Going sailing starts with a decision. A decision to learn to sail, to join a crew or to buy a boat–so many choices lead you down the dock. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’re making that decision.
The morning after I agreed to buy into a partnership for Argon, a 1979 San Juan 24, I was hungover and second-guessing myself. The combination made me feel like I had a pit in my stomach.
My reservations weren’t about the boat (70s charmer) or the other owners (amazing humans whom I adore) or even the dollar amount (I split a one-quarter share so really I own one-eighth). It was the idea of being responsible for a second sailboat and all that entails. What I underestimated was how rewarding both boats could be, and in such different ways.
Boat number one is a 1994 Catalina 34 named Capi, which I liveaboard and and use to explore Washington’s amazing waters. I purchased Capi after a year-long search, it was the most terrifying and exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. Capi has certainly kept me busy and there’s always more I could do. So, why would I spontaneously buy into Argon and take on a second sailboat? Mom, I hope you’re reading.
Argon came into our lives when Samantha “Sam” Morin and her partner Charlie Patnoe decided to learn a new skill. The two had spent the summer borrowing his parents’ 14’ dinghy, making trips to Blake Island and loading the inflatable with coolers, dogs, and camping gear. They loved the “skiff life” and soon began the search for their own boat.
Charlie, a Whidbey Island native with liveaboard parents, already knew a thing or two about boats, while Sam was a novice with plenty of enthusiasm. Both hoped to learn more through the Center for Wooden Boats and others in the sailing community.
At the time, Sam thought, “We’re going to be sailors! We’re going to sail on the Sound all the time! We’re going to be so cool!”
After buying Argon in January of 2017, Sam and Charlie were in high spirits when they moved the sailboat from Salmon Bay to Elliott Bay Marina. During the move, which included going through the Ballard Locks for the first time with a crew of five, plus a one-month old baby (something they would not recommend), the new boat owners encountered their first setback. On the approach to their new slip in Elliott Bay Marina, Charlie was at the tiller and, in a moment, docking got complicated. Turning into the slip, the tiller hard over, he heard a “snap!” The wooden tiller had broken at the base, leaving Charlie with a useless 3-foot stick in his hand. The situation could’ve been worse, but they were close enough to the dock to jump on and make it into the slip. All adults and the baby made it safely ashore.
With a broken tiller and soon-to-be out-of-commission engine, Argon stayed in Elliott Bay for about a year without much use. That’s where this story could end, but luckily it doesn’t.
Sam’s skills know few limits: she kayaks, hikes, and scoots around on her Vespa; she cooks amazing vegetarian meals; she shows up with homemade apple butter, hot sauce or bread. A veteran of the beverage industry, she knows her way around beers and wines from all over the world. This list only scratches the surface but illustrates what I’ve learned: If Sam wants to learn how to do something, she will.
Sam, Charlie and I met through Fremont Brewing, where I had a reputation for being loudly enthusiastic about sailing. Already eager to get to know these two better, I was thrilled when they first bought Argon. When I didn’t hear about the boat again for several months, I was bummed but not surprised. Walk down any dock and you’ll see your fair share of “sad” boats.
“We went back and forth a lot of times” Charlie said, who eventually decided that his excitement couldn’t counter the cost. Sam wanted to give it one more try: “I have to learn how to sail!” she said. So, Sam took over full responsibility of Argon on her own.
In March 2018, Sam texted me that Argon was fixed and relocated to Lake Union at one of my favorite marinas on the north side of the lake. Would I trade her tasty dinners for sailing lessons? I love a good meal, but that wasn’t why I quickly agreed.
Learning how to sail isn’t easy and neither is teaching someone how to sail. I struggled when I first became a sailing instructor because I knew how to sail but I didn’t know how to explain it. US Sailing’s Level 1 certification gives you tools for teaching, but becoming a better instructor is an ongoing process. It requires a person to be thoughtful, invested in the student’s success, and prepared with different approaches that can be customized to the student.
Unfortunately, I’ve observed new sailors struggle to learn from more experienced sailors they know socially or meet through the community. It is not from a lack of good intentions, but rather a lack of teaching experience from which you learn to stay calm and be patient; to recognize when someone is listening but not comprehending; to foresee potential problems before they arise; and try to ensure that the overall experience is positive, even if there are some hiccups along the way.
I wanted to teach Sam how to sail because I wanted her to become a confident, happy sailor, and I knew I could help with that. Plus, when she asked me what sources I use to check the wind, her curiosity made me even more excited.
Before our first sail I texted Sam: “Sailing is the best. Please join the cult :)”
She responded, “Where do I sign?!”
I have a number of close friends with a wide range of sailing experience, all of whom share an intense passion for being on the water. We’ve known each other for years, working together, racing together, and empowering one another to keep pursuing that passion. Most of us are former sailing instructors who raced dinghies in college, and are women.
When Sam asked for sailing lessons, I immediately wanted to bring Jeanne Currie along. Jeanne can be both laid-back and a ball of energy. Growing up sailing at Sail Sand Point, she wouldn’t have been called competitive but now, on a casual afternoon sail, she can’t help but fine tune sails or steering, pushing for a new personal speed record.
You can always count on Jeanne to bring fresh veggies to snack on, point out something outrageous you overlooked and, most importantly, to say “yes” when there’s a chance to go sailing. As I’d hoped, Jeanne quickly hopped on board.
That spring, the three of us tried to go out as often as possible. Jeanne and I were thrilled by how easy it was to get out and sail Argon around Lake Union. Even better, Sam was a quick study. Jeanne and I enjoyed decoding a boat we’d never been aboard before, and we all enjoyed the way teaching was interspersed with laughter, booze, and “nerding out” over all things sailing. The momentum built from there.
The first time Sam called me her “sailing sensei” I laughed and blew it off. However, as I introduced her to more of my friends who sail, I saw others helping her in a similar way. In turn, it brought to mind several of the generous people who have guided me on my sailing journey, and deepened my appreciation for her creation of that moniker for me.
A “sailing sensei” is simply a mentor, and can provide crucial experience. Like teaching someone how to sail, being a good mentor is more than just being a good boater. When experienced boaters engage with those new to the water, our sailing community is a better place.
“People with no sailing experience going for it and feeling confident in an environment where there’s somewhat of a safety net,” Charlie said, “that’s very cool to watch.” And that’s the opportunity I first saw with Argon, and still see today.
Trust is essential. It’s easy to give recommendations when you won’t see the outcome. It’s also overwhelming when you have a problem and five recommendations on how to solve it. What has happened with Argon is we brought more sailors into the equation, but none have dominated the dynamic. Part of this can be attributed to our experience as sailing instructors, where we learned to avoid jumping in right away. We explain things when there is clearly confusion, but otherwise try to step back and let the learning process happen.“You’re great at explaining everything and not being condescending about it,” Sam said. “I learn something every time we go out, every single time.” We also have a blast, every single time.
In June 2018, I realized a dream of organizing an overnight sailing trip for women; one full of learning, laughs, food, and wine. I didn’t want it to be only women with sailing experience, either. Soon, it became clear that Sam and Argon should be part of this trip. Aboard two boats, nine women cruised to Poulsbo.
It’s difficult to explain what that weekend felt like then, and what it still means today. The energy, friendships, and lessons from that weekend have carried us farther than we ever anticipated.
There were silly moments we laughed too hard to breathe; serious moments in which we listened and learned about each others’ challenges and fears; and confidence-building moments when we set sail and docked safely. Everyone took immense joy in being together on the water and in a safe space.
One great outcome was that two friends who were newer to sailing, Jasmine Wornstaff and Libby Borchert, got out on the water and eventually both became part of the Argon co-op. Libby always brings great energy and was described to me by Charlie as someone who “lives on mutual stoke.” Jasmine’s stoke and growth has been fun to watch; advancing from appreciation to active participation. She’s ready to race Argon and planning for R2AK. The Argon collective was coming together.
Calla Ward—also a former instructor, liveaboard, and driver for the J/80 Taj Mahal—was jealous about our early spring sails on Argon. She wanted in. It was her idea that the two of us buy in when the opportunity arose. She said it was the easiest decision she made this year.
“If you care about something, if you want to support it, you put some fucking dollars behind it” Calla said. “I didn’t just want to make a cameo as a helper, I wanted to be involved with something that amazing.”
Recently, on a clear evening with a gorgeous Shilshole sunset in the works, we sat on the bow of Calla’s 1977 Islander Freeport 41 as she finished a coat of varnish on the rail. She spends a lot of time on boats, so I wanted to know what was the big deal about sailing on Argon?
“The draw was people being bold,” Calla said. “As someone who knows how to sail, I’ve thought, ‘I would never do this as an adult.’ I would never try and learn, it looks too hard. It’s like skiing.” I did remind Calla that she learned to ski as an adult, so she must know how to be bold too.
In addition to providing comic relief and back up, having Calla onboard helped a lot with teaching the others. “I loved teaching adult sailing at Sail Sand Point and I love teaching adult sailing now,” Calla said, “these just happen to be my best friends.”
Calla insists that I’ve done most the instructing, but both Sam and I disagree. Calla explains the wind clock with our mini-whiteboard and windex, giving tips on steering, and sending informative updates when the outboard (aka S.O.B.) started acting up again.
Altogether, Sam, Calla, Jasmine, Libby, and I have a great dynamic. We’re still learning about Argon, boat handling, and about one another.
Recently, we hauled Argon out of the water, and we kept getting asked, “So who is in charge?”
“No one,” we’d answer, “we’re all partners.”
We’ve had many idyllic days on Argon but like any good adventure, there have been challenges.
“My confidence goes up a 0.5 every single time we go out,” Sam told me, “And then it gets knocked back.”
Sam’s biggest knock back to date? Skying the main halyard, having to be towed in, and falling in between the boat and the dock, all in the same evening. The next day she was back down on Argon, trying to sort it all out and get back on the water. I told you she was meant to be a sailor!
Calla and I still have setbacks too. She said it well: “The least fun moments are the ones that reflect poorly on you. Sailing is the most humbling thing in my life.”
It was humbling when Calla almost t-boned her own liveaboard boat with Argon coming into dock. But for us, all of these humbling moments are lightened by humor. “For a moment, both insurance policies crossed through my mind,” Calla said laughing, “I wonder how that’d play out?”
This is Sam’s second summer on the water and you can tell. It’s fun watching her teach Libby and Jasmine things she’s learned and support their own trial and error. Having them aboard “shows me the things I actually do know and can teach someone else,” Sam said. “It also reinforces the things I don’t know.”
What happens when they ask about something Sam doesn’t know? Her answer sounds a lot like mine: “Great question! We’re going to have to figure that out.”
When you finish reading this article, I want you to remember that mentorship is important; to always keep learning new things; and that what we’re doing feels both important and fun. Part of that importance is derived from the fact that sexism still exists in sailing, and as a crew of all women, our gender has come into play.
“I’m so sick of hearing that it is taboo for a female to be on a boat,” Calla said, “This is what we were made to do.”
Even on Argon’s dock, we’ve heard, “All women going out? That’s bad luck.” On the water there have been cat calls and when we walk into a marine business, there’s a 50/50 chance we’ll be talked down to.
“Giving women space to learn and create is very important but it’s so much more than that. It’s not just respecting them and giving them room” Calla continued. “It’s letting them sail without knowing their gender.”
We fly the rainbow pride flag on Argon because, as a crew, we support our friends and strangers in the LGBTQ community. How many times has someone cheered us on when they see that flag on the water? Only two. Biases are alive and well in this community but changes are coming, especially when it comes to women in boating.
“Race to Alaska’s Sail Like a Girl team bumped it up a notch,” Calla said sitting on the bow of her boat, reflecting on these changes between coats of varnish, “I’ve seen more women at the helm the past two summers than ever before. And not just at the helm. I’ve seen more female crew on the race course and females buying boats here at the marina and living on them by themselves. I’ve seen way more women on the water than ever. But I want to see more.”
The good news is that the vast majority of the responses to our partnership are enthusiastically supportive, if sometimes surprised. “I tell people I live on a boat all the time,” Calla said, “but when you tell them you own a boat with five women and some of them don’t know how to sail and some of them do and you’re all growing together, people are like, ‘Shit! That’s cool!”
Ultimately, the story of Argon is about a cool approach to getting new sailors out on the water. I think it can be replicated and should be encouraged, making the sailing community stronger and more diverse.
Going sailing starts with a decision. I decided I wanted to live on a boat, explore the Pacific Northwest by boat and to be part of the Argon crew. My next goal is to get Argon ready for racing and I’m excited for the efficiency we’ll develop along the way. Collectively, the Argon crew is looking ahead.
“I just want to become a really good sailor and become better each time I got out,” Sam said.
Jasmine and Libby feel the racing itch and want to become better at knots and docking. Maybe my goal of a San Juan 24 race night before the end of summer will come true!
I happily think back to the first days on Argon, early in the season with wind and an empty Lake Union. How far we’ve all come, and the stoke meter is still in the red.
“I was jealous and I wanted in,” Calla said. “Even after hauling out and patching sixty blisters on the rudder. I still want in.”
For me, Argon compliments Capi. I enjoy both lake and sound, I am inspired and humbled by both. We’re all still learning together and empowering each other, and figuring it out is the best part. Mainly, I’m profoundly happy to share that with my best friends.
On the bow as the sun set over Shilshole, I asked Sam, “What do you think, should someone who doesn’t know how to sail buy a sailboat?” Sam said, “With friends, yes.”
Name: Samantha Morin
Years sailing: 2
Next sailing goal: Fly the spinnaker on Argon! As well as solo docking.
Being on the water makes me feel: Rejuvenated. Being on the water and messing around with the sails is very meditative. Also, every time I go out I learn something new (about the boat, sailing, or how to fix a problem).
Advice for a new sailor: It’s not as scary as it seems.
Name: Jasmine Wornstaff
Years sailing: <1
Next sailing goal: I really would like to start racing more. *cough cough* San Juan Nationals 2020 lol!
Being on the water makes me feel: Like I can conquer any fear/challenge.
Advice for a new sailor: Don’t be afraid to try anything and to sail as much as you can.
Name: Libby Borchert
Years sailing: <1
Next sailing goal: My next sailing goal is to expand my knot skills and to race Argon!
Being on the water makes me feel: If there is a heaven this must be what it’s like all the time. Pure joy.
Advice for a new sailor: With good friends, a bit of knowledge, and a willingness to fail a lot… anything is possible.
Name: Cara Kuhlman
Years sailing: 19
Next sailing goal: Getting Argon out for a race with the San Juan 24 fleet! And continuing my cruising education aboard Capi.
Being on the water makes me feel: Liberated, challenged, and unbelievably happy.
Advice for a new sailor: Put in the time to get comfortable and have an amazing sailing day that inspires you to keep coming back. Remember you’ll always be learning and that’s the best part.
Name: Calla Ward
Years sailing: 13
Next sailing goal: Something lofty. A very large regatta or offshore race.
Being on the water makes me feel: Confident.
Advice for a new sailor: Get yourself in the door just like you would at your first job. Ask for the tiller. Find your people that make you most inspired and most comfortable and then you just fucking send it.