Keahi usually offers a three-day course, but since Heather and I have sailing experience — and lots of parental duties — we’ve opted for a one-day refresher. We skip the intro, when Keahi goes over basic terminology. Sailing has its own language; you need to know your boom from your vang, your telltales, battens, and fairleads, and what it means to sail close-hauled or pinch up into the wind.
The trade winds are starting to blow as Keahi instructs Nalu, his fifteen-year-old son, to cast off the bow lines, pull up the fenders, and get us out on the water. Steering out through the channel markers, we learn this isn’t the first time Keahi and Nalu have gone to sea; they took Gung Ho to Tahiti and back, and Nalu first crossed from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i when he was only two months old. Keahi himself first sailed to Hawai‘i at the ripe old age of five, and has participated in everything from Olympic trials to the prestigious TransPac yacht race.
It’s a résumé that definitely sets us at ease as we leave the harbor, and luckily for Heather, who sometimes gets seasick, Keahi’s instructions keep her mind off the motion of the ocean and more on the task at hand: weaving the boat among moorings, a skill that Keahi usually covers on the second day of the course.
“What do I do?” Heather frantically asks as Keahi hands her the tiller and tells her to pilot the boat.
“What do you do when you’re driving a car?” he replies. “Just point us where you want to go.”
Granted, it isn’t exactly that simple. For one thing, instead of an oversized wheel for a helm, Gung Ho has a large tiller that moves the rudder in the same way you’d steer an outboard motor. If you’re not used to steering a boat, it can feel counterintuitive: You push to the left and the boat goes right, push right and the boat goes left. For another, you’re fueled by wind — not gas — and even small changes in your general heading require trimming the sails.