February 11, 2016   Joe Cline

The Ski Film Guru Recounts  His Electrifying First Sail

by Warren Miller


This article was originally published January 2004

With fear in my heart and butterflies in my stomach, I watched the marina hoist operator lower my brand new Pacific Catamaran into the Redondo Beach Marina. I had sailed on it for only one hour with the salesman a month before and my knowledge of sailing was limited to, “the pointy end goes in the front.”
It was 1962 and would be a few years before Hobie built his first catamaran and a sailboat with two hulls was a real novelty. Once my new catamaran was in the water I pulled it over to a float and with instruction booklet in hand, I managed to raise the mast, rig the forestay, and hoist the sails.
The afternoon sea breeze was blowing the boat right up against the float, but I had no idea that would be a problem. Since there were two hoists and I was rigging my boat in between them, I was dumb enough to feel safe.
Once I got the mast and sail up, I was ready to go sailing. I hollered at my wife to haul in the jib, I hauled in the main and terrified, we started moving through the water. I didn’t know that you couldn’t sail into the wind and so at 8 m.p.h. we slammed into one of the hoists.
As the boat stopped instantly, my wife was thrown forward against the mast. The forestay was now resting against the hoist so the wind swung the stern of the catamaran around and put a big, long, black, greasy mark across my brand new jib. I didn’t know it, but the sails were filling on the other side and suddenly we were accelerating like a rocket in the other direction.
I tried to avoid the other hoist by instinctively steering upwind around it, but the mainsail caught on the metal hoist and ripped a two-foot long rust and oil soaked gash in it.
I finally managed to get the mast, sail, boat, and the two of us out from between the two hoists and while screaming at my wife, “Do something, anything!” we were off on our first sailboat adventure. There is, as you know, an unwritten law of the sea – “Men have the obligation to scream at their wives.”
I had never sailed a boat of any kind before, except for my one-hour sales-demo ride. I didn’t know a mainsheet from a centerboard, a rudder from a jib or port from starboard.
My wife was now screaming at me, “Watch out for the rocks!” My instinct for self-preservation made me turn the catamaran into the wind instead of downwind where it would have accelerated even more and slammed into the breakwater.
Once again the sails filled and we were off down the harbor on a broad reach at about 10 knots in a five knot zone. I hadn’t yet learned that you control the speed of a sailboat by letting out the mainsheet, so instead we just went faster and faster. After our near crash on the breakwater at the other end of the marina, I had learned enough to steer up into the wind to slow down. As we headed up, we sailed into the lee of the breakwater, went into irons and started drifting backwards with my wife again screaming at me,”Do something!”
catamaranI hollered back “Stop screaming at me and you do something!”
“What am I supposed to do?!”
“Get over on the other side of the boat in case we start going back the other way.” This seemed like the logical thing for her to try to do at the time.
On the fifth speedy trip up and down the marina on a broad reach, I finally figured out to let out the mainsail to slow the boat down.
By the ninth trip my wife actually let out the jib as we started to head up through the eye of the wind. However by now, her blisters were starting to be just one more thing on a rapidly growing list of things for her to bitch about. Her long bitch list included me at the top of it.
We now had experienced about an hour and a half of sailing together. I didn’t have any knowledge yet of wind velocity and its relationship to boat speed. The afternoon sea-breeze had been filling in and was now blowing about 15 knots and I was getting a real adrenaline rush as I started to learn just how fast my fear factor would let this catamaran go.
On the 29th broad reach across the marina, a gust hit us and raised the windward hull about three feet out of the water. This really terrified her and as I let out the main, the hull slammed back down and as it did, I fell out of the back of the boat. I managed to hang onto the mainsheet, which quickly pulled the mainsail back in and made the boat keep accelerating. While I was being towed through the water at near waterskiing speed, the boat miraculously headed up into the wind.
As it slowed down and came to a stop, my now potential ex-wife hollered at me, “I’ll never get on this stupid boat again!” With that, she dove off and began swimming ashore.
When I managed to get my brand new catamaran with the ripped sail back to the hoist, I discovered that my wife had walked back there, gotten the car key out of the hide-a-key that was tucked under the rear bumper and driven home.
As I walked home alone in the gathering darkness I had already learned my first sailing lesson.
“The family that sails together, bitches at each other.”
Within a year I learned my second sailing lesson.
“A boat is the perfect mistress. It takes all of your money, it doesn’t love you and will perform for anyone with their hand on the tiller.”