Reader Story: Renee’s First Sailing Course

Renee's first sailing courseI’m excited to present Sail Mentor’s first guest submission.  I reached out to Renée on Cruisers Forum after she shared how excited she was about her first sailing course.  I saw that she was a good writer, and I thought the Sail Mentor community would enjoy hearing about her first sailing course from her perspective.

Frankly, I was blown away by what a great job she did.  Enjoy!


Dreams have no limits.

Only in our commitment to fulfill our dreams do we realize our potential.

By Renée Elizabeth Mineart

I can say, with all honesty, that sailing has not been a life long dream of mine. I grew up in Iowa, about 900 miles from the nearest ocean. And if that wasn’t enough to discourage someone from a life as sea, I watched “The Poseiden Adventure” when I was 9. This film instilled in me a deep fear of sinking ships and the dark, cold depths of the ocean. Granted, a fear of sinking is probably a good thing for a skipper to have. Regardless, I was quite happy to be growing up in land-locked Iowa.

That was, however, until I was 14. During the summer of that year my mother and I flew to Portland, Maine to visit family. This is when I saw the ocean for the first time in my life.

I clearly remember that day, standing on the beach and looking out over the blue water that seemed to stretch on forever, while the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach filled my ears.

The beach we were at was very shallow, and I was able to swim out for what seemed like a mile, and still touch bottom. I was utterly amazed at how clearly I could see the sand, even that far out! It was nothing like the dark, cold waters of the lakes I swam in back in Iowa. And so salty too, that was something new.

It was that very same day, my first day standing on the edge of the ocean that I heard it. It came as a small voice, but rang crystal clear over the pounding waves. ‘Come out here, and see what is just beyond my horizon,’ the voice beckoned.

It was a pulling, tugging sensation at my heart. No, that’s not right. More like my very soul. Something in me had to know what was out there; what was just beyond the horizon that I couldn’t see. And when I found that out, what was just beyond that?

But even then, a desire to sail was not embedded into my heart. Just a desire to travel and see the world. So I did what I could from land-locked Iowa; I took flying lessons and got my private pilot’s licence when I was 18. At 21 I joined the military, which ultimately took me across the ocean to England and other places far and wide.

One day, many years later, I found myself standing on the coast of England, looking out over the English channel. And again, that voice rang in my ears, resonating in my heart, ‘Come out here. Come see what is beyond my horizon.’

But surely I had done that! Hadn’t I? So I quietly tucked the voice away and pressed on with life. But the voice was persistent, and I couldn’t visit the coast without hearing it. Before long, I found myself travelling to the coast just so I COULD hear it. I also noticed that my soul was at peace whenever I was at the seaside. All the troubles of this world seemed to melt away to insignificance when standing before the big blue. (Well, in England it is more like the big brown, but you get the idea.)

Slowly, ever so slowly, a desire to learn to sail started to grow. Now reaching the age of 49, I spent the better part of 2014 listening to every audiobook about sailing I could find. I spend a lot of time in my car, and can burn through an audiobook pretty quickly, so that is what I did. From Dame Ellen MacArthur to Lin and Larry Pardey, I listened to them all. This not only fed the seed of sailing that was growing in my heart, but also introduced me to the jargon. I soon knew my halyards from my sheets and my jibs from my mainsails.

I was ready.

Or was I? I had never actually been on a sailboat before. Maybe I should get out there and give it a go. You know, before I do something crazy like sell everything and buy a boat!

So in May, 2015 I did just that. I booked a 1-day taster course with a local sailing school.

I can still remember the anticipation and giddiness I felt as I drove the 45 minutes to the school. I’d woken up hours earlier than I needed to that morning, and couldn’t wait to get on the water.


Being an English summer, it was of course a cold, wet and windy day, despite being May. But that didn’t stop me. I figured that if I were going to see what sailing was like, no better time to do so than in bad weather.

The other crew members were made up by the instructor and an experienced sailor returning to the water after several years away. We sailed down the River Orwell, near Ipswich, and up into the River Stour, powering against the tide with the nose of the boat slapping down hard onto each wave. I was surprised that when we turned the boat around, unfurled the sails and turned off the engine, how completely different the sailing became. Now that we were going with the wind, and more importantly, with the tide, it was like we were sailing on a different day. Everything changed.

The first thing I noticed, and what I love about sailing, is the quiet. You can hear yourself think on a sailboat, and that is priceless. The boat also stopped its violent motion as we were no longer fighting the tide. We put on a pot of tea, dug out some sandwiches and just enjoyed the afternoon sail. Thankfully, the worst of the rain hadn’t reached us (yet).


Of everything we did that day, I have to say it was the last couple of hours that sticks out most vividly in my mind.

We had come down the Stour and were travelling back up the River Orwell, beating into 20 knot winds off our port bow with gusts up to 27 knots. The tide had reached its low point by now, so thankfully we weren’t fighting that as well.

But it had started to rain, interspersed with biting hail. This is England we are talking about, so nothing unusual about the weather (sadly).

I didn’t have gloves, nor did I have sailing boots, a hat, or wet weather trousers. I was wearing jeans and a mostly water proof coat (not a kit I would recommend for sailing in England).

[Editors comment:  Didn’t I tell you “NO JEANS” before you went?  Sigh… nobody ever listens to the no jeans thing. 🙂  ]

Even though there were only three of us on board, I was shouting the correct sailing terms like a pro – ‘ready about’, and ‘lee ho’ with each tack across the wind. After an hour of tacking into this horrific weather, my legs were soaking wet, my hands red raw and nearly frozen to the wheel of the boat, and my cheeks were in absolute, utter agony. Not from the cold or rain mind you, but from not being able to stop smiling.

The others had kindly offered to take the helm and let me go down below to dry off. But I was not ready to relinquish the helm, not just yet. I was having way too much fun.

And that’s the moment the seed within, blossomed into a sailor.

Eventually, though, it was time to turn the boat down wind, and I gave up the helm with the knowledge that I’d be back on the water as soon as I was able.


In fact, it was that very same evening that I selected another school regarding my next sailing adventure.

My plan is to sail with as many different schools and instructors, and on as many different boats as I can while I work my way towards my Yacht Master certificate. Thankfully, there are a number of schools nearby to choose from, and all of them offer some fantastic sailing.

Within a few days I had booked a 5 day Competent Crew course set to sail at the end of September 2015. And as luck would have it, we would be returning to port on my 50th birthday, and what a great day that turned out to be.

More of my writing can be found on my blog page:

And I can be reached at

Author’s note: The photos in this article are from my 2nd sailing adventure, as the few photos I managed to take on this trip did not come out well due to the rain.

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2 thoughts on “Reader Story: Renee’s First Sailing Course

  1. Great article Renee! The way sailing hits the soul is something I’m sure a lot of sailors can empathise with. It’s great that you want to try as many different boats as possible. Non-sailors always seem surprised how different an experience it can be between different classes and different rigs. It’s also worth experiencing different cruising grounds. I sail in the Solent and South West which has very different challenges to the East Coast. Both have their merits and will teach you different skills.

    For me, you can’t beat a classic wooden gaffer. (despite having owned a succession of tupperware yachts!) I love the sense of history in sailing a boat the way they were sailed a century ago and the physical challenge from the absence of winches and clutches always adds an extra dimension!

    Keep the dream alive, Renee.

    1. Stuart, Thank you for your comments.

      I hadn’t thought about what sailing in different local waters would teach me. I suppose I had on a more global scale – North Sea vs. Caribbean waters, sort of thing. But I can see where the Suffolk Coast would be quite different from the South or West coast as well. I’m always happy to come down and crew for you over a weekend next summer, just so you can show me what you mean first hand. 😉

      I am finding I have a greater appreciation for monohulls than I had before spending a week on one. It’s one thing to read all you can find on Mono’s vs. Multi’s, and the virtues of both. I still like the idea of a multi over a mono, but monohulls aren’t that bad. They do have an added perk of being cheaper – which could mean having my own boat and being on the water a year earlier than planned, potentially. And as long as you’re on the water, you’re on the water, as it were. Better than being on the sofa, can’t learn to sail from there.

      Fair winds my friend,

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