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Sail away


Break out the Sperry Top-Siders! Local classes teach Oklahomans how to tack and jibe. (Those are sailing terms, landlubbers.)

Jenny Coon Peterson May 18th, 2011

The wind snapping at the sails, the prow sluicing the waves and Hefner Parkway just over there.

Bill Bond said people are still surprised to learn Oklahoma has sailing opportunities, and the best one is right in the metro’s backyard. Yup, no ocean needed to get your sea legs — just head to Lake Hefner.

“Lake Hefner, believe it or not, is probably one of the top 10 sailing lakes in the nation,” said Bond, who has headed up the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City’s sailing program for a dozen years. “When it’s got water in it, it’s fabulous.”

And that’s not the only Oklahoma lake in which to set sail. Bond also said Lake Texoma, Grand Lake and Lake Keystone are other options.

Karen Thurston, with Thunderbird Sailing Club, would add Lake Thunderbird to that list. She helped build and helps run the nonprofit club’s boathouse on the lake, where she also leads classes.

Both Thurston and Bond learned to sail on the Great Lakes, but they’ve brought their expertise to Oklahoma, where they are teaching water-lovers in this landlocked state to be sailors.

Set sail

The YMCA has offered classes for about the last 12 years, and Bond said it’s the only inland Y in the nation to do so.

Beginners’ classes start on dry land, but “it’s 95-percent practical on the water,” he said. “It’s all hands-on.”

After learning the unique nomenclature of sailing, new students try their hands at knots, then learn how to steer the boat, tack (moving the boat upwind) and jibe (turning the stern of the boat into the wind). See what we mean about nomenclature?

Classes for adults run one night a week for five weeks on Lake Hefner, but weekday classes run for one week and are open to ages 8 and up. Classes run throughout the summer and start as early as next week.

Bond said students don’t need to be members of the Y to sign up. In fact, “95 percent of the people that take lessons from us are not members,” he said.

Students learn to sail on 14-foot boats, which he said prepares them to handle the larger boats.

“Plus,” he said of the smaller boats, “they’re a lot faster; they’re a lot more fun. It’s the difference between flying a fighter plane and a commercial jet.”

After completing the course, students get certified through US Sailing on a boat up to 22 feet.

“In this part of the country, that’s really all you want,” Bond said of the larger boats, many of which have a cabin onboard.

In Norman, Thurston said the Thunderbird Sailing Club teaches adults and also runs a summer kids’ camp for 9- to 13-year-olds.

“We start them out rowing, paddling canoes and kayaks, getting them to understand turning a boat,” she said. “Then we slowly teach them how to rig the boat, how to get on the water. Then, we let them go by the end of the second day, usually, and they’re sailing by themselves.”

The kids stick to small boats called “prams”: “They look like tiny little bathtubs with sails,” Thurston said. “They’re pretty stable, and they don’t go very fast.”

For adults, students learn on small, two-to-four-person boats like sloops, but there are students who want to learn on the larger, 20-to-30foot keelboats.

“Most people don’t need to be certified beyond the keelboat to accomplish what they want to do,” she said.

To be certified by US Sailing, students have to pass both a written and on-the-water practical exam.

Sailor for a day

What if you’re not ready to be captain? Maybe cabin boy is more your speed? Thurston said the Thunderbird Sailing Club offers a day of sailing as a family option.

Families get their sea legs with a morning of canoeing and kayaking before getting onto the sailboat.

They sail for about four hours with an experienced sailor.

“We’ll … teach them how to steer and how to trim sails and the basics of sailing and just introduce them to something they probably haven’t done before,” she said.

The boats hold four people (sailor included), so this isn’t for Duggar-sized clans, but Thurston said families can take it in turn, while the others play on the beach.

She’s had a lot of people act surprised when she talks about sailing in Oklahoma, but said it’s not just for the coasts and Great Lakes, but for anyone who’s curious and loves the water.

Bond agreed that anyone can learn to sail. And the 300-400 people he teaches per summer through the YMCA program attest to that. But he warns that sailing isn’t like other sports.

“Sailboats will only go where the wind will let it,” he said. “You’ve got people who think you can just put your foot down and go like you do in a motorboat. So, they’ve got to learn patience and they have to learn how to solve the puzzle of the wind.”

 
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