Sailing the High Seas: USC’s Nautical Sciences Program

Alex-2016 Alex, Uncategorized Leave a Comment

This past weekend, I grabbed my sunblock, a change of clothes, and my sea legs, and I went down to the docks at San Pedro, a port city about 30 minutes south of USC. For the next two days, I was going to be a sailor!

Now, how did I become a sailor? USC does not offer Pirating 101, but the school does offer nautical sciences, or Naut 001a! To give my schedule some variety, I enrolled in nautical sciences with hopes of learning how to sail. When I was younger, I had gone sailing several times with my father, an avid sailor, on Lake Champlain in upstate New York but had never learned enough sailing to be much help in raising, lowering, or adjusting the sails. When I signed up for the course, I hoped to change that and become my dad’s sailing first mate.

Prior to the voyage, Captain Lars, a professional captain with experience both in the Navy and charter companies, taught my classmates and me sailing technique, rules of the road, and general knowledge in five three-hour classroom sessions. These sessions prepared us for the sailing voyage itself, reminding me which boats have the right away in crossing situations (sail boats typically have right away over powerboats) and what the jib and main sail looked like (the jib is the smaller, triangular sail in the front of the boat). Without this basic knowledge, I would not have even made it out of the dock at San Pedro!

After learning the necessary material in the classroom, the sailing voyage brought all our new knowledge together. Right as my classmate motored the 30-foot, fiberglass vessel out of the slip, I was down below, testing my navigational skills by plotting a course to Catalina using GPS and charts of San Pedro, Catalina, and the Catalina Channel. With an accurate bearing determined, our five-man crew turned the boat into the wind, raising the main sail first and then the jib. As the sails reached their final resting place, my classmate took the helm, steering the boat along our bearing and out of the breakwater, into the open ocean.

Unfortunately, poor weather prevented us from sailing all the way to Catalina Island. Ten to twelve foot swells were being reported in the coves around the island, which would have made for an uncomfortable night and a difficult mooring. But our crew made the most of the new situation and decided to sail halfway to Catalina to practice our sailing skills (and to have a great time). With a rough wind coming from the direction of the island, the trip was slow going but a blast. The vessel was often heeled over at a 45 degree angle, putting our leeward (non-weather) side almost into the water. Four to five foot swells crashed over the bow, getting all of us wet with sea spray. Steering the vessel itself was a challenging but fun competition between keeping our bearing and battling the waves and currents pushing the boat off course.

After two hours of sailing towards Catalina, we tacked, turning the boat around and back toward the shore. With the wind behind us now, the sailing was much smoother. I relaxed in the boat’s cockpit, taking a nap and soaking in the sun. At one point, dolphins came up to swim with the boat, swimming swiftly along the bow and occasionally jumping up out of the water to greet us. As we approached Los Alamitos, a dock several miles down the coast from San Pedro and our resting place for the evening, I loved circling the boat around floating buoys and admiring the sea lions lounging on them. Finally, after a day full of sailing, we docked at Los Alamitos and went to sleep early in anticipation of another day of conquering the seas.

Looking back on the voyage a few days removed from the program, I realize how much I learned about sailing and thankful I am for the opportunity to enjoy the Los Angeles sun and the Pacific Ocean. This summer, after I return from studying abroad with Viterbi in Rome, my father and I may go on a sailing trip together in the Caribbean, and I cannot wait to show him my new sailing skills. Who knows; maybe I’ll be a pirate one day after all!

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