Airmen Activities: outdoor recreation offers catamaran sailing course

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The 12-foot rotomolded polyethylene hull strains suddenly under the pressure of the mainsail, tilting in the water slightly and picking up speed at a rapid rate. The only thing powering the one-person catamaran is the wind against the sail and the operator's choice of direction, which could potentially capsize or stall the boat. You better have paid attention in class.

To experience this excitement, one must attend the sailing course offered through outdoor recreation to become certified on the catamaran sailboats that are available. The two-day course is held once a month and is half in-classroom and half at the marina.

You'll have to sign up quick as the course is limited to 12 students. Be prepared to take it seriously as not everyone will pass.

It all begins at McBride Library for the 2 1/2 hour classroom portion of the course, in which students learn the parts of a sailboat and the ways the wind can give it power. The instructor, Steve Collins, has a little model boat he uses for demonstration and a power point presentation that he somewhat consults during the lesson. The important thing, more than the power point or the visual aids he provides, is that the instructor has been sailing since he was a teenager; He knows what he's talking about.

There is a lot to cover in the classroom, but you'll spend the entire second day on the water reviewing what you learned and applying it firsthand. It is exhausting, so don't skimp on breakfast.

The large group will be split into smaller ones over the course of a weekend and meet at the marina early in the morning. The on-the-water instruction will begin with boat set-up and rigging. Even if you don't quite know what you're doing, the terms you learn the day prior will prove vital in how competent you appear and how valuable you are to the team.
Once the boats are rigged and ready to go, it still isn't quite time to sail. First, you'll have to capsize one of them.

It's actually easier than it sounds. And, Collins is a tremendously patient instructor.
Successfully rigging the boats and resetting them in the water brings the day to lunchtime. Then, it's time for the open sea. The group heads out on the largest catamaran the marina has and practices various turning and directional movements in the Biloxi Back Bay. The group will have a couple hours to practice the vital movements before being released on individual boats.

The final test consists of getting the small and medium sized catamarans out into the bay and back into the marina. This part is way harder than it sounds. Again, Collins is a patient instructor, but you'll be on your own here.

The battle back into the marina will be fought against the wind, which you can't exactly sail into, and will be blowing out from the marina and into the Back Bay. Spending the entire day learning how to sail will leave you with only a slight idea of how to do it, but the sink-or-swim atmosphere breeds triumph and determines fairly who will pass the course.

Fighting the wind can be frustrating, but is ultimately rewarding when the boats are hitched to the docks as afternoon turns to evening. Graduates will receive a bright green slip with their names on it and validation of their efforts. With this green card, sailboats can be rented from the marina.

Considering how much time you have with the boats on marina day, the $55 admission is more than reasonable. Typically, renting a boat cost $10-14 an hour, with a minimum two-hour rental. For the course, you'll be out on the water for at least four hours on all three sailboats, so it's a blast even if it is a test.

The course is short and packed with a lot of information, but the instructor and the teamwork atmosphere of learning to sail with others really makes the two-day experience well worth the time and money.

The next sailing class is scheduled for Nov. 7-10. Classroom instruction will be held at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 inside the McBride Library. On-the-water instruction will be held Nov. 8, 9 or 10, to be arranged with instructor. For more information, call 228-377-3160.