How to Sail

My co-instructor for the Coast Guard Auxiliary sailing course that we offer is an engineer. After three years teaching with me I can’t convince him that when he explains how a boat sails like he’s talking to engineering students (even beginning engineering students), the majority of our sailing students just don’t get it. I know because they’ve told me. He definitely knows what he’s talking about and is very enthused about passing on the information, but it’s at too high a level. Oh, someday, like me, it might sink in. For now, however, most are new to sailing and since how a boat sails is taught on the first night, a high-level explanation is just too much information too soon.

I was an English and Philosophy major in college and science doesn’t come easy to me unless presented in a certain way. My brain is wired more for the abstract. John is the science/math type and when he explains something too complicated for me and my eyes glaze he thinks I’m just enraptured with what he’s saying so he plows ahead.

However, thanks to John’s Christmas gifts of a state of the art large-screen, internet-connected TV and Blu-ray player, I, too, know how a boat sails.

We discovered that we can surf Youtube on the Blu-ray player. John searches for footage of rock and heavy metal bands he grew up with. I search for sailing videos. I discovered a science series created by Northern California public television and radio station KQED. One of the episodes is called The Physics of Sailing. It is entertaining, informative and brought my co-instructor’s explanation down to my level.

See, you take a watermelon seed. I guess it has to be a wet seed but the video doesn’t say that. Squeeze the seed between two fingers and the seed shoots out from between your fingers! That’s how a boat sails! Two forces acting against each other and the only direction in which the seed can go is forward (or backward, I guess).

Of course the video has a lot more to it than that, but that’s one of my favorite parts.

Now, when my co-instructor is finished I tell the class about the watermelon seed and give them the link.

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