Let's get one thing out there first: I am from Iowa. Not exactly a sailing Mecca, but Busan Haps asked me to write on sailing here in Busan. So there I was, off to experience what I’d only read about or seen on TV as I headed to Suyoung-man Marina located in Haeundae, one Saturday morning. With Styx’s “Come Sail Away” on replay in my head, I pumped myself up for my first Basic Dinghy Sailing course offered by the Busan Expat Sailing Association (BESA).
For those of you who are as unfamiliar with boating lingo as I was, dinghies are the small sailboats, fitting only one or two people–a.k.a. the boats you see speckled across the horizon when sitting on the beach in Gwangan-li. Dinghies are perfect for those looking to learn the basics of sailing with no previous sailing experience. Like a girl from Iowa.
The class I was attending was small (8 person cap) and the course began with learning the basic terms and techniques of sailing. Not wasting much time on land, my classmates and I learned how to set up the boats, practiced some dry-land maneuvers for turns, then launched into the marina to put all the new pieces of information into practical use.
When the wind caught my sail for the first time, a feeling of empowerment and confidence filled my blood. Like Stewart from Mad TV, I wanted to jump awkwardly and shout, “Hey, look what I can do!” I was sailing! Until…
One wrong angle to the wind and instantly my sail hung limp leaving me in the …dun dun duuun….dead zone. I felt foolish as my boat bobbed in the water. The next minute as I was struggling to exit the dead zone and find the wind, my sail filled and the boat jerked forward. Suddenly I was moving fast–too fast. I was hitting the waves and trying to keep balanced while the boat began to fill with water. I watched as my favorite shoe slipped away into the sea. I’d caught a gust. After a few deep breaths, I was in control once again. I was sailing!
Sailing has all the right ingredients for a true adventure: a little danger, battling the elements, physically and mentally challenging, frustrating, and thrilling all in one. If you need any more reasons to love Busan, then add sailing to the list. Busan is home to Korea’s only expat sailing club, created to give expats the opportunity to experience Korea on the open sea, away from the overcrowded and noisy beaches.
Expats from all over the ROK come to take the courses offered by the BESA. The BESA offers basic and master level lessons on dinghies, as well as a larger keel boat course. “It’s a nice and relaxing way to see a different perspective of Busan while looking way cooler than the people walking the path along the coast,” recommended dinghy classmate, Albert Le Roux.
The fact that Busan is home to the only expat sailing club in Korea can be attributed to Mark Chi, founder and director of BESA. Chi, an expat himself from Salt Lake City, Utah, came to Korea seven years ago with plans to stay only a few months to travel and visit family. When he accepted a job teaching English, months turned into years–and so it goes for many of us.
In his free time, Chi would visit the marina. “I raced big boats in college so I felt this itch to try water sports here in Korea,” he said. He began helping out at the marina, getting to know people there, and eventually joined a basic dingy class. Chi immediately fell in love with the smaller, more physically challenging dinghy boats.
As with many activities you find when living abroad, language barrier is a constant issue. “I was telling my expat co-workers about the dinghy classes and they also expressed interested. But of course, they wouldn’t be able to understand a class offered in Korean.” Chi then asked the Director of Busan’s Sailing Federation (also the head coach for Korea’s Olympic training program), Mr. Kim, about expats joining the classes offered in Korean, volunteering to translate the material and instructions for his friends.
Mr. Kim was enthused about the expat interest and suggested to Chi that he start a club for expats, offering his own lessons or courses in English. Mr. Kim made it possible by providing boats, some building space and support for getting the club off its feet. With the necessary boost from Mr. Kim and a little hard work and perseverance from Chi, the BESA was born in 2008.
The group started small in its first year with just a dozen members. In its second year the club took off, growing to over 40 members and over 100 who took the classes. Now into its third year, Chi is happy to see the club going so well. “The club currently has 10 boats. We hope to buy more beginner boats and maybe some three people boats so we can keep growing.”
Teaching on the side now, Chi stays busy directing the BESA and helping to organize international match races in Korea. “You know, I never thought this could turn into a job. It was just for recreation before,” he said thinking back on how things have progressed. “Sailing and the BESA are really what’s kept me here in Korea.”
Long before there was me, other expats or Chi braving the Korean seas there was Yi Sun-Shin, a legend in Korean naval history from the 16th century and hero among Koreans still today. So popular in fact, that in 2004, a drama aired in Korea based on Yi Sun-Shin’s life, called The Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-Shin. Commander during the Japanese invasions during the Joseon Dynasty, Yi Sun-Shin was famous for not losing a single battle, turning back the Japanese by using his innovative turtle ship, and dying a heroic death during the Battle of Noryang in 1598.
Korea’s rich history on the sea may be reason why today it is recognized as being a strong sailing country in Asia. Korea competes well in the Asian Games and Asian Sailing Championships. “Korea hasn’t done so well in the Olympics, but recently they are doing much better. There is one guy that has a chance to finish in the top 10 in the next Olympics,” predicted Chi.
No big dreams of becoming an Olympic sailor for this Iowan, but I will say that summer is looking a whole lot more exciting with a shiny, new sailing certificate in my hands. Grab a few friends and sign up for the BESA course, you won’t regret it. And would you keep your eye out for a drifting gray, canvas shoe, size 9, I’d appreciate it.
For more information about the BESA, lessons, or club membership, go to: www.busansailing.com or call 010-2858-9470
For more on Yi Sun-Shin or his turtle ship check out: www.koreanhero.net