Sitting on a 24-foot Sonar sailboat and feeling the invisible power of the wind as it pushes the craft through Esquimalt Harbour, it’s easy to see why Ryan Kaye and Adam Checketts love sailing.
While the ocean is calm on this sunny Friday afternoon, the boat known as Oi! travels smoothly over the water with its passengers aboard. Across the harbour are Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, with CFB Esquimalt to the left. There are no sounds other than the gentle lapping of the water against the boat.
“It’s a different world and it’s not our usual world,” says Checketts, a Langford resident. “It’s so peaceful. The boat is quiet and you’re not interrupting your scenery, you’re joining with it. From the wind in your sails to being quiet and sliding along the water, you’re part of the environment.”
Both men are members of the Canadian Forces Sailing Association (CFSA) and about 10 minutes earlier exhibited their boating knowledge by working to catch enough wind to carry the boat along: Checketts pulls up the main sail, followed by the jib, while Kaye pulls on the halyards to tighten the lines.
Meanwhile, Checketts’ eight-year-old daughter, Gwynneth, keeps her eyes on the windex – an arrow atop the mast that points in the direction the wind is blowing. Slowly, she moves the tiller and within a couple of minutes, the wind catches the small craft. The boat floats quietly and effortlessly as it sails out of the harbour, its passengers facing the Olympic Mountains.
Kaye, 26, grew up with grandparents who sailed and over the years the sailboat has become a second home. He learned to sail when he was 14 with the CFSA, taking courses for two consecutive summers. The following year he volunteered with the association and the next, returned as an instructor teaching children how to sail and race.
He moved on to sail competitively with much larger boats around Vancouver Island and has sailed in the 14-day VanIsle 360 race, as well as around Seattle and Sidney.
“When you get to the start line, there’s a serious adrenaline rush. You have two, three seconds to make a decision that could cause two boats a lot of time and effort,” Kaye says. “I find that really fun.”
Checketts and Kaye say there’s also a social aspect to sailing, a venue that allows them to hang out with friends for the day. For the most part, the duo agree, sailing is a peaceful and calming experience and something that more Islanders are picking up on.
According to Checketts, the association’s training officer, the number of people enrolled with the CFSA has remained steady over the past few years, with more people taking it on as a life-long passion, instead of taking a course and then dropping it. The same children often return year after year, he adds.
CanSail Optmist learn to sail programs start with Opti Wet Feet (for kids age four to seven) and Opti Basic (six to 11) for beginners. Designed to teach children about safety on the water, hands-on topics include lifejacket use, dealing with capsizing and man overboard drills. From there, young sailors can take more courses at various levels, while individuals over 18 have their own set of CanSail programs.
“Sailing is like learning how to ride a bike. Once you learn how to sail, you can sail anything,” says Checketts, noting there were roughly 98 students signed up for courses in July and August.
“The physics of how a boat moves through the water is the same as any boat … things just get bigger.”
He is quick to note the association’s programs are not just for families of people in the Canadian Forces, but for anyone.
The CFSA was established 67 years ago and has more than 300 members, with berthage for approximately 130 sailboats. For more information, visit cfsaesq.ca. Registration for the CFSA programs is handled through the Pacific Activity Centre, 1001 Maplebank Rd. in Colwood.