Sailing / July 27, 2021

Women, Wellness & Water Part Two: Interview with Skipper Jo-Ann

Read along on our interview with Skipper Jo-Ann

Captivated by sailing since 2013, Jo-Ann Heinz is both the skipper of her own cruising sailboat and an experienced racer in One-design sailboat racing. She just returned from a three-week trip, cruising through the Broughtons, a picturesque area off BC’s coastline. Just north of Desolation Sound, the Broughtons are often described as “rustic, remote and majestic.” Traveling with a group of powerboats, Jo-Ann’s was the lone sailboat, and according to her, “the power boaters weren’t such bad people.”

What got you hooked on sailing?

It was late summer, and I was on one of those little False Creek ferries during the early evening. I spotted a couple on a sailboat, and it looked like they were going out to enjoy the sunset and some time on the water. I came home and told my then-husband that I really would have preferred a boat instead of the motorcycle he had just purchased. He suggested I take some sailing lessons, which I did.

Not long after that, I was on one of those little ferries again, and this time I met a woman named MC, who owned a racing sailboat called Presto. She asked me if I’d like to crew for her team, and I said yes. I went to West Marine to buy foul weather gear for racing and somehow, through that little errand, within ten days I owned a 27-foot Catalina sailboat!

How many boats do you have now?

I have two sailboats. The one I use for cruising is a 2007 Beneteau 343, which replaced the Catalina. The Beneteau has a V-berth and a furling main. I’m mentioning the furling main because having one means I can take the boat out on my own much easier. Usually, for sailing, you have a mainsail that floats down onto the boom, whereas with the furling main, we furl the sail into the mast, which is ideal for single handling the boat.

My racing boat is 24-foot, Martin 242. There’s nothing fancy in that thing at all. There’s not even a cushion or a toilet. Well, there is a toilet. The toilet is a bucket that when it’s not being used as a bucket, we turn it over and it’s a table. It’s really for racing only and is part of a fleet of other 242 boats that compete in One-design racing, which is the type of race where whoever crosses the finish line first, comes in first.

When and where do you race?

You can race 12 months out of the year, with the exception of a few breaks between fall and winter, and winter and spring. In the summer there are plenty of weekend regattas, along with evening racing on Wednesday and Thursday nights in English Bay. There’s also evening racing on Wednesday night out of the West Vancouver Yacht Club. Locally, I’m more into racing the Georgia Strait and Howe Sound.

Just before COVID-19, I raced in the RORC 600 which takes place in the Caribbean. This was a five-day race, and we covered 600 nautical miles. From there it was off to St. Maarten for the Heineken Regatta one week later.

What’s the best upgrade you’ve added to your cruising sailboat that literally doubled your enjoyment on the boat?

I just did an upgrade that changed my life; I put two solar panels on my Bimini top. If you don’t have solar panels, there are only two ways to charge the battery: one is running the engine at a high rev and the other is going back to a dock, plugging in, and charging it there. Now that I have the solar panels, I never have to run my engine, nor do I have to go back to a silly, old dock. I have all the power in the world and it’s fantastic!

What’s the best upgrade you’ve added that increased safety?

I have a Garmin Inreach Satellite Communication device which allows me to communicate with those at home when I am out of cell range. People can see me on the Garmin as well. I can send them a link, they can go online, and follow my boat and my passage plan. If I deviate from that plan, then they know that something could be wrong. This gives me some freedom to go a little bit further out, with added safety and peace of mind.

For someone interested in sailing, what are three boating courses you recommend they take?

First, take a basic sailing course that teaches sailing terminology and the parts of the boat. That way when you’re on board and you’re asked to go to the stern and undo the lifeline, you’ll know where the stern is and what a lifeline is. The other thing is to know you’re knots. If you can come on board and tie a bowline knot quickly, that’s awesome. You need to know your knots and terminology.

One of the most important courses to take is the Canadian Aids to Navigation System. When boating, you need to know what all the signage/buoys on the water mean. Boating in our local BC waters is some of the toughest boating in the world because we have such rocky shores. You could find yourself in a pickle, in the wrong place, with your boat up on a rock because you didn’t know what a ‘port-hand-day beacon’ is.

Finally, there’s something else important that new sailors need to understand. I think many people view sailing as something easy, fun, and all flowers and butterflies. Well, it’s not. Things go wrong and you need to be prepared to deal with them. I suggest having an understanding that it’s not all flowers and butterflies.

You know what they say- boating is fixing your boat in exotic places. I was just out recently and had a problem with the furling main upon arrival at a beautiful anchorage. My guy, Nigel had to go up the mast. We worked hard in the heat to fix the boat. We didn’t necessarily enjoy anchorage as much as we would have if we didn’t have that problem, but we had no choice but to fix it.

What are the three items you always pack in your bag before launch?

Credit card, My PFD, and sunscreen. Always.

What is the process to become a skipper?

For my sailing knowledge, I took a basic crew course and a skipper course through Cooper Boating. I then did Sail Canada’s Basic course and received my Sail Canada Basic certification. After basic, I completed the intermediate course. I’ve also done a course called Safety at Sea. Some of the races require all the crew to have the Safety at Sea Course, which covers what to do when things go sideways, like abandoning ship, using flares, etc.

Returning to the quote, ‘Boating is fixing your boat in exotic places’…

I have a friend who owns her boat. Right now, she’s having lots of mechanical problems. This really comes down to having a proper maintenance program and checklists in place to manage preventable issues. Every time you take the boat out, check the oil, the water level, open up and inspect the engine and check for any leaks. A proper maintenance program reduces your chances of something going sideways.

There’s the yoga/sailing combination, the painting/sailing combination, aside from racing, did you discover an unexpected hobby or activity that you only discovered because of sailing?

When I arrive at an anchorage, I get my inflatable kayak into the water, and I kayak around with my camera, photographing the scenery, the wildlife, and I love it. When I was in the Broughtons a couple of weeks ago, I was on anchor for about four or five days. I had porpoises swimming around my boat.

And then there were the seals. Perhaps they all look the same, but I think it was the same seal that visited me in the mornings. I’d say, ‘Good morning, Sam,’ and he would come a little closer, and then go away. Seeing that while you’re listening to the birds chirping and getting ready for their day? It’s really quite delightful. The other hobby I took up was learning how to make gin and tonics. That’s a new hobby.

What are the greatest health benefits for you while sailing?

For me, it’s definitely a positive for mental health. When I’m sailing, I’m focused on sailing. The sails are set and I’m adjusting the direction of the boat by little bits of degrees at a time in reaction to the wind. You do this by looking at your telltales, which are little pieces of light material attached to the sails. Imagine sitting on the side of your boat, steering the wheel with your foot while just watching your telltales, and periodically checking the surroundings and maintaining course.

You can sit like that for long periods of time, and all you’re doing is looking at those telltales to make sure they’re flying straight and making little adjustments with your foot. To me, that’s meditative and mindfulness. That means that I’m not thinking about all the other stuff that might be going on in my life that’s not so pleasant, or worrisome, or needs some serious thought. All I have to do is look at those telltales. I think sailing is very good for mental health.

In a price no object, no limitation scenario, what is your dream sailing adventure?

I have sailed many places in this world. I’ve sailed quite a bit in the Caribbean and in French Polynesia. I’m due to go to Fiji in the fall, but that will depend on COVID-19. I’ve sailed in all these places that are very beautiful, hot, and tropical. But to be honest, those places have nothing on the geography we have locally here in British Columbia. I think the most beautiful and interesting cruising grounds are here in BC. It’s some of the best sailing in the world in my opinion.

I’ve just been to the Broughtons for the first time, and it’s very crisp and completely beautiful. Such beautiful trees in so many different shades of green, blended with so many different shades of blue. I saw eagles, whales, porpoises, and seals. All the sights that you want to see, and the fishing was great, too. I’m very blessed to be able to have a boat that is moored here.

How many new friends have you made while sailing?

In all my years of sailing, I’ve met a lot of new acquaintances, and some very good friends and we all share a love for sailing.

Do you belong to any online groups that connect you with like-minded sailors?

Now that I’m single, I belong to a Facebook single sailors’ group. I’m also a member of other Facebook groups for racing or cruising specific to the Gulf Islands, and groups that are just for Beneteau owners. I also follow various yacht clubs on Facebook, so I keep up to speed on the latest happenings.

And finally, do you have any words of wisdom for people considering sailing as a potential new pastime?

Going back to the chance meeting of MC on that little ferry…one of the things I think about in life is, that these opportunities come to us when we let our ship leave the port. Whether your ship is that you’re just a human going out your front door, or your ship is your car driving somewhere. When we let our ship leave the port, it opens us to opportunities.


Resources:  Interview with Skipper Jo-Ann

Woman, Water & Wellness, Part 1

Broughton Archipelago Provincial Park

Sail Canada sailor programs

Ten useful sailing knots

Aids to Navigation: Buoys

RVYC: One Design Racing

RORC 600

Garmin Inreach Satellite Explorer

Southern Navigation Insurance



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