We have wind, that's almost like a wind machine, that is totally predictable. And you've got wildlife; you have whales inside the bay. You know Humphrey shows up, and Humphrina is here sometimes, too. There are seals and cormorants and a lot of wildlife. This is one of the most extraordinary places to sail in the world!”

San Francisco Bay is a sailor's paradise, and you don't have to be an expert or own your own boat to go sailing here. Just drop by the Olympic Circle Sailing Club in Berkeley and you'll find a welcoming community that is always happy to take you out for a day on the bay, and even show you the ropes.

San Francisco Bay is of course the most distinguishing and most wonderful feature for those of us living in the Bay Area. It's always great to walk by the Bay, or drive by it, or look at it, but it's even better to go sailing on it the way people have for hundreds of years. And you don't have to know anything, or be rich to do it.

The Olympic Circle Sailing Club, or OCSC, is a club for sailors of all skill levels, even total beginners. One student explains, “It never occurred to me that I could be at the helm of a sailboat here in San Francisco Bay!” Hoisting a sail and setting out to sea is as easy as showing up here, any day of the week.

Anthony Sandberg started this sailing club over 20 years ago to make the sport easy, inexpensive, and accessible for folks in the Bay Area. Anthony says, “Everyone's welcome. If you want to be out there, it's a great community experience. There are a thousand members, another thousand students, new students coming in every year. There are 50 yachts, 65 employees. And it's active 7 days a week, year-round.”

There's a clubhouse, an equipment shop, and a dock lined with yachts maintained by the staff. And there's always a variety of activities to choose from. Anthony says, “If you want to hear a seminar on knot-tying and basic navigation, or you'd like to go for a boat ride for $35 in the evening, any of those are possible. But if you actually want to learn how to do the sport, then you would sign up for a couple of weekends, take that first program, and get a sense of the skills that are necessary.”

I joined club members aboard a sailboat called a J-24, to cruise the bay and to try my hand at the helm. Many OCSC members learned the basics of sailing in just a couple weeks. It's a sport that everyone can enjoy. Anthony says, “Today we have people that are 75 going out with us, and people that are 22. And they're all going to have a good time!”

The wind is mild and as we head out of the harbor, it's clear that today will be smooth sailing...that is, until I take the helm. “The first thing to learn about sailing is driving the boat straight, “ says Rich Jepson. He’s an expert instructor, a world class sailor, and co-owner of OCSC. The helm feels like it has power steering, which is true of many of their 40 foot yachts. It makes it much easier to get a feel for sailing.

The easy-handling boats make a novice like myself feel comfortable and so does the crew, who are experienced sailors, and are very supportive of newcomers. And anyone can learn.

I was surprised to discover that many of the folks on board had only dreamt of sailing before they joined the club, such as Stephanie George, a publisher from Berkeley. “I've learned an incredible amount about myself. I really see sailing as a metaphor for you as a person, and sort of learning to be the skipper of your own ship” says Stephanie. Ericka Gregory is a management consultant from Oakland, who's been sailing with the club for a few years. Ericka says, “We were talking about this earlier, as an adult, it's kind of harder to learn new things. You know you're set in certain ways; you know there's the fear of doing things wrong. So, I think being able to come into this big group of people who're just all about learning the right way to do things and having a great time, and supporting each other through it, it's been really a special thing.”

And with the skills learned here, many club members have sailed together all over the world, on periodic OCSC trips. Anthony explains, “Typically in a year we'll go to Tonga, Tahiti, Greece, Caribbean, and Australia. And we'll have 50 to 70 people on each of those trips. We'll rent 10 - 12 yachts. “

Although they sometimes sail in some exotic locations...many still agree there's no place like home. Anthony says, “You'll hear people say, ‘If you can sail San Francisco Bay, and the coast of California, you can go anywhere else in the world with comfort, and know that you have the skills to handle it.’"

And with a little guidance from Rich and the gang, I learn that I can handle it, too. Rich says, “The next thing we're going to talk about is how to trim the sail, so that they make the boat go forward.” According to Rich, Trimming, or maneuvering the sails into the path of the wind, is the essence of sailing...and can be a bit tricky. With some patience...and a little practice...I'm surprised at how fast I get the hang of it.

The OCSC Sailing Club is a wonderful crew...and we had a wonderful day cruising the bay. And while they won't be calling me Captain McConnell anytime soon, it's great to know that I can enjoy world class sailing right here at home, anytime I choose.