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Meet Rena Kazmierski

Kazmierski.jpeg_50pTell us about how you got into sailing?
I was about 35 (12 years ago) when my friend Shannon asked me if I wanted to go for a sail out of the Downtown Sailing Center (DSC) in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Once I had a hand on that tiller and the boat was heeling and moving, I instantly fell in love with the magic of it! My life completely changed from that day on, and I proceeded to dedicate my existence to sailing, including quitting my job to work on boats.

Did you have any preconceived notions about sailing?
This is a great question; I almost didn’t go sailing that first time because of my assumption that all sailors were Rich Dudes on Yachts Who Wear Crested Jackets and looked down on working class Baltimoreans like me. Is that true? Sometimes, but not 100-percent true. This was an impression formed from being born and raised in Baltimore, while viewing Annapolis from a distance.

What has been your sailing experience thus far, and what are your future plans?
I have sailed anything from access dinghies and J/22s at the DSC to working as crew on the beautiful 74-foot Schooners Woodwind, participating in three Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Races. I hold a USCG 50-ton Master’s License, and have worked as delivery crew on yachts to and from the Caribbean. I’ve been a volunteer for the last 10 years at the DSC taking people with disabilities sailing, and work summers as a sailing instructor for Baltimore City high schoolers. I’ve raced and cruised in the Caribbean and on the Chesapeake Bay, and sailed along the coast of Maine. My long-term plan, and the reason I’m dedicated to learning as much as possible, is to one day live on my own boat and travel.

If someone were interested in learning to sail, what would you tell them?
First, I would tell them to look into learning at the DSC. The community there is very supportive and down-to-earth. It’s affordable, and there are many ways to incorporate boats into your life. Second, I would tell them to never listen to someone who tells them they can’t sail. I’m a huge believer that anyone should have access to the water, and if the technical aspect of learning is a challenge, just find someone you can learn from. There are many ways to approach sailing. Third, don’t let a screaming skipper ruin your experience of sailing. It’s possible to find boats skippered by really good and patient sailors. In other words, find every opportunity you can to get on a boat and be open to learning as much as you can.

How have you learned to sail? Have you taken any formal classes?
I started by taking formal lessons at the DSC. I was also lucky enough to get hired on a ketch which did charters out of Baltimore; then I worked on the Woodwind schooners for three years, where I gained vast amounts of skills. The crew on those boats are trained really well, and the captains are very professional. After that, I felt ready to work as delivery crew, and learned more about offshore sailing. Plus, I learned offshore sailing and navigation from a really great captain, Paul Exner of Modern Geographic. I also learned some diesel maintenance basics at the Annapolis School of Seamanship. A lot of my learning has been self-directed; I call it my University of Sailing curriculum!

Did you encounter any obstacles or barriers when you were first beginning?
Besides lack of money or time, I would say the only barriers were in my own head: Am I too old? Can I afford this? Do I fit in? Do I have the courage to do this? I also try not to let others’ attitudes and opinions about what I’m trying to do sway my passion.

~by Beth Crabtree

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