Sailing in Marina del Rey on the Shimmering Bay

At the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center in Marina del Rey, Ceasar teaches sailing at all levels.
At the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center, Ceasar teaches sailing at all levels.

When I first saw Marina del Rey, California, all I could think of was, “I wonder exactly how many boats there are here?” That’s because when you look at the harbor of this city of about 8,000 people, all you see are the bobbing boats and masts that go on for miles. Take a ride on the bicycle path that winds its way from Admiralty and you pass row upon row, what seems like miles of boats, all docked and waiting in the shimmering water.

It’s a beautiful site if you’re a boat lover, and it makes you want to get out on the water. We got that chance today when we discovered the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center, where even paupers can afford to rent a sailboat or a kayak and get lessons on how to sail in the pristine harbor of Marina del Rey.

We met up with our teacher, Ceasar, who has mentored hundreds of UCLA students through the process of learning how to sail at the center. He’s a patient teacher who has seen it all, from a yacht t-boning a delicate 8-person skull to capsized boats on busy Saturdays in the harbor. The first thing Ceasar showed us was how to rig up the 14′ Catalina sailboat, a simple craft with a jib and a mainsail but no other frills.

Sailing in Marina del Rey Bay.
The Catalina 14 is a sturdy, reliable sailing vessel.

The Marina del Rey Bay is where we sailed. It is bordered by rip rocks, and the channel is marked clearly where only powerboats can go. It was a Tuesday, so there were not many other watercraft to distract us two novice sailors. Despite the calm winds, a LA Lifeguard boat was soon speeding toward a sailboat in distress with sirens wailing. Later we saw the boat being towed into shore with an apparently damaged sail and non-working outboard auxiliary motor.

Caesar patiently taught us the terminology, from the simple starboard and port, (right and left) to the more complicated aspects of who has the right of way as  you sail toward another boat (it depends on who is directly in front of the wind).  We asked him about how many of these sturdy boats have tipped over, and he said that because of the bulb at the top of the mast, they can’t “turtle” but they can and will go over on their sides, requiring standing on the centerboard and pulling on a line to right the mast.

The UCLA Marina Aquatic Center has sit-on-top kayaks, small sailboats, paddleboards to rent and offers lessons.
The UCLA Marina Aquatic Center has sit-on-top kayaks, small sailboats, paddleboards to rent and offers lessons.

But happily, today’s sail was in calm winds and gave us that delirious feeling that the sound of slicing through water under sail power gives.  We took turns at the tiller and watching the little green and red cords up on the sail that showed if were were angled in the right way to catch all of the breeze and keep the sails from luffing.

It was a great way to see this beautiful city and if you want to take  lesson, visit the UCLA website. It takes 16 hours of training over a weekend to become certified to sail without an instructor, after this you can rent a sailboat for $20 an hour.