A Look Back on My Time at Tradewinds

I’m cutting back my teaching schedule, and thought it might be time to reminisce a bit about my experience at this club.

When I first came to Tradewinds over three decades ago, all I was looking for was another outdoor activity to go along with biking, backpacking, and skiing. But on the very first day, when my wonderful instructor, Ron Pook, asked the class what we envisioned as our future in sailing, I blurted out, “Maybe I’ll sail around the world.” I was shocked and mortified to hear what had just come out of my mouth; I had never considered something so adventurous and I didn’t know a bowline from a balloon. But about thirteen years later, I sent word to the folks who were following us by email that Terry Shrode and I had entered the San Francisco shipping channel, thereby crossing our outbound path and completing a circumnavigation. Ron got right back to me. He said he shed a tear upon reading it.

Sailing can of course be a weekend hobby, and it does a mighty fine job of getting rid of the cobwebs of everyday life. You must be tuned in to the boat, wind, and waves, leaving no room for the trivial concerns of landsmen. But unexpectedly, in my case sailing opened vistas that were not present in my consciousness even as daydreams. On that first day, baffled as the next student by the terminology and weird maneuvers, I was fascinated to observe Ron’s subtle understanding of the wind, current, and sails, which at that moment seemed quite like witchcraft. That day was a turning point in my life. Lao Tzu said, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the step had just been taken.

I joined the club and went through the three-class package we still have, took the Coastal Piloting test, and then signed up for Advanced Coastal Cruising. On that adventure, instructor Craig Walker gave us only these seemingly simple instructions: sail us to Drake’s Bay. I had been offshore maybe once or twice whale watching, but being in charge of the boat and managing the course plotting and sail trim at sea with the other crew was an entirely new experience. Craig gave us little input, while keeping a close watch and guiding us through a few exercises, and we found our way up there, anchoring safely after a long day. We were all so exhilarated by what we’d just accomplished!

By this time I was spending so much time sailing, enabled by Tradewinds’ fleet membership program, that I had difficulty finding people to crew. Handling the office was a young woman named Natalie, who was quite hilarious, but when I told her of the problem she said I needed to meet Terry Shrode, and she wasn’t kidding. Terry was a member at about the same level as me, who also had run out of people to sail with. We instantly hit it off, and it turned out we had similar skills since we’d been through the same training; but more important than that, we had the same instincts on the boat. It also quickly became apparent that he was jolly good company, and one of the world’s really fine people. To this day, he remains my number one sailing buddy.

Day by day, he and I would try to push the envelope to see if this or that challenge could be accomplished, becoming increasingly confident in our skills and at the same time more aware of our limitations. I widened my experience a bit by racing dinghies for three years, and then bought my flush-deck Ericson 39. With that boat, Terry and I sailed many times to Drake’s Bay, and made two or three cruises to Tomales Bay, crossing the bar which can be deadly if not planned properly. These undertakings were not without incident, as we were always doing things we’d never attempted before. There was often a bit of trepidation involved, but every advance in your sailing skills is paid for with a bit of fear. Back on that first day with Ron, I was alarmed as everyone else the first time the boat heeled. Later, it was scary to handle a big boat in the harbor. But as Eleanor Roosevelt, not exactly a swashbuckling hero, said, “Do something that scares you every day.” We kept upping the ante. I sailed to Hawaii with Ted Stuart; here’s our departure, below, from Brickyard about 1992.

Terry and I did a trip from Puerto Rico to the Bahamas on instructor Bob Miller’s new boat, and did a delivery of Maverick from San Diego to its new home in San Francisco Bay. Of all the “incidents” we experienced, the most troubling for Terry and me was a dismasting 28 miles outside the Gate in 30 knots and 15-foot seas during the fatal 1999 Doublehanded Farallones Race. You can read about that here. It is the only time in all the hours I’ve spent on boats that, upon reflection, caused me  to wonder whether the adventure was worth the risk. As the Irish say, “Better to be a coward for a minute than dead for the rest of your life.”

Then one day I had an epiphany: There was literally nothing preventing us from sailing out the Golden Gate and heading straight for Polynesia. Of course it’s obvious to anyone just by looking at a map, but thinking you yourself could actually do it, for real, was a big psychological threshold to cross. There are no legal hurdles preventing this. If you want to sail there, there is no official department or office you have to register with, no test to pass, no ticket to buy, no license requirement. You don’t even have to call the Coast Guard on 16 and tell them you’re leaving. You just hoist the sails and go. When I suggested this to Terry, he was a bit taken aback, which was unusual for the dauntless Mr. Shrode, but he soon agreed. Now committed, we undertook about five years and 5,000 hours of boat modifications, research, and planning. Every little job was accompanied by the exciting feeling that the adventure had now begun. We sailed under the Bridge in March of 2001. You can read about it here or here.

I came back a more wary sailor than the guy that left; the sea will humble you if you have any sense at all. Terry and I were never paralyzed by fear during gales or even when the boat began flooding near the end of our Atlantic crossing. But afterwards, ironically when the situation has been resolved and the danger has passed, you have time to be afraid.

I resumed teaching at Tradewinds after I returned. The time I’ve spent with the club is now well over one third of my life. I have not taught anywhere else but can’t believe there could be a place with more kindness and collective sea wisdom than Tradewinds. This has been consistent from my first experience, even though the ownership and management has changed. When Kirk Valentine, the founder of Tradewinds, retired, and after a few years with David Kory at the helm, it was sold to Matt and Brandy and Brandy’s dad, Butch, I thought things might change. I was just a little concerned, since I liked Tradewinds just as it was, but I needn’t have worried. What I hadn’t expected was that they would make it better, which is what they did.

Although I’ve somewhat expanded my knowledge of boats and seamanship, I have left behind none of the fundamental, central techniques I was taught here, starting with Ron Pook. Teachers, members, and students been sources of support and advice, and have become lifelong friends. You learn a lot about someone when crewing together, and as hard as it may be to believe, I’ve yet to come up with a dud. To complete or enlarge the circle, one of my students has just emailed me from his boat in La Paz.

There is no way to repay, and no words sufficient to describe, my indebtedness to this club. It has been a great privilege to be here and an honor to have been counted among its staff.

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6 Responses to A Look Back on My Time at Tradewinds

  1. Rachel Angulo says:

    Spectacular Tony! You are a legend and I so much enjoy reading everything of yours I’ve had the pleasure of reading!!


    Thanks so much for your writing. It gave the feeling of someone beginning and the associated fear as you spent more time at sea. And finally, all the hard work ended with the adventurous sail.

  3. Deborah Turner says:

    What great experiences you’ve had. It was motivating reading your farewell. My husband and I started a few years ago with zero experience but much desire. We too did the package and were fortunate enough to have you for our instructor of the 103 class. Your testing of our line skills and knot knowledge will forever be with us! Recently we’ve been getting into a funk, just sailing the bay with our acquired skills, But you made me realize I need to continue to go further, take the next level of classes and challenge ourselves. Your writing is fun to read, and you are walking legend to us all.

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