Dirck Westervelt

NSS Instructor Dirck Westervelt inspires us with insights from his life of sailing and years of teaching:

1. How did you first get into sailing?

I grew up on the water. My grandfather had a cruising powerboat and my mother had a sailboat. I had a sunfish when I was 9 or 10, a Hobie 16 Catamaran when I was sixteen. I still have both boats!

2. Have you had any disaster scenarios, failures, or simple problems in your sailing career that have given you a valuable lesson as a result?

From sailing almost every day of the summers, almost anything you can imagine has happened. Dis-masted, broken tiller, engines dying, capsizing, fish hooks embedding in body parts, people and dogs falling overboard to… name a few.

Luckily, being on Narragansett Bay, I could usually drift into shore if necessarily and fix the situation with something I found on the beach. I have also helped many other boaters in trouble.

The valuable lesson: keep calm, and keep a good lookout.

3. If there’s one thing you can tell new sailors when they are just introduced to the sport, what would you tell them?

  • Leaning to sail is easy.
  • The more you sail, the better it gets.
  • Every time you go out you learn something.
  • Keep in mind that if it can happen, it will.
  • Keep your lines coiled and decks as clear as possible.
  • Don’t over think things.
  • There are some very basic rules to sailing. How you set your sails and the rules of the road are all very simple. Learn it and get out there.
  • Start with a small boat. Work your way up so that you don’t get overwhelmed with equipment off the bat.

4. What advice would you tell a new sailor to ignore? What are bad recommendations you hear about sailing?

I have been sailing all my life. Only recently have I been teaching people to cruise so they can charter boats themselves. What I have heard from some old-timer sailors is: What do you need classes for? Why do you need certification? We just go down to the islands and pick up a boat and go.

Sure, you can learn from the school of hard knocks. Anyone can buy a boat and head off into the blue. I am not saying you won’t have hard knocks, but I recommend you take a few classes and receive a certification. Your toolbox in times of trouble increases exponentially. And, you will enjoy the experience all the more. Knowledge is power.

5. Who most influenced your life when it comes to sailing?

That is a difficult one. From the beginning, my grandfather, mother, high school sailing coach, my son, numerous authors of awesome sailing books. My dad, the physicist, got me interested in the physics of sailing and the fact that one never stops learning. Rob Lawnsby, who created this school and pushed me to start teaching… the list could go on.

6. Outside of sailing, what is something that you love to do; something that makes you feel alive?

I love to kiteboard, surf, and ski. I’m a musician. I love the jam. Playing to a room full of dancers is a true highlight. Sailing is like music. You have to be in tune. I love to teach as well. Watching students get it is what it’s all about.

About Dirck Westervelt

Dirck grew up on Narragansett Bay. He’s been sailing and fishing all his life. In high school he lived on a sailboat in the summer and day sailed in the fall and spring doing oceanographic research for NOAA and URI. He owns a Sunfish, 16 foot Hobie Cat and 2 Boston Whalers. Dirck is also a fan of kiteboarding. Off-season he teaches World Music and related topics at Western Connecticut State University.

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