Learn to sail the Thai waves with Phil Chen. Sea life, capsized boats and awe-inspiring instructors are just some of the thrills that await you.
At first it felt a little like space travel turned upside down. A universe flying by below me – Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, twinkling stars – though, of course, these are not stars or planets but rather colorful jellyfish gliding past my boat.
I am in Thailand, near an incredibly long beach, with no tourists in sight, learning to sail at the Hua-Hin Sailing Club between Hua-Hin and Cha-Am. Having arrived the day before via a night flight shuttle from Qingdao and a direct connecting bus to Cha-Am/Hua-Hin, my transition from mere traveller to aquanaut was made complete during a scooter ride from the bus station to the sailing club.
Here, I was met by Richard, the owner, who made it clear from the beginning that we wouldn‘t do too much talking, only sailing. “You really only learn it, by doing it and lots of it”, he said. He kept his word and my dreamy astral first impression quickly turned into a hands-on learning experience on the no-nonsense ocean.
Every day, following a short explanation, the boat was rigged and my fellow students and I were thrown onto the sea, each with their own Thai instructor. We learned tackling: sailing against the wind in order to reach an upwind destination and make upwind turns. The boat then turns around the marker and one sails downwind, with the wind pushing strongly from behind. We we told to try and stay relaxed on a downwind course and especially when turning from one downwind course to the other, (called gybing) because you don‘t want to be hit by the sail. These, and other exercises, including recovering a capsized boat, were repeated a dozen times.
Then, after learning the mere basics, I was suddenly alone on a boat in the middle of the ocean for the very first time. Well, not entirely alone. Luckily, I had Eva Gil Tatay near me. Eva has been sailing since she is eight years old and was a competitor in five sailing world championships. She keep a vivid eye trained on my sailing from the distance of a powerboat and shouted corrections whenever I mishandled the boat. Sometimes she‘d climb into the boat with me and take over the sailing to demonstrate improvements. She appeared to perform a kind of ballet with the boat, seemingly listening to a rhythm I couldn’t hear yet.
Being alone on a boat means a lot of reflection about what you‘re doing. Finding things out for yourself, how to move, where to keep which rope in the boat. And it means capsizing a lot, finding yourself in the water next to your boat lying sideways. You quickly learn to try to avoid the jellyfish, grab the side of the floating boat, pull it towards you with your weight and attempt to climb back on board.
After five days we began to do races, which proved to be the perfect training for beginners: Try to get to the start line. Try to stay at the start line. Try not to hit any of your fellow beginners. Try not to drift away from the start line. Try not to cross it before Eva tells you to. Try to get some speed before the start, then try to find a good course against the wind. Try to find a good wind not disturbed by other boats and or buildings. Try not to hit the others while doing so.
If it sounds like a lot to remember, that’s because it is. Interestingly enough, this complete overload has the desired effect of not allowing you to think too much. This, in turn, forces your body to find the most effective way of doing the things you need to do in a coordinated way. However, should your body not manage to learn this on its own, Eva is there to talk you into it during the debriefing.
Finally, after ten days of struggle and learning, you realize that you have improved and the moment this realisation hits, you embark on a new beginning. You begin to feel the boat, even play with it a little. You begin to lean down into the water when the wind pushes your sail and relax when you capsize. Slowly, you begin to feel at home in the universe of sailing.
When you decide, you want to give it a go, it‘s actually easy to do so: grab a flight to Bangkok, get into the bus to Hua-Hin directly from the airport (it‘s about 70 rmb). Go see Richard. The head of the sailing club promises a full day of sailing and lunch for 1000 thb (about 200 rmb) for anyone who drops the REDSTAR name. Alternatively, the Hua-Hin Sailing Club’s Facebook page offers the regular price list.