Sitting on beach towels, sharing lounge chairs, and squatting in the sand, a dozen new sailors, from ages 15 to 60-plus, paid close attention as a young, suntanned Englishman delivered the basics of dinghy sailing. Nearby, a couple was being outfitted with trapeze harnesses before taking a 16-foot catamaran out into the 15-knot breeze. Other experienced sailors donned life jackets and headed out aboard Lasers, two- and three-person sailboats, catamarans, and other watercraft. A few windsurfers streaked toward the horizon like determined dragonflies. On the beach, one of the kids' camps fluttered by, snorkels and masks dangling and bare feet making tracks in the white sand.
After each of us rehearsed dry-land tacking, the instructor and I climbed onboard a bright-yellow Pico and sailed out of the harbor. I felt the small craft accelerate, or stall when I'd done something it didn't like. I found myself talking to the boat like a person. Then, the instructor asked me if I was ready to practice righting the boat. "You mean flipping it over?" I asked. "On purpose?" In a second, he had the boat tipped over on its side and we both plunked into the warm Caribbean water. A security boat headed over and the captain watched from a few boat-lengths away as we got the boat back on her feet.
"Take the mainsheet in your hand so she doesn't get away from you, and swim around to the other side," the instructor said. Once there, I pulled myself up onto the daggerboard protruding from the bottom and used my weight to right the small craft. I was officially sailing.
By the next day, I felt comfortable enough to say goodbye to the Pico and move onto its sleeker and more responsive older cousin, the Laser, which is used in Olympic competition (but not by me anytime soon).