© 2014 Grace Baldwin

Teaching Sailing, Learning to Fly Fish

When people ask who my greatest role models were growing up, I always respond by describing my sailing instructors. My coaches were people who were patient, smart, and dedicated. I looked up to them, not only because of their immense sailing knowledge, but because they encapsulated qualities that I hoped, one day, people would recognize in me.

From student to teacher, and back again

It was a life long dream of mine to one day coach sailing myself, and make an impact on young kids similar to that of my own instructors. After nine years of being taught and coached, in the summer of 2012 I made the transition to instructing sailing myself.

526126_2113532933970_239597457_n 1000220_3281472531730_430994127_n

I coached at Pequot Yacht Club, across the water from the yacht club where I had learned to sail. Even though now I am a seasoned sailing coach and this summer will be my third year at Pequot, I can still remember how foreign it felt and the huge transition I had to make from junior sailor to sailing instructor.


Upon reflecting on my first fly fishing trip I realized that for the first time in two years I was not the instructor. Dorian Gribble was our fishing guide, attempting to explain to us a sport he knew all too well.

1012432_3315790869667_324237266_nThe role of a fishing guide, before my trip, seemed strange and I didn’t really understand their purpose. But now that seems silly; I see the role of a fishing guide equivalent to that of a sailing instructor. The qualities that Dorian possessed as a guide are characteristics that I have practiced myself as a sailing coach.

The average day of a sailing instructor is very similar to that of a fishing guide: rigging and re-rigging of sail boats, untangling of halyards, reading the water and weather, and constantly trying to explain concepts that are engrained so deep it’s like pulling teeth to articulate and simplify them.

From fishing to sailing

Watching and experiencing first hand Dorian’s characteristics as a teacher and guide encouraged me to reflect on what qualities make a great instructor.


Dorian had a perfect balance of giving us guidance and yet allowing us to struggle on our own, because it is in those stressful moments of solitude that all our training and teaching comes together. Despite frustrating moments of hair pulling tangles and the innumerable times I lost my flies, Dorian never showed he was annoyed or frustrated, and never made me feel guilty about my mistakes. I think that this is a quality I need to constantly work on in my own instructing. Hiding your true emotions and constant restraint is crucial to being a successful teacher. I sometimes forget that my junior sailors are not experienced sailors, and aspects of the sport that seem so straightforward to me are foreign to them. Even during times when I myself am irritated, I should never make this apparent to my junior sailors. I’ve found it is crucial to stay calm, cool, and collected. 1174926_3384761633893_1758081991_n

I think that the culture of fishing, more so than sailing, encourages one to stay at ease and relaxed at all times. Dorian held a constant tranquil demeanor while on the river, that would be valuable to transfer to sailing.

While coaching my junior sailors, there are so many aspects I am trying to convey: the wind, current, competitors, tactics; and I think that it is easy for kids to feel overwhelmed as a sport that seemed simple constantly takes on greater complexities. Although fly fishing is an extremely complex sport as well with many facets: the weather, water level, flow, fly type, tippet length, etc., I never felt overwhelmed while fishing. Dorian took us one step at a time, easing us into the greater angles, and letting us discover on our own what were the most important aspects. I want to remember this while teaching my young sailors. It is important that despite the uncountable facets, sailing is really about enjoying the water and appreciating nature. Sailing, like fishing, is meant to take you away from the other worries in your life and bring you into a completely separate realm.

The most rewarding job

994134_10152079499342874_239235307_n 1157660_3384762193907_160527660_n

While my peers are seeking out prestigious internships and filling their resumes with research experience, I spend the only free three months of my year teaching sailing. I know that in the future I will need to get a “real job,” but to me working as a sailing instructor is so important because it is the most rewarding, enjoyable, and valuable summer job I could imagine.564756_2423922053504_1677863411_n

I found Dorian held a similar feeling towards being a fishing guide. When we fished at the power plant, one of the plant workers said to Dorian, “another day at the office?” Dorian talked to us after about how he had worked a “real job” for several years but switched to being a fishing guide and found it extremely rewarding.

Dorian’s passion as a fishing guide reminds me of the gratitude I feel from sharing with others a sport I love. There is nothing more exciting than watching someone enjoy and succeed at a skill you taught.

A commitment to life long learning

Learning to fly fish, in some ways, brought me back to my roots of learning to sail. I remembered the frustration of incompetence, the ignorance of inexperience, and the intoxicating thrill of accomplishing something new.

1604904_3890096506949_593068619_nAlthough right now I am dedicated to my intellectual learning, as my depth into adulthood grows deeper, I have found it increasingly rare to have the opportunity to learn a brand new skill.

I want to continue to learn about fly fishing and to try my best to understand the many aspects of it, but more so I want to constantly push myself to try new activities. Whether it be wind surfing, rock climbing, crocheting, or anything I have never tried before, the act of remembering how it feels to push myself out of my own element and try to master a new sport or craft is important to gaining perspective on other parts of my life.

I want to be a life long learner. I want to become an expert it whatever academic field I choose, continue to enhance my relative mastery of the sports and skills I know, but to always be open to learning, doing, and experiencing the unknown.