Meet Debbie Dunne

Instruction, Orange Coast college School of Sailing and Seamanship

Before Debbie Dunne turned 16 years old she joined Triton, an all-girl Sea Scout ship at the Newport Sea Base. The director saw she had an aptitude for boating — she started on a sailboat at 10 — and hired her to teach rowing, canoeing and sailing classes with other youths during the summer. “I was hooked from that point forward,” said Dunne, who holds a 50-ton U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license, a Master Near Coastal 100-ton license and U.S. Sailing Small Boat and Basic Keelboat certifications.

After stints at Club Med Cancun and sailing clubs in Newport and the San Francisco Bay Area and a stretch in Ireland, she started teaching at Orange Coast College in 1994 when she was coordinating the At-Risk Youth Sailing Program. Since then, the mother of five has taught classes in Lidos, Shields, Keelboats and Racing.

“Someone told me just today that I have an awesome job,” Dunne said. “Grinning ear to ear, all I could say was, ‘Yes, I do have a most awesome job.’”

SEA: What’s the trickiest thing to teach green boaters?
DD: The trickiest thing to teach new sailors is wind; in velocity and direction it is ever changing, so “reading” the wind and its telltales becomes a challenge to be conquered. If the wind is shifty, it gets really confusing. Right when they think they’ve got it figured out, the wind will shift, throwing off their driving and sometimes their confidence. One week the wind might be from the west with a steady breeze, then the next it’s out of the east and gusty. Sometimes they’re sculling to get any kind of movement out of the boat or hanging on for dear life trying not to become overpowered and capsize. For powerboaters, wind is also tricky, especially when they are learning to hold position into the wind. Reacting quickly and early enough so that the bow doesn’t get blown down is a real and rewarding skill in a lot of wind.

What are a couple of lessons people learn that will stick with them their entire boating life?
A lesson that beginner sailors learn right off the bat is what the boom is — an appreciation for what the boom can potentially do and what to do when someone yells “duck!” This lesson is sometimes learned the hard way but then is never forgotten. Another lesson is that each day on the water is a new experience with new learning opportunities. Wind, current and traffic challenges, overnight trips and different crews all build and broaden the boater’s knowledge. One of the great advantages to boating is that the learning never stops.

What are some of the common “rules” violations you see boaters commit around the harbor?
There is a large portion of the population enjoying the harbor that does not have any notion as to what, if any, rules exist. For those individuals, whether out cruising with friends or family on electric or pontoon boats, taking a scenic tour on kayaks or standup paddleboards, or motoring out of the bay on a new 50-foot powerboat, common courtesy and common sense are often times lacking. At the end of each class, I and my fellow instructors swap stories of near misses we see or that our students experience. Lately I have noticed less of an adherence to the 5 mph speed limit/no-wake rule. Small boats regularly get tossed around from a powerboat’s wake. The kids I teach think it’s fun, like being in the ocean; after about the third time taking on water from a boat going by too fast, the adults are not so amused.

When people come to OCC for powerboating lessons, what are the most common things they want to know?
The most common thing that powerboat students want to know is how to better control the boat, especially when docking. They’re usually OK leaving the dock and driving around the harbor, but anxiety sets in when they realize that they have to bring the boat back into the slip. The students soon realize that they can control their vessel better with little bursts of power rather than speed. One student in particular stands out. He said that for 10 years he had owned several powerboats, was self-taught and tired of banging up his boats. He took the class, he said, to finally learn how to do it properly and was pleasantly surprised when he learned finesse — and that full throttle reverse wasn’t necessary to stop the boat.

What’s the most important thing when it comes to successful seamanship?
I would say “situational awareness” — knowing what is going on around you at all times. This encompasses knowing your boat, your ability and that of your crew, the weather, the current, your destination, dressing properly for the conditions, and keeping a constant lookout. You can never be too prepared. I tell my sailing students that Murphy (Murphy’s Law) loves to go sailing. Our job while sailing is to have fun, stay safe and kick Murphy off the boat.

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