“You’re draggin’ a big butt!”

I’d never had anybody say this to me. But these were the words Russ Levine was shouting as he pulled up behind my little sailboat in Fisherman Bay one Tuesday night this summer. It turns out Russ wasn’t referring to my posterior. This was his way of telling my sailing partner and me to move further up in the boat – adjusting our ballast so we’d sail faster. This and other phrases – like “Sheet in!” and “You’re luffing!” (not to mention “stay away from that yacht!”) – were part of the new lexicon that several other Lopezians and I learned during the beginner sailing lessons spread over 5 Tuesday evenings this summer. The lessons were one of the many summer workshops offered by the Lopez Island Family Resource Center (LIFRC).


Our instructor, Russ Levine, has been sailing since he was eight-years-old, and he’s been teaching sailing lessons for his entire adult life. As beginning sailors, we couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. The amount of knowledge Russ needed to impart to us was doled out gradually in a very straightforward, understandable way (butt dragging comments notwithstanding). We signed up to learn how to sail. We learned some physics and some Lopez sociology along the way. For instance, Russ had a keen sense of who did and didn’t belong in a boat together.


Russ grew up in Seattle and fell in love with sailing early on. Back then, sailing wasn’t very accessible to the average kid, and there wasn’t a sailing scene in his school. So, Russ did what he could to get on boats. He took odd jobs doing boat repair, which led to crew jobs.  Russ started sailboat racing in college at UW, which eventually led to a sailing instructor job at the Seattle Yacht Club while he worked in Seattle’s shipyards and studied geology at the U. In 1987, Russ and his wife moved up to Lopez in search of a less urban lifestyle. Soon after that he began teaching sailing to kids – and later adults – through the LIFRC.

Beyond the colorful terminology I learned from Russ, my favorite aspect of the sailing class was that Russ got us sailing almost immediately. No amount of lectures on the dock or review of sailing terms is a substitute for getting in a boat and working directly with the forces of nature – wind, currents, and confusion from fellow sailors. That’s not to say that Russ didn’t provide us information to study. Before we even started, he sent us 7 pages of notes he’d typed – covering common sailing terms and giving us a clear idea of what to expect. Russ seriously prepared for every class – even if that preparation was sometimes done over a beer at the Galley before class.


The fact that Russ has been sought out year after year to teach sailing for the LIFRC speaks volumes for how valuable he is as a resource to the community. According to Russ, “a lot of kids develop a lifelong love of sailing” after he teaches them – some even becoming sailing instructors themselves.

Beyond simply teaching people how to sail, the LIFRC summer workshops are a great way to meet others in the community. During my sailing class this summer, I became acquainted with people from all over the island – native Lopezians and transplants like me. I even happened to meet my neighbors across the bay for the first time.

If you want to learn how to sail and have fun doing it, I highly recommend taking Russ’s sailing class. And if there’s anything about which you or others in your family are curious, you should definitely check out one of the nearly 200 LIFRC summer workshops.


2 thoughts on ““You’re draggin’ a big butt!”

  1. Pingback: The Top 10 Things I Learned Living on Lopez Island | Project 468

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