Started Sailing

Interview with Sailing Guide Tom Lochhaas

by Alex Dotsch

Tom Lochhaas - Sailing Guide

Tom Lochhaas - Sailing Guide

About Tom:

Tom Lochhaas has sailed all kinds of sailboats in all kinds of waters for three decades. He is passionate about both cruising and racing and has written widely about many different aspects of the sailing life.

Tom has sailed in boats ranging from a 14-foot Sunfish to a 50-foot ocean cruiser. Currently, his home waters stretch from Long Island to Nova Scotia, but he’s also sailed both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.

His offshore passages include several voyages to the Caribbean and Bermuda. He has raced boats of various sizes in both yacht club round-the-buoys races and ocean races. He outfitted and has maintained by himself his latest boat, a 38-foot sloop.

Tom’s articles and columns about sailing and the sailing life have appeared in national and regional boating periodicals, including SAIL and Good Old Boat magazines.

He has published two books of sailing stories, Treacherous Waters and Intrepid Voyagers. See more at

He also worked with the American Red Cross and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary writing boating safety books. He enjoys teaching others to sail.

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1. When did you first start sailing and what attracted you to it? What is your favourite and least favourite moment while sailing in your 30 years experience? What is the worst thing ever to happen to you on a boat?

Growing up in the middle of the U.S., I had no exposure to sailing at all until I was in my 20’s. Then, almost on a lark, I went on a learn-to-sail liveaboard cruise on a 38-footer.

We sailed from Florida to Bimini in the Bahamas, and I was well taught and fell in love with all the gear and expertise almost as much as the sailing itself. We snorkeled, dove for conch, and enjoyed the tropics lifestyle—and I’ve loved cruising ever since.

That first voyage remains one of my favorites, especially the day I passed my bareboat test by soloing off anchor and handling everything on the boat while navigating to a new anchorage. I loved the independence and sense of being in control (how little I then knew about how little I actually knew!).

Thirty years later, my worst experience occurred: a 48-hour bout of seasickness (which I’d never had before) a day out of Bermuda that made me almost comatose and scared the bejeebers out of my crewmates.

Never did figure out why I got sick that time, but I’d rather pitchpole than experience that again!

2. I read your blog article, posted on November 17th 2009, about Mandatory Boating Safety Courses and I see that you have worked with the Coast Guard to write boating safety books.

(a) Firstly, do you believe that an online test, in operation in Canada and Florida, is a satisfactory way of examining boating safety, instead of a more robust course, exam and certificate method?

(b) Secondly, don’t you think that although boating has a lower number of accidents than other human made machines, that boating should be more regulated and that the accidents that are caused by negligence of safety, are usually far more serious and cause far more damage than say a ladder falling over? What policies do you think should be enacted to prevent boating safety incidents, if not online tests?

I do feel very strongly about boating safety, but I have mixed feelings about examinations and regulations.

First, the huge majority of accidents involve only people on the boat experiencing the accident—unlike auto accidents, for example, where thousands of innocent people die every year because of the carelessness of other drivers. It is true that innocent boaters are sometimes the victim of being struck by other boats, but this is relatively rare.

So I’m not sure that the tens of thousands of responsible sailors should be made to take a course and obtain a certificate or license. I also wouldn’t want to be stopped frequently on the water by "boat police" to check that I have a license.

Alcohol is the biggest factor in most boating fatalities (which occur predominantly in powerboats or small paddle craft)—and neither a course nor a license would prevent that.

I believe the best cure is simply being aware of potential problems: one of the reasons I so often blog about people falling overboard without wearing a PFD, being hit in the head by the boom, etc.

3. On your profile, it mentions that you have written and published two books filled with sailing stories, called Treacherous Waters and Intrepid Voyagers. What made you want to write nautical books and can you give us a summary of what they contain? Do they relate to your real life experience?

I have spent much of my sailing life in New England, which has long winters. If I’m not on a boat in warmer waters, I’m generally reading about sailing.

About 10 years ago I realized I’d read almost all of the sailing narratives (true stories) published in English, including lots of out-of-print books scavenged from libraries and rare book dealers, and I simply wanted to share the best of them with other sailors and readers. Both those books are collections of true stories excerpted from the many hundreds of books I’d collected over the years.

I wrote introductions and transitions, but the stories are the originals. I think every sailor can relate to these stories—and we can all learn tremendously as well from the experiences of others.

4. How long have you taught sailing and why do you do it? What do you feel is the best teaching method to allow people to enjoy sailing at the same time as trying to make them understand the right way to do things on a boat? Have you always been successful in teaching students or have you had a few people who were unable to respond to your methods?

I have to say first that I do not teach sailing formally—I’ve taught friends, kids, others, but not in a formal program.

As a former college teacher, I may have learned a few things about teaching—and I’ve always enjoyed it—but I have a lot of respect for those who teach sailing in real programs.

One thing I’ve observed is that you can’t "try to make them understand"—someone either wants to learn it or doesn’t, and you can’t "make" them.

I’ve watched people get off a sailboat after their first time and never get on one again. Others hop aboard and are so attracted to sailing that you can’t get them off, can’t get them to stop asking question about what this or that does, can’t tear them away from the tiller.

For me, the best teaching is doing — all the classroom time in the world won’t prepare one for what’s really involved in sailing.

Still, some people need to understand the physics of wind and propulsion before they can trim well, while others feel the wind on their cheek and seem to intuit how the boat works.

You have to talk about other things, of course, why to keep lines coiled so you’re not tripping over them, how to navigate without going aground first, all the rules of right of way to avoid hitting that sailboat crossing ahead—and all that takes time.

But I still think it’s best to learn from experience: as long as the learner has a good long time to learn in a wide variety of sailing experiences.

If you’re fortunate to live in a sailing area, possibly the best "school" is volunteering to crew on other people’s boats to gain that experience.

Find out more about Tom Lochhaas and his Sailing Site

Have any questions for Tom? Ask them below! I cannot guarantee he will answer any of them though.

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