Her fiber-glass hull glittering in the sunshine, her mainsail bellied by the breeze, the 20-foot sloop boiled along, straight into a narrow cul-de-sac formed by three floats at the Ardell Marina, a shiny concrete-and-glass edifice on California's Newport Channel front. A middle-aged woman grasped the tiller, her anxious eyes gauging the rapidly shrinking distance to the end dock. Beside her, a young man half her age stood squinting, apparently indifferent to the inevitable crash. At what seemed the last possible second, he flipped the brim of his floppy hat upward and murmured a word of advice. The helmslady jammed the tiller to leeward, the sloop rounded into the wind, whizzed past one dock, barely skinned the next and fluttered to a stop alongside the third in a landing that could not have bruised an egg. On shore, about 55 hearts started beating again. The young man on the boat patted the grinning helmslady on the shoulder, and with sail full and sheets lifted once again they headed out into the channel.
Only seven teaching hours before, the woman who performed this neat nautical maneuver wrote "none"—and meant it—in answer to a question about her previous sailing experience. But such innocence is nothing new at the Ardell Sailing School, a unique institution whose campus is the Newport Channel and whose classroom is the Pacific Ocean. Aboard a fleet of 20-foot fiber-glass Cal-20s, 22-foot Pearson Ensigns, 28-foot Tritons, a 35-foot Alberg, a 40-foot Cal-40 and the elegant, powerful 67-foot yawl Chubasco, Ardell teaches students who never steered a boat before how to tie bowlines, set spinnakers or plot a course to Fastnet Rock.
"Sailors," says the school's prospectus, "aren't born...they're taught...not from books or lectures, but from seat-of-the-pants experience." Oldtimers brought up near the water tend to think that the only way a boy can learn about boats is to be born among them, but the founding father at Ardell thinks otherwise. "My whole idea was based on the premise that the best way for anyone to learn to sail is by going out and sailing," says Craig Cadwalader, the 25-year-old who started the school. "I'd read about boats myself. I'd been brought up in a 12-foot Snowbird catboat. But the way I really learned was by having a better sailor show me." Cadwalader believed so profoundly in this theory that he convinced President Don Haskell of Newport Beach's sleek Ardell Marina (home port of such fancy ocean-racing craft as Kialoa II and Audacious) to let him start a school there.
The doors—or, rather, the hatches—opened in the summer of 1962, but neither Cadwalader nor Haskell was prepared for the flood of would-be sailors that poured through them. Prospective pupils came in such numbers that Cadwalader dropped out of the University of Oregon so he could run the school clear through the winter. One of the first things the seagoing headmaster did was to put an age limit on enrollment, i.e., no kids. He sends applicants under 18 to the clubs and city sailing programs in the Newport Beach area. If the kids are willing to learn in conjunction with their parents he may make an exception, but he doesn't like it. Today 30% of Ardell's students are from 30 to 40 years old, many are over 50 and a few are in their 60s.
November 1, 1965
The first lesson Cadwalader ever gave was in a 15-foot centerboarder in a smart breeze. It was very nearly his last. "The couple I was teaching were 50-year-olds," he says, "and we were halfway through the lesson when the weather shroud bust and over went the mast." The middle-aged students didn't mind at all. They returned for more lessons and later even bought a replica of the dismasted boat. "But after that," says Cadwalader, "we went to keel boats. People can sail them on a breezy day and concentrate on the lesson at hand without worrying about turning over."
Ardell's elementary course, Basic Sailing I, is divided into four two-hour sessions. It begins by teaching the student the difference between bow and stern, ends eight patient hours later by letting him (or her) take a 20-foot sloop into a dock under sail all by him- (or her-) self. B.S. I leads on into B.S. II, which in turn leads on into Intermediate. At the end of this, the student must pass a practical examination on rigging, sail trim, docking and helmsmanship, after which Ardell gives him a diploma attesting to his competence.
"Before we give the test," says one Ardell instructor, "we make pretty sure the student has a good chance to pass. There isn't one graduate of this school who cannot sail a boat by himself." But few Ardell alumni are content to be only B.A.s. Most want to go on to postgraduate courses like Ocean Sailing I and II or Cruising. These are conducted aboard such sophisticated craft as the Alberg 35 or the lavishly equipped Cal-40.
Tuition runs from $50 per eight-hour course with three students participating in Basic Sailing I to $70 for the 11-hour course in Cruising. Private lessons run $10 an hour.
Advanced Ocean Sailing, a day-long session aboard Chubasco costing $75, is Ardell's equivalent of a Ph.D. Supervised by eight instructors, every student gets a shot at the helm, sets every one of the big yawl's many sails, and gasps over the complex coffee-grinder winches. "Running downwind with Chubby's 3,000-square-foot chute set and a student at the wheel can at times be quite interesting," says one young Ardell instructor. (There are some old salts around Newport who think "terrifying" would be a better word.)
At 25 Cadwalader looks like a candidate for Junior Achievement. His head sailing instructor, Tom Corkett, 23, looks more like a kindergarten truant, though he is well known as a precocious driver of ocean racers. In 1963 he became the youngest skipper ever to win the 2,225-mile Honolulu classic when he sailed his father's 40-foot Islander from Los Angeles to Hawaii in 13 days, 23 hours and 56 minutes. Corkett has sailed in so many races before and since then that he seldom remembers whether he won a race or only took a second or a third. At Ardell, however, he is too busy to care.
I was aboard when Corkett and Instructor Vern Edler, a member of a vintage California sailing family, took a class of Ocean Sailing II students out in the Cal-40 for a session with the big spinnaker and some additional windward practice.
The class consisted of a radiologist named Bill Kimball and his blonde, short-shorted wife Dotty (who own a 28-footer but don't know how to set its spinnaker), an electronics engineer named Gordon Murphy and his teacher-wife (along for the ride, not a lesson) and Dr. Sibley, a white-haired physician. All of the students had a casual familiarity with the names of various pieces of spinnaker gear. They knew that the spinnaker is a sail used only for running before or across the wind. They knew that the spinnaker pole is the long spar that holds the balloonlike sail away from the boat, that the piece of line running from the cockpit forward to the outboard spinnaker-pole tip is called an "afterguy," that the line attached to the opposite corner of the spinnaker (the clew) is a "sheet," that the "fore-guy" keeps the spinnaker pole from cocking up, the "topping lift" keeps it from drooping down. But they didn't know what to do about it all.
Their lesson began on deck at the berth with a general discussion of spinnakers and how to pack them properly preparatory to hoisting. Then Corkett started the engine and in the firm monotone of a practiced teacher explained the difficulty of backing an auxiliary under power. "The best way of getting under way is to walk the boat out of slip," he said. "Walk it out real slowly about halfway." The crew walked along the dock tugging at the sloop until it stuck halfway out into the channel. "Engage the clutch and back out now," intoned Corkett as the crew, fresh out of dock, scrambled aboard. "You'll find the wind will swing your bow around." Gordon Murphy, who was at the helm, engaged the clutch and, sure enough, as the boat cleared the slip the wind caught her bow and swung it around so she was headed in the right direction.
The narrow channel through which we powered was jammed with powerboats, dinghies, catamarans, swimmers and a ferry, all crying for elbowroom. "Stay well to leeward of them," ordered Corkett, pointing at an extra-dense thicket of sails. "They're racing. You can usually tell racing boats because they all look alike," he told Murphy, who was sweating at his job.
Outside the harbor the jam was only slightly less severe, and every twitch or worried look from Murphy was excuse for Edler or Corkett to explain something new. Finally, when we were clear of all other craft, they got the mainsail hoisted, and Vern asked the Kim-balls and Dr. Sibley to step over to the foredeck. "I would like you each to tie a bowline in the genoa sheet, he asked politely. The doctor tied a fair bowline, Dotty Kimball tied another and her husband tied something that was less bowline than cat's cradle. "Whee!" piped Dotty, while her husband undid his tangle and redid it right. The Kim-balls were an exception to the Ardell rule that husbands and wives must be segregated during lessons.
On the long beat to weather over an ocean lightly brushed by wind, everyone took a turn at the tiller. Dotty steered casually with a brown, pedicured foot. After five progressively improved tacks Corkett said it was time to get on with the spinnaker drill.
Setting a spinnaker can be a hairy proposition at best. At worst it is an escalating disaster. Ideally, the sail is hoisted in stops (i.e., neatly bundled together like a string of sausages), with one corner attached to the pole, another to a line (the sheet) which, when yanked, opens the sail to the wind. As disjointed as beginners on a tandem bike, the pupils helped raise the pole, the spinnaker snaked aloft, the sheet was tugged and—surprise!—the sail burst out round and light as a bubble. Then began a question-and-answer period. "Gordon, do you think the spinnaker is setting properly?" asked Corkett. Murphy said he thought it was. Bill Kimball said he thought the pole ought to be eased forward. Then he changed his mind and said he thought it looked all right. Dotty prudently fussed with a line, safely—or so she thought—out of Corkett's sight. But Corkett is a teacher who believes in total class participation. "Dotty," he said, "if we had to head up 20° what would we do with the spinnaker pole?" Dotty blushed and allowed as how she didn't know. Corkett explained gently that the pole would go forward to keep the wind blowing squarely into the spinnaker. Dotty nodded.
If setting a spinnaker is difficult, jibing one is even more so. This is the process of bringing the big sail from one side of the boat to the other to match a change in the direction of the wind. If there is too little wind during the maneuver the sail collapses and snags on heretofore invisible projections as the spinnaker sways from port to starboard. If there is too much wind the crew finds itself wrestling a heavy-muscled wraith. This day the wind was light. Nevertheless Corkett and Edler guided the class through a passable, but not sharp, jibe. They jibed again, and then again and again, first end-for-end jibes as they do on small boats, then dip jibes as they make them on 12-meters and ocean racers. After five or more jibes, the four pupils instinctively began to grab for the right line and call it by the right name. "Good," said Captain Bligh Corkett at last, and the crew looked as happy as kids who have learned to spell C-A-T. They chattered merrily together as they dumped the spinnaker and reset the genoa for another pull to windward, then Corkett dropped a bomb. "Next leg," he said, "you will put the spinnaker up all by yourselves. Vern and I won't say a word unless you do something terrible." At that the teacher became the youth he really is. "I talk too much," he grinned. "I think I'll just jump overboard."
"Where," said Dotty Kimball, "are the life preservers?"
The big boat reached the end of her beat, came about for the run back to Newport, and the class resumed its practice, shakily at first, then with surging confidence. "Let's go there," commanded Dotty, who was in charge of the first spinnaker setting. "Who's on the foreguy?"
"You want me to handle all these?" replied her husband, his hands dripping with lines. Dotty took the foreguy herself. The spinnaker slithered smoothly up and filled flawlessly. "Who did you put on the foreguy?" asked her husband a second later. "Me," said Dotty. "What's wrong?" "Oh, nothing much," said Bill with the air of an expert. "It was slack there for 10 seconds, is all."
Judging by the banter, anyone would have thought he was on a boat racing to Bermuda instead of a school ship, but the skipper of an ocean racer would have had a mutiny on his hands if he had ordered his crew to jibe as many times as the crew of the Cal-40 did. There was another marked difference: the absence of profanity. "It's like the new Army," said Dr. Sibley.
Back in Newport at the end of the lesson, the sailors piled ashore with a new swing in their legs that looked suspiciously like a swagger. They talked like Transpac veterans about sheets and guys and downhauls, and kidded one another's incompetence. It is true, of course, that no sailing school can cram years of experience into a few hours on the water, but Ardell has given its 1,500-odd pupils confidence to make up the lack. Their coaching is so thorough that they have never lost a pupil or a boat. It would be nice to report that an Ardell graduate had won a Bermuda Race or a Star class championship or was slated to defend the America's Cup in 1967. None has yet achieved such eminence, but virtually all have become dedicated sailors.
Applications flow in from San Francisco, El Paso, Milwaukee, Chicago, Kalamazoo, Richmond, New York and points east at a steady 250 to 300 a month, from as far afield as Borneo and Vietnam. A man with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange recently flew into Newport for a brushup in Ocean Sailing. A Texan saw the school's ad in Hong Kong and applied for admission. Jane Russell was once a student, as was Gower Champion. A businessman from La Jolla was so carried away by sailing that he redecorated his office to look like a boat. And a student named Wheeler ordered a 50-foot boat for himself before he even finished his first course.
Despite the skepticism of the old salts, Cadwalader seems to be proving at Ardell that there is more than one way to learn how to sail. After all, not everyone can get himself born in a bosun's chair. And as Cadwalader himself says, "Even if you never sail again, learning how is great therapy."