Updated: May 23, 2021
"Things are inherently meant to go wrong and even still, sailing is a “whole other world” where sailors are “chasing summer” and where there are no lines to divide people, not really, because it’s about competence and skill."
Sailing is an activity that many people wonder and dream about. If you’re wondering and dreaming, perhaps it’s time to take a lesson with Go Sail Flathead Lake and visit with their team of experienced and kind instructors who’ve spent years on the water. Through a series of stories, we’re hoping to introduce you to the people who make Go Sail Flathead Lake a special place and a welcoming space to learn. We hope you’ll read on and enjoy stories from some of the best in the business!
He leaned in, closer to the camera, and I had a feeling he was going to share something interesting. It was the kind of slow body movement that makes you tune in, with ears at the ready for whatever words are about to be spoken. He said, “Cypriot Mafia”, and I knew this rabbit hole would be a good story straight from the source: Captain Aaron Edward Sale.
Aaron’s middle name is the first name of the famous pirate, Blackbeard, whose real name was Edward Teach – coincidence? Perhaps not….
Even over Zoom, Aaron’s passion for his work, for sailing, and his craft is apparent. His eyes lit up and his mouth widened into a smile when we started digging into his time on the water. Aaron has sailed, worked, and lived all over the world, all thanks to the sport of sailing. He loves it – but admitted that it can be very hard. For him, the sacrifice of not seeing family all the time and the challenges of the dynamic industry are worth the time spent on a sailboat.
Sailing teaches a person awareness, he said, and how to be calm, how to slow things down. The perspective gained is incredible. Patience is important, Aaron stressed, because something will always go wrong, and that’s why sailors have such good stories. It “takes certain people to wear so many hats” he said, because “so many things have to go wrong before you get them right.” Aaron laughed as he said that it’s “so human of us to put all these ridiculous electrical systems on salt water, the most abrasive element in the world.” Things are inherently meant to go wrong and even still, sailing is a “whole other world” where sailors are “chasing summer” and where there are no lines to divide people, not really, because it’s about competence and skill.
When Aaron was younger, he raced with his father on the Columbia River and like a sponge, he soaked up every ounce of time he spent on the water, in all kinds of weather, sailing all year long. As a kid, he suffered through gloomy Washington winters always looking forward to Montana summers on Flathead Lake, where his family has had a cabin since 1952. Aaron’s family are fifth generation Montanans.
Flathead Lake “taught me to love the water” and he took that love everywhere he went. “Flathead means everything to me,” and it’s where he now calls home. It’s a pretty special thing that the place that helped foster a love of sailing is now the place that Aaron calls home, and where he can pass on valuable lessons and spend summer days working with students through Go Sail Flathead Lake . From Washington, to Hawaii, to Great Britain, to Turkey, and Greece, and Croatia, with many places before and after and in between, Aaron has spent time sailing in a total of 23 countries.
He didn’t look for it, but sailing was something he was good at, and he said, “no matter where I went, sailing followed me.” 2008 was the last year he held a “shoe job” otherwise known as an “office job”. I wasn’t following him, so he repeated, “shoe jobs!”, as he let out a laugh and flashed a smile, explaining that sailing meant no shoes. Since then, it’s been a rare day that he has had to wear shoes while working.
Some of the most respected sailors, and arguably, some of the best sailors in the world hail from Southern England, where the tides, currents, and navigational hazards are many. Aaron trained and learned from the best. He spent 7 years on the water working everyday to build skills with the RYA – the Royal Yachting Association. He was the only American, and said he never came across another American while there, training with British sailors through all seasons, with British winters being especially difficult – and “really cold – freezing!!!” In the summer, he sailed in the Mediterranean, and would also work across Europe, Asia, and more specifically, Turkey.
It’s the history that seems to impress him the most about a place. Aaron described the island of Saint Nicholas in Turkey, with a 4,000-year-old palace, and how it was built for an albino princess. Grand murals depicted her, beautiful by themselves, which hid the fact that half of the city was under water. Under the surface, an entire palace ruin existed with stone walls, and a very old story. He remembered feeling a sense of shock, that the realization was a “crazy moment” because of how old the ruins were and in comparison, how young his home country of the United States is.
While in Cyprus, early in Aaron’s career, he was working as the first mate on a large sailboat with a very tall French-Canadian man who six foot six, and a sailor, and a chef that was also Canadian. The crew needed to get the sailboat to Israel because the vessel was scheduled to be the lead boat for the country’s Independence Day celebrations. There were rumors of a makeshift club, so the three men ventured out to find if the mythical club rumor was real, and what they found wasn’t a club at all. There was no bar, and there were many men wearing leather jackets, their bodies adorned with tattoos, and they “looked hard – they looked like they killed people.” Aaron said they were “rugged looking buggers!”
Long story short, the rugger buggers wound up being part of the Cypriot Mafia. The group is known to be involved in drug trafficking, armed robbery and money laundering, and that night, Aaron’s crew barely escaped their wrath. The way he explained it, the evening sounded as though everything happened quickly, and took a turn for the worst, with necks being slammed against the wall, feet running towards the exit, people being thrown out of the establishment that was not in fact a club, and his crew of one chef and two sailors – all high on adrenaline – racing back to the multi-million-dollar sailboat and leaving earlier than expected, very early in the morning, to sail to Israel, their final destination.
A few days later, around 4am, Aaron said they were all blinded by a light that was “brighter than any sun I’ve ever seen”. They’d come within the border of Israel. The torch from the Israeli Navy made the crew instantly alert and wide awake, as they focused their cannon on the sailboat. Aaron and his crew were early in their arrival, by 1-2 days, since they had to flee Cyprus so fast, so the Israeli Navy spent almost 45 minutes verifying the crew’s stories and peppered them with questions. Israel has strict war laws and can be a geographically dangerous spot to travel, but once the soldiers invited the crew into Israel, Aaron said they were the nicest people he’s ever met – and that the friendliness continued in the cities and towns he visited.
I “can’t make this stuff up”, he said as wrapped up the story and then went onto explaining what a sailor’s lifestyle consists of, which is, “drunken reunions, creating new friendships on the water and extending my seagoing ‘family’ with flags and ensigns from all over the world… and of course, their dogs.” Aaron runs into people from years ago and they both still remember each other. The community of sailors is a small one and everyone is considered a friend.
While teaching, Aaron occasionally tells his students that in “5 lifetimes of sailing, you’ll still never get it all right. Too much can happen on the water, and you never stop learning”. He shared that every sailor has a completely different set of experiences and, in essence then, their own story. That’s the exciting part of the industry, listening to stories. “If you’re smart, you’ll soak them up like a sponge.” He’s endlessly waiting and listening patiently to others to see what he can learn, especially if it’s a tool that’ll help him out when it’s not always sunny skies and fair winds. These are some of the lessons you’ll learn when you become a student at Flathead Lake Sailing School.
Often though, sailors tend to chat about the days where things went “Pear Shaped,” which he explained is a British term meaning, “where things went horribly awry!” No sailor wants to talk about a perfect day when they can relive a crazy experience when they narrowly got out of it! Preparation and learning are the keys to success.
Sailing is “so experiential”, and Aaron said that if you’re going to sail, you have to be prepared to “go with the weather and go with the wind.” Start out with learning theory because he said, “you can never do enough theory”, especially chart work, and when that translates into the practical side of sailing, it gives a person a sense of pride because you’re doing things the old-fashioned way and that is something that he has always found fascinating. Sailing is complex and Aaron stressed that he is still and always will be learning to perfect skills and continue to research.
Aaron said that “Blue Water” otherwise known as “ocean sailing” is more dangerous than ever before due to weather and changes in the climate but there is better technology as well. Some of the most seasoned sailors know when weather is coming, and he shared a story about fishermen in Croatia that warned him of a very bad storm coming, which no technology picked up and seemed to come out of nowhere. You’ll have “those days”, Aaron said, with storms, strong winds, and it’s scary, and pretty terrifying but you “weigh that and what it’s worth to you”, especially with all the good and beautiful days being on a sailboat. “You have to feel it,” he said, how to match the wind with the waves because you’re going to experience storms, but after the storm, comes the sun and hopefully, calm seas – at least till the next storm.
Aaron stressed that, “On my courses, I WANT students to make mistakes.” He shared that people will never forget those mistakes and it makes sense to mess up during a lesson at Flathead Lake Sailing School because it’s a safe environment to learn in, where he can help correct them. “It’s also a huge tool for other students on board, so – be a sponge! Absorb as much as you can and learn from others because taking lessons is faster and much cheaper than destroying someone else’s boat! The whole process should be exhilarating, fun and useful.”
Aaron is one of many instructors and captains at Flathead Lake Sailing School that are wanting and ready to support you on your next adventure. Whether you’ve had lessons before or never been on the water, Flathead Lake Sailing School offers the expertise, patience, and professionalism to work with learners of all abilities and support you with your goal of becoming a sailor. We hope to see you on the water real soon!