Rob has been a sailor for 40 years! He’s cruised all around the world living and loving life at sea and is now an instructor here at our school. He shares with us details of his sailing experiences and some essential tips for potential sailors:

1. How did you first get into sailing?

At age 26 I bought an old 24′ wooden boat and moved aboard with my two preschoolers and an adventurous wife. With a book on how to sail, we took off for a year cruising knowing almost nothing and learned along the way.

I do not recommend this method, but at that age we just do things! Lots of learning moments. I have lived aboard my 35′ boat full time (winter and summer) for 15 years now in many places including Bahamas, North Carolina, Chesapeake Bay, and New England.

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?

I have been cruising on and off for 40 years from the Caribbean to Maine. I have never had a disaster scenario as I try to think ahead and be prepared. Never been in a storm at sea as they are predicted and I avoid them.

Failures? Lots of them. Had a shroud break at sea, many groundings, engine failures, and such. Had a flooding once with water up to the seat cushions. Lost steering twice. The valuable lesson learned is there is a solution to any problem. You just need to stay cool and think it thorough.

Used a spare halyard for the broken shroud. Kedged off for groundings. Flooding was a hose that had come off a thru-hull and I just had to shut off the seacocks (by feel) and so on. Engine fails? You have the auxiliary propulsion system called sails! Keep your head and think it through. There is a solution. If nothing else, anchor where you are or heave-to and sort it out.

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

Sailing changed my life. The tranquility and serenity are amazing, coupled with the challenge of learning this new set of skills. Racing is a sport Sailing itself is not a sport, it is an escape from our frenetic world.

So the one thing I would say is persevere and don’t be hard on yourself as you make mistakes. And you will make lots of mistakes at first. Don’t worry about perfect sail trim, just make the boat go with the white flappy things and enjoy the experience. The more you do it the better you will get.

Respect your comfort zone, but always push it a bit. That’s how you improve.

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

There is a presumption in our culture that sailing is difficult. Making a boat move under sail can be taught in a day. It is the boating stuff that takes time to learn; stuff like rules of the road, anchoring, navigating, and docking. Sailing/boating is only difficult when conditions surpass your skill level. When skiing a black diamond slope is exhilarating when you have the skills, and dangerous when you don’t.

In sailing up to 15 knots is beginner weather. 15-25 knots is intermediate, and 30+ is only if you really know what you are doing. The bad recommendation is the importance of sail trim. You only need to make the boat go. Most rookies have the sails too tight. Let them breathe. To get that last 10% of extra speed is labor intensive and only important in racing; not cruising!

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

My father was a career navy man. He told me ” The sea is not out to get you; It just doesn’t care.” The other thing he said was “A sailor can’t depend on luck and can’t get by without it!” That said, the single biggest influence has been Mother Nature. I learned to respect her moods. I asked what was the day going to be like before going out and ducked for cover when a storm approached.

I stared at her sunsets with wonder, thanked her for following seas, and asked “Why?” with a strong head wind. She has coddled me as I licked my wounds and challenged me when I got to full of myself. One of the great things about cruising/sailing is you are responsible for your own destiny, make your own decisions, and are either rewarded with good decisions or thrashed with bad decisions…but always learning and the decision process gets better and better!

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

Sailing is so central to my life it is hard for me to think beyond it. Family is important of course, and teaching sailing makes me feel alive. Cruising; the pastime of sailing place to place meeting the indigenous people and eating the local food and such, has expanded my psyche and taught my kids many life lessons at an early age. Cruising/sailing keeps my body fit. It challenges me keeping my mind sharp and my core relaxed. It soothes my soul.


About Rob Lawnsby

A sailor of 40 years, Rob was the owner of the Narragansett Sailing companies, including the school, charter, and brokerage. Rob has cruised extensively, both coastal and offshore, along the Eastern Seaboard and beyond.

Certified to Teach:


Want to learn about our other instructors, special events, and sailing tips? Simply sign up below.