Saddleback sails offshore in cooperative agreements

Saddleback Catalina dinghies sail into warmer weather at Baby Beach in Dana Point. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

Saddleback Catalina dinghies sail into warmer weather at Baby Beach in Dana Point. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

Students overcome challenging weather conditions in offshore sailing course


Saddleback College students set sail in Dana Point Harbor for sailing lab and ocean-view classroom field studies. Students have opportunities to explore the rigors of sailing and the unpredictability of the ocean.

The beginning course of  Sailing Seamanship and Safety uses fleets of Catalina Capri 14-foot boats docked at Westwind Sailing in Dana Point. John Keith founded Saddleback Marine Science and Technology in the late 1980s and partnered with Orange County. The program provided the boats for the classes’ use and public access in a cooperative agreement in 1987.

Since then, Saddleback bought a new fleet of sailboats from University of California, Irvine and maintains them at the community center of Westwind Sailing. These small boats, known as dinghies, are ballasted by human weight, possess one-mast and employ 2 sails. These sails wave the red and yellow spirit colors of the college.

The course design encompasses a building block format whereby students build upon the knowledge they learn in each previous week. Students receive water time on the first day in the harbor and eventually progress onto the open ocean.

Diane Wenzal, the executive director of Westwind Sailing and a member of the associate faculty, teaches theory in class and on the boat at the dock. The MST 212 course does not require prior boating experience, according to Wenzal.

Students examine the anatomy of the boats, develop an understanding of weather elements and practice land drills. The smaller boats have sensitive movements with a response from a slight shift of the tiller or trim of the sails. The instructors conveyed that the crew will rotate in performing all duties to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Former student Marty Stoland of the adaptive kinesiology course in sailing, continues to sail every Friday with Westwind Sailing in Dana Point. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

Former student Marty Stoland of the adaptive kinesiology course in sailing, continues to sail every Friday with Westwind Sailing in Dana Point. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

“The course I found to be the whole gamut of individuals from 16 to 80 years of age,” said Wenzal, Saddleback’s associate faculty. “I have asked students why they took the course, some have said they want to sail around the world or bought a boat and need to learn how to sail. Others in their sixties said they had sailed as children and a chunk of people who want these certifications to pursue a vocational field that requires boating in marine sciences and environment.”

In MST 214B, the Advanced Cruising Under Sail course, students voyage on three-day offshore expeditions to both Catalina and the Santa Barbara Islands. The first-year students begin as crew members on the cruisers to establish their abilities, whereas in the second year, options for student skipper opportunities arise to learn and serve as captain of the crew on each journey.

The Aventura Sailing Association provides a fleet of boats between 33 to 38-feet for use in the course. These boats differ from the Capri in that they have a fixed keel in lieu of a centerboard that can be raised for docking as well as an inboard diesel engine for secondary propulsion.

“When students first go out at sea with a class, they are not sure what to expect and may even be fearful of setting sail as they leave the land behind,” said Mark Howe, instructor of Advanced Cruising. “Very quickly, they learn confidence in their vessel and their crewmates. The teamwork aboard a sailboat is like no other.”

During this semester Howe indicated that delegating through stormy weather conditions posed the greatest challenge for students. Although each boat will have an experienced person on board for oversight, most of the tasks will be managed by students.

The crew adapted to learning a larger boat on the three-day excursions while performing man overboard recovery, reefing and unreefing the sails, reducing the area of the sail and in practice drills for rough weather.

“While standing water under way you develop a sense of being able to depend on your watchmate and a realization of how crucial that dependability is when the weather is challenging or something goes wrong,” said Howe. “Many of these skills will transfer to other situations for the rest of their lives.”

During the sailing excursion home from Catalina Island, the class faced stormy weather fronts with 30 knots of wind and nine foot swells aboard the 38-foot Dufour named “Fox Sea.” When supervising their crew, student skippers must work in constant communication with them in order to run the boat efficiently and safely on the water.

“I used to be nervous when the boats would heel, this happens when the boat leans under the influence of the winds on sails”, said Casey Schaul, student of advanced sailing. “However, after coming back under student skipper Joe Hoffman and instructor Rick Dahlin, I understood what needed to be done and was completely comfortable in my skills. The venture home was exhilarating and thus far, my greatest memory this semester.”

Schaul has sailed for roughly three years and previously crewed on sailboats to destinations such as the white sandy beaches of Ibiza to the jungles of Costa Rica. With her sturdy sea legs, Schaul ventured to Saddleback in 2017 to complete the Seamanship Certification. The knowledge she gained prepared her for a seamless transition for future courses and to efficiently to receive certifications from the American Sailing Association, according to Schaul.

On a recent trip to Tahiti, Schaul found herself in a similar situation to Catalina, in sailing through a scowl on the South Pacific waters. Maintaining her hands-on skills and theoretical studies from Saddleback, she works toward her goal of becoming a confident sailor on her own. After this program and other ASA certifications, Schaul works toward owning a sailboat, further sailing and chartering it internationally.

Upon completion of a Seamanship Certification from Saddleback, many graduates continue on to receive their Captain’s license. Saddleback offers a course specifically for preparation for Coast Guard licensing as their program requires a specific examination and verification for sea time. A Seafarer vocation can be an applied skill to overlap in other fields or work part-time as means of support.

The cooperative agreement of the Capris also partners with the Adaptive Kinesiology program wherein students with disabilities may participate in an introductory outdoor activities, including sailing in order to learn basic skills and safety.

“Sailing can be a very intense mental sport, from jockeying for position to start, understanding the weather and combining the elements together in getting to point A to point B”, said Wenzal. “My students may go back to work in a cubicle or back to class and reflect about sailing in the open ocean. It’s an adaptable sport for all and empowering people becoming stronger individuals from it.”

Westwind sailing will be hosting “Aqua Fest” on May 13, with the objective of raising awareness for ocean safety and wearing precautionary life jackets. The festival gives persons the opportunity to explore the ocean with free outdoor water sports including sailing, paddle-boarding and kayaking.