BEIRUT: Criss Gibran saw the first sailboat of his life in Lebanon as he was driving to university more than 20 years ago. He waved the mysterious boat down, befriended its Belgian sailors and fell so in love with life on the water that he spent the remainder of that school year residing on the sail boat.
Gibran has been sailing ever since. Before moving back in 2008, he taught sailing in Ottawa, Canada. Now, he and a handful of other sailing enthusiasts with boats up and down to coast are determined to raise interest in the sport here in Lebanon, where fall wind and weather conditions make September and October perfect months for taking to the sea.
Sailing is not an extreme sport.
Unlike most of Lebanon’s water sport offerings – like Jet Skis, wind surfing or whitewater rafting – sailboats are slow and meditative.
Some of the resistance to sailing in Lebanon comes from those who want adrenaline-pumping activities, which are the preference of the majority of Lebanon’s water sports clientele, he said. To cater to that population, some of Lebanon’s sailboat operators host yacht-like parties with loud music, dancing and hard alcohol.
Gibran’s Tanit Sailing takes a different approach.
“As soon as we leave the marina, we turn off the engine. You’re only at the mercy of the wind and the only sound you’re hearing is from the wind and the waves,” Gibran said.
Whether you’re interested in a peaceful group outing, chartering a rowdy bachelor’s party, learning to sail yourself or only watching the boats from ashore, Lebanon’s sailing companies have a range of offerings that will add some nautical adventure to your fall agenda.
Chill outTanit’s offerings center around sailing’s inherent peacefulness, so the company has devised outings that harness the meditative nature of life at sea.
For example, Wind and Wine ($100 per person) offers a Sunday afternoon at sea. Little more than a dozen friends and strangers gather to unwind, nibble on cheese and meat and drink wine, and return as the sun is setting.
This weekend, Tanit started Sailing and Soul Searching ($70). After work on Friday, the crew takes passengers out just as the sun is setting. A yogi then leads the sun salutation and other meditation exercises before the boat returns around 9 p.m.
Without the sound of the engine, Tanit’s boat has of late attracted the interest of a school of dolphins living off the shore of Lebanon. The dolphins mistake the boat for a whale and tend to hang around for half an hour, jumping and swimming beside the boat, Gibran said.
“Ninety percent of the time we’re seeing dolphins,” he said. “It’s a dream. Some people start shouting and clapping when the dolphins jump out of the water.”
Sailing out into the sea offers an escape from the light pollution of Beirut. Several times a year, Gibran invites passengers to watch meteor showers. In October, he’ll arrange a trip to see the lunar eclipse, he said.
Besides recreation, Tanit offers organized business trips. Some have held meetings on the boat. Others use the outing to host intense team-building workshops that Gibran and his team devise, which he said are very successful in fostering camaraderie in the work place.
Tanit sails out of La Marina Dbayyeh. For more information, call 01-697-210 or visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/TanitSailing.Make it RomanticThe privacy and serenity of sailing is undeniably romantic, Speed Sailing owner Assaad Rayess said.
One of his most popular offerings is a private evening for couples ($300), including wine and dinner. The couple get to watch the sunset and spend a few hours at sea before returning.
One client recently organized a proposal by printing the question on a sailboat mast.
“I think it will be the proposal of the year,” Rayess said.
Sailing tends to attract many of Lebanon’s tourists, although two seasons of dwindling foreign visitors has taken a toll, Rayess said.
“Actually Lebanese people don’t like to sail. They like adrenaline, they like to be hyper. We usually have a lot of foreigners – Spanish and Swiss.”
Speed Sailing offers a two-day trip, which sails to Batroun for an overnight and then returns to Dbayyeh. The boat holds a kitchen, one master bedroom as well as three other bedrooms, each with two beds.
Rayess is trying to make it possible to host a weeklong trip ($4,000) that travels all along the Lebanese coast. But without public marinas, docking at each port city is complicated, he said.
Charters are very popular among Speed Sailing’s clientele, who take out the boat and captain for things like bachelor parties or engagements.
Speed Sailing sails out of La Marina Dbayyeh. For more information, call 70-551-145 or visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/speedsailing700.Learn to SailLocated in Batroun, the Lebanese Yacht Club offers organized courses in sailing.
Instructor Rayan Assaf says sailing is easy to learn and after just a handful of classes, someone is capable of taking a sail boat out alone.
“It’s not that difficult. As much as you practice, that how good you’ll be. We give five sessions and after five, you’ll be good. You won’t be really good, but you can sail alone,” he said.
Sailing has been slow to catch on in Lebanon partly because of its costs. A package of five sessions at the Lebanese Yacht Club costs $250, and renting a sailboat from the club starts at $40 per hour without a membership, according to the club’s website.
Almost any age group can learn how to sail. Six is the youngest he’s taught, and he said kids have a harder time with learning directions, but they pick up the rhythm of sailing faster than adults.
“They pick it up very quickly,” Assaf said. “They’re not afraid.”
Students are taught on small sailboats because the smaller boats are more sensitive to changes in direction.
Sailboats for purchase are rare in Lebanon, and Assaf said buying your own is very expensive. At the Yacht Club, certified sailors can become members ($100 per year) to get discounts on boat rentals.
The Lebanese Yacht Club is located in Batroun at the LYC Building, on the sea road 300 meters after Madfoun Bridge. For more information call 06-741-841 or visit lebaneseyachtclub.org.
Trying to describe what sailing is like, Speed Sailing owner Rayess said it’s simply something you have to try to appreciate.
“I cannot describe sailing. I’m addicted to this,” Rayess said.
“You must see the wind and the waves. It’s relaxing, there’s no pollution. It’s another world.”