Langley resident Byron MacDonald has spent much of his life watching the sail boats on Lone Lake, but never knew how to sail himself.
That all changed this past Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve lived near the lake since I was 9, but I’ve hardly had any knowledge on how to sail,” MacDonald said. “But today, people were willing to show me how for free. It’s not like I’ll remember all of it, but I’m thinking I’ll be back to try again this summer.”
MacDonald and his fellow Langley resident, Ryan Toohey, were two of the newcomers to South Whidbey’s sailing scene after they participated in the South Whidbey Yacht Club’s small sailboat season opener this past weekend. The yacht club offered to show newcomers the ropes as part of the season opener, spending the majority of the afternoon teaching how to rig a boat and tune-up for a day on the water, as well as offering actual sailing lessons. The club brought its small sailboat fleet out to the lake shores for the day, giving those without boats the chance to hit the water.
Most of the dedicated sailors on the water Saturday had their own boats, including MacDonald and Toohey. Before the event, they bought El Toros — small dinghies — from the Everett yacht club. The only problem was, they needed a lesson or two on sailing.
That wasn’t a problem for South Whidbey Yacht Club.
“They had no problem helping out and teaching others how to sail,” Toohey said. “They looked out to see if we got in trouble or not. I think they’re just looking for excuses to get out on the water. The more, the merrier.”
South Whidbey Yacht Club Commodore Bob Rodgers echoed similar sentiment to Toohey. The season opener isn’t just the chance to finally get a sizable fleet onto the water, but also a day for the club to meet new faces and show them the ropes. Rodgers and the club encouraged novice sailors to show up, even if the boats they owned had been sitting at home.
“The newcomers are exactly the kind of people we’re looking for,” Rodgers said. “We said to bring out whatever you have, even the boats that have been sitting on the side of your house. They bought two El Toros from Everett, came out first thing this morning and didn’t even know how to moor their boats.”
Of course, the season opener was also a day for longtime club members to shake off the dust after a long, dark and wet winter. To prepare for the season ahead, a group of club members practiced how to set up a race on the race committee boat. Past club commodore Bill Brown led the practice runs, while other club members took note of how to locate the best spot on the water for a race, how to start the race countdown and a reminder of the various flags needed to operate a race.
Those who plan to race this year also took notes from former University of Washington sailor and Clinton resident Zak Malbin, who offered tips on how to improve their speed on both light wind and windy days. Racing tricks such as roll tacking, a way to maintain speed on a tight turn, were discussed, much to the delight of those eager to learn.
Malbin won the 2016 Whidbey Cup Regatta employing similar skills.
For newcomers such as MacDonald and Toohey, though, the biggest draw to the afternoon wasn’t free lessons. For them, it was all about the attitude of club members. To non-sailors, the South Whidbey Yacht Club is more accessible than one might assume.
“I don’t think there are friendlier yacht clubs around,” MacDonald said. “Everyone is just out here to have a good time on the water. It’s not what you think of when you talk about other yacht clubs.”