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LEARNING CAN BE FUN

"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.'" - Kenneth Grahame, Wind in the Willows.

With a safe boat, hands-on training and a favorable breeze, anyone can go sailing on the warm coastal water around Tampa Bay. And inexpensive community sailing programs throughout the bay area can help novice sailors young and old.

K Bradley of Palm Harbor has spent much of his 55 years immersed in the local sailing scene, as a competitor and an instructor at the Clearwater Community Sailing Center on Sand Key.

"Anyone who wants to learn can learn to sail. We have 8-year-old kids in the program, and we've had adults up to 80,"' Bradley said. "Sailing takes someone who is willing to expend some energy both on the muscle end and on the brain end.'"

The Clearwater program, like most sailing schools in the area, begins with classroom work but quickly moves into small one-person boats for hands-on lessons.

"The little ones, the kids, are absolutely unafraid," Bradley said. "They're looking to participate in a sport that lets them excel on their own. And the adults want something that's relaxing ... away from the pace of the life we lead nowadays."

Bradley, a certified U.S. Sailing instructor, said the only prerequisite for a safe sailing experience is the ability to swim.

"They don't have to be fast swimmers, but they must be comfortable in the water,"' he said.

Part of the learning experience includes intentionally capsizing and righting a boat.

For the beginner, sailing terminology may seem like a foreign language. There are sheets that have nothing to do with beds, the boom is not a sound effect, and "left'" and "right'" don't work well on the water.

"I start by using the proper terms, port and starboard, instead of left and right,"' Bradley said. "But I can tell by looking at the students if they understand. If not, I'll go back and explain them and constantly use the terms. There is only one rope on a boat, the bolt rope (part of the sail) ... all the rest are lines.

"The sheets control the sails, and a halyard always is the line that raises and lowers the sails. It helps to know that the mast is what holds everything up and the boom is what you have to look out for."

Bradley said part of the joy of sailing for newcomers is the sharp learning curve.

"The first time they go out, with a little preparation, they're sailing back and forth. ... They can actually do it," he said. "Then they learn about tacking, which is turning the bow of the boat through the wind. Gybing is turning the stern (back) of the boat through the wind.'"

Bradley emphasized that sailing is a lifelong activity and that his teaching is "not only getting the kids ready to go to sea, but also letting the sea get these kids ready for life.'"

Sailing classes are not limited to the able-bodied. Sailing Alternatives Inc. (SALT), a Sarasota-based teaching program that operates out of the St. Petersburg Sailing Center on Demens Landing, has year-round programs for disabled sailors. It also serves able-bodied adult sailors and area medical clinics that prescribe sailing for physical therapy and rehabilitation.

SALT president Serge Jorgensen said, "We teach both able-bodied and disabled sailors in the same classes in non-tippy boats.'"

The SALT program also helps American and Canadian disabled sailors fine-tune their racing skills in a Paralympic coaching program headed by Gene Hinkel of St. Petersburg.

The St. Petersburg Sailing Center also offers youth sailing programs with racing clinics during the school year and novice youth sailing classes throughout the summer.

Commercial sailing schools offer individual and group lessons and can be found under Sailing Instruction in the Yellow Pages. Land-based classes are offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron. Call (800) 336-BOAT for a schedule of classes.

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