A cruise on the bay is accessible even to couch potatoes
First published in the
Glendale News-Press, Sports section
August 4, 1999 Not available online. Click logo
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THE Glendale area may not have any beach-front property, but it certainly is close enough to the Pacific Ocean for us to take advantage of the many athletic challenges she affords.
Arguably, the sport demanding the most physical and mental performance simultaneously is sailing. Fortunately for many of us, the technology of handling a sailboat especially in the idyllic conditions found more than 300 days a year in Santa Monica Bay – has advanced so far the physical demands have been reduced to the level that even a couch potato could master.
As an infrequent exerciser and aging baby-boomer, I can attest to that. The combination of physical skill and mental acuity required to successfully and safely skipper a 36-foot, luxury yacht on a day-sail from Marina del Rey to, say, Malibu, is unrivaled for the relaxation, satisfaction and sheer hedonistic pleasure it provides.
IT’S been more than a quarter-century since I first learned the meaning of “sea-legs” where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean near the southern tip of Africa. My city editor at The Cape Times, Wessel de Kock, assigned his cub reporter – me – to spend seven days aboard a 60-foot schooner operated by the Simonstown Naval Academy. Tough assignment, eh?
Warren takes the helm on Santa Monica Bay in 1999 with Venice Beach in the background as two crew members anxiously scan the seas for approaching craft.
It was a sailing class for novices; at least 10 of us were aboard. I was a student, just like the rest. We sailed around the Cape of Good Hope – also known as the Cape of Storms – reputedly the second worst passage in the world after Cape Horn. Alas, much of the time was spent becalmed, the irksome diesel engine providing the little forward motion we could attain. The difference between the others and me was that, after we were done, I wrote a series of features detailing the experience for Cape Town’s only morning newspaper.
After a couple of years on the sailing team at San Diego State in the ‘70s, it took until 1997 for me to rediscover the delights of the sport during a luxurious charter on a 47-foot Beneteau in the Virgin Islands. Afterward, I made a commitment to myself: The next time I charter in the Caribbean, I will be formally qualified to skipper the yacht.
LESS than two years later, I’m well on the way to that goal. After some online research during the dark, damp days of winter, it was not difficult to find the American Sailing Assn., headquartered in Marina del Rey, and the classes it offers leading to certification as a skipper. ASA accreditation is accepted globally; it’s the definitive passport to sailboat chartering anywhere.
“The American Sailing Assn. sets standards for sailing schools, instructors and students. Since 1983, more than 150,000 sailors have been certified to ASA standards,” says the ASA web site at www.american-sailing.com. The ASA has adopted a seven-stage progressive certification process called the Keelboat Sailing Certification Program for anyone wanting to learn to sail – or for an experienced sailor to obtain documentation of his or her skills. Since I had some albeit long-unused sailing experience and accumulated knowledge, I considered myself not-incorrectly in the second category.
For the Basic Sailing certification, ASA 101, one must demonstrate the ability to sail a yacht about 20 feet long in light to moderate winds and sea conditions in familiar waters without supervision. This is described as “a preparatory standard with no auxiliary power or navigation skills required.”
Next is Basic Coastal Cruising. For ASA 103, one must be able to “cruise safely in local and regional waters as both skipper and crew on an auxiliary powered sailboat of about 20 to 30 feet in length, in moderate winds and sea conditions.”
I reviewed the requirements for both levels and decided they’d be easily attainable. Through the California Sailing Academy I challenged the classes, passed the written and on-the-water tests, and became certified in June. However, as the official ASA log book cautions: “Sailing is a performance-oriented activity. Each certification level should be augmented with at least 25 to 50 hours of practice.”
THROUGH the facilities of Suzanne Raffetto and her husband, Chris, proprietors of Seamist Skippers of Marina del Rey, I have spent the past month following this advice.
Suzanne Raffetto, 55, hasn’t lost a whit of her deliciously thick French accent since she emigrated from Nantes in northwestern France 30 years ago. She even politely declines to give her last name over the phone, despairing of the time and effort it would take to make herself understood. “This is the first job in my life where I don’t have to dress up,” she says of her work for Seamist Skippers. ‘I can look like I’m on vacation year- round.”
The Raffettos bought their first yacht, a 34-foot San Juan named Seamist, in 1980. It’s still in the charter fleet. I skippered her July 25 and it was a treat. With her 165% Genoa – an oversized jib that’s more than 1 1/2 times bigger than the mainsail – providing a power boost, we got her moving through the water at almost 9 knots off the Santa Monica Pier in the late afternoon.
Suzanne’s enthusiasm is infectious. “The clientele we have is always happy to go sailing,” she says. “Everybody who sails is fascinating. They are all unique, self-reliant individuals. They have a taste for adventure, and some of our clients have become good friends.”
Seamist Skippers now has eight yachts in its fleet. A ninth, a new Catalina 38, will be added in August. It also offers ASA classes up to the Bareboat Sailing certification level. This is the fourth level – the one I will challenge before the end of summer – described as “an advanced cruising standard for individuals with cruising experience. The individual can act as skipper or crew of a 30- to 50-foot boat sailing by day in coastal waters. The standard includes knowledge of boat systems and maintenance procedures.”
OF course, you don’t have to be limited in your search for that perfect sunset over the eastern Pacific with the skyline of Los Angeles, Santa Monica or the million-dollar homes of Malibu as your backdrop. Between Santa Barbara and Dana Point in southern Orange County, there are nine harbors each with a different ambiance and easily reachable exotic destinations. Marina del Rey is the closest to the Glendale, La Crescenta and Burbank communities, but Redondo Beach and Long Beach are not much farther, and Newport Beach and Ventura are certainly close enough to explore.
Suzanne didn’t have to persuade me much in mid-June to make my reservations early. A couple of weeks ago, it was such terrific weather I called her on a Friday evening to see if she had had any last-minute cancellations.
“No way! I could have rented 40 yachts this weekend,” she laughed. So, Sunday I’m skippering one of Seamist’s flagships, No Ka Oi (pronounced “no-kah-wee” like the French), a luxurious Cal 36, on a cruise to Abalone Cove, off Palos Verdes Peninsula. A few weeks later I’ll take her on a three-day cruise to Anacapa Island and then on to Santa Catalina.
At the time this was written Warren Swil was the News-Press’ Opinion Editor. He was completing the work for his Level 104 certification in Basic Coastal Cruising from the American Sailing Association. The rest is history.