By William Owen McClung
The cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide flashed through my mind when I learned that I had won the Sail Black Rock/Oakcliff Sailing/WindCheck Magazine essay contest for the Oakcliff Foiling Camp scholarship. Oakcliff bills itself as the premier American institution for developing next-level sailors, and it suddenly dawned on me that I might be out of my league. En route to Oakcliff in Oyster Bay, New York, the butterflies in my stomach could almost lift me off the ground. Fortunately for me, all of that anxiety dissipated when I met the amazing people I’d be staying with at Oakcliff for the next seven days. Everyone involved was super-supportive of me and eager to give me advice to help me “earn my wings.”
The first time I was able to get up and fly was unforgettable. The Waszp is a tiny boat, and I learned just how challenging it is just to keep it right side up when sailing even before liftoff. There’s a good reason we worked out hard in the gym, because foiling is insanely physical! But when the boat is sailing fast and ready to fly, it speaks to you. A low hum begins, which at first I mistook for an airplane overhead. Accelerating further, the noise rises in pitch as the bow rises out of the water. When the stern finally lifts out though, everything suddenly goes eerily silent. My first time, I laughed hysterically. It was absolutely exhilarating…for a few seconds, until I lost my balance and crashed to windward. Clearly I had much to learn!
Luckily, our coach is an actual Olympian, Louisa Chafee!* She is an amazing sailor who is very encouraging and who has boatloads of knowledge to offer. Every day after sailing, we reviewed video footage for tips on how to improve.
Foiling feels very alien compared to sailing a Laser or any other dinghy. With Louisa’s insights, by the end of the week I could stay up on the foils for up to thirty seconds! It may not sound impressive, but I sure felt like a pro! Oakcliff’s Executive Director, Dawn Riley, was also unbelievably helpful, even willing to get in the water fully clothed to help me launch and recover my boat. By the end of the week, I was comfortable rigging, sailing and de-rigging a foiling Waszp. On my last day, I was proud to be able to get foiling both upwind and downwind. Though I still have loads of room to improve, I look forward to flying a hydrofoil again and sharing my newfound passion.
During my week at Oakcliff, I enjoyed the rare minutes of downtime I had at the Bunkhouse. For me, it was great preparation for college life as my fellow foiling sailors and I biked through charming Oyster Bay to shop for extra provisions to supplement the dinners we cooked together. When the wind wasn’t cooperating, we took a powerboat and learned to foil-board!
Bottomless thanks to the wonderful team of people at Oakcliff, WindCheck and Sail Black Rock that gave me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And thanks to all the community-based organizations and sailors through the years who helped me build the experience and enthusiasm get there. If you ever have the urge to learn to fly, I heartily encourage you to head off to Oakcliff with your wetsuit, life jacket and dinghy boots. And don’t forget your towel! ■
William Owen McClung lives in Norwalk, CT and is a member of Sea Scout Ship 6.
Editor’s note: Louisa Chafee, who represented the USA with teammate Bora Gulari in the Nacra 17 at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is one of our favorite sailors. You’ll find our ‘On Watch’ article about Louisa at windcheckmagazine.com/article/on_watch_louisa_chafee/.