I’ve Never…Gone Sailing: Harnessing the wind with the Hobie sailing kayak

Photo by Erin Rook
Photo by Erin Rook
By Erin Rook, Source Weekly

As a child, I didn’t spend much time on boats. In fact, if you don’t count rides at Disneyland (e.g. Pirates of the Caribbean—before Johnny Depp made it sexy), I have been on a boat maybe five times in my entire life. Few enough, at least, that each experience can be prefaced by, “That one time…” and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been on the same type of vessel twice. So when the folks out at Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe invited me to check out their Hobie sailing class, I figured I might as well add another one-off to my list of water-borne adventures.

At the risk of bolstering my reputation for neurosis, it’s worth noting that I am somewhat terrified of deep water. I can swim, technically. But the moment my head is submerged by water, I start to panic a little. This, combined with my decidedly middleclass upbringing, may explain my lack of watersports experience.

I knew virtually nothing about sailing, aside from the basic mechanics—wind moves boat. After making the ill-advised decision to watch sailing videos on YouTube, I learned something else—sometimes, boat moves you. What did I sign myself up for? I thought, as I watched vessels leaning port side as the sailors (is that what you call people who sail?) threw their weight starboard side, effectively standing at a 45-degree angle on the edge of the ship.

It didn’t help that when I mentioned my upcoming adventure to a friend, she replied with words of caution.

“Watch out for the boom,” she warned, referring to the bar that typically extends along the bottom edge of the sail and swings around when the ship changes course. “It can kill you.”

But by the time I’ve psyched myself out it’s too late to back out, so I drive out to the Little Fawn Campground at Elk Lake and find Tumalo Creek sailing instructor Hank Hill seated in the sand, drawing what looked like pie charts on a white board as a small group of students looked on. As he explains “no sail zones” and “close hauling” I started to wonder if I should be taking notes—or a refresher course in geometry.

Lucky for me, the Hobie Adventure Island Sailing Kayak is a different breed of vessel than a conventional sailboat. The main hull—shaped like a kayak and outfitted with Hobie’s trademark penguin-inspired foot pedals—is balanced by two outriggers that, along with a keel, keep it from tipping over. Instructor Hank says it’s possible, but he’s never seen it happen. And there’s no boom. The sail unfurls from the mast much like panel blinds on a window.

Reasonably assured of the unlikeliness of my demise, I step into the sailing kayak and manage to remember all the required steps: Drop the rudder, drop the keel, pedal out, unfurl the sail, adjust as needed based on the billowing of the tell-tales (bits of string that indicate the movement of the wind across the sail).

The winds are low, so I start pedaling toward the middle of the lake. It’s packed with swimmers, stand-up paddleboarders, kayakers, inner tubers, motorboaters, and even a unique handmade vessel with a broad deck and two hammocks.

It’s overcast, but warm, and the views of Mt. Bachelor are stunning. Eventually, the wind picks up, and I practice catching it with my sail, furling and unfurling, steering slightly to right or left (starboard, port) to achieve optimum wind flow. The instructor said something about zigzagging into the wind (tacking?), and before long I am crisscrossing the lake in broad strokes at a respectable clip. Though I doubt I’m breaking the lake’s 10 mile an hour speed limit, it’s a rush to move through the water so quickly with so little effort.

That I am at the wind’s whim is not lost on me, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” pops into my mind: “Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me.” This line is the antithesis of my approach to life (I prefer to know in advance not only which way the wind blows, but at what speed and temperature). So I take a few deep breaths and give in to the uncertainty, relinquishing control in favor of an improvised dance across the water.

Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe offers its final Hobie Sunday Sailing Clinic of the summer August 24 at Little Fawn Campground, Elk Lake, 2-5 pm, $125. Register online at tumalocreek.com or in the store.