An Aussie in Berkeley: OCSC’s Trevor Steel

We’re shining our Latitude 38 spotlight on local sailing instructors, the on-the-water community of folks who introduce newcomers to our lifetime sport. Trevor Steel is the head of instruction at Berkeley’s OCSC Sailing.

Where did you grow up sailing?

This question assumes that I have grown up. We’ve all heard the story of the boy whose mother asked what he would like to do when he grew up. When the boy answered that he’d like to grow up and be a sailor, his mother sagely replied. “I’m sorry, you can’t do both, you’ll have to make a choice.” I have to confess this applies to me.

Growing up on the eastern coast of Australia you would think that I would have begun sailing at a very early age. Sadly, in the time of my youth, sailing in Australia was a rather exclusive and expensive pastime, and the circumstances of the time kept it beyond my reach. That’s not to say that the passion I had for the water, adventure and travel were in any way diminished. When the opportunity to learn to sail eventually came within reach I grabbed at it with both hands and have never since let go.

Trevor Steel standing at the mast in foulies
Trevor Steel at the mast
© 2020 Trevor Steel

Who taught you to sail?

To name an individual would be a disservice to the hundreds of sailors, mentors and students that I have worked with and listened to over the years. Every single one of them taught me some aspect of sailing that my countless hours of self-learning, reading, and studying failed to cover. Add to that making mistakes that I was fortunate enough to walk away from — all became part of learning to sail. To suggest that the learning is over is a grave mistake on the part of any sailor.

What kind of sailing do you do now?

Of course teaching makes up a great deal of my sailing. I have never raced simply because in order to race and be competitive you have to find the limit of your boat and rig… I’ve never been able to afford ‘finding the limit’. I’ve also never seen the point in breaking a perfectly good boat. As a result, I confess to being a cruiser.

OCSC's building
OCSC’s building contains offices, a classroom and a store.
© 2020 Susan Burden

What’s your favorite thing about teaching sailing?

In this age of technology there are very few activities that involve science, that is understanding and using the physics involved in sailing; craft, that learning that allows lines to be worked and spliced and sails to be trimmed and shaped; and, finally, art, that sense of feel and balance that lets you know all things are in harmony. Sailing needs all of these to be learned. There is no ‘Reset’, no ‘Play Again’ and no quick Google searches to get you through the problem at hand. The thing I like most about teaching is opening this door to folk and letting them experience the calmness that comes from being fully engaged without being overwhelmed.

Student steers the boat away from the dock while instructor stands ready
The instructor stands ready at the stern, but the students are in charge of the boat.
© 2020 Susan Burden

What’s your favorite thing about sailing? Or why do you sail?

Why do I sail? For the same reason I teach.

Can you name three of your favorite sailing books?

The Hornblower Series by C.S. Forester, Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, and Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Robert Cleveland 4 months ago

    Those were very nice answers but would have been nice to have heard answers to the questions asked
    I’m a dual citizen now living on the Sunshine Coast of Qld Australia but sailed on the Bay daily back in the early and late 70’s

  2. Avatar
    Bill O'Connor 4 months ago

    Seems like a nice fellow ….but to list your favorite seafaring authors and omit Patrick O’Brian makes me scratch my head….also not sure what this, “push a boat to its limits until break down” to improve ones racing skills also a bit strange….think I’ll go to another sailing school (lol),

    • Avatar
      David 4 months ago

      You’ll miss out if you do. Trevor and his staff teach people to sail, competently. If they want to race after they have learned to sail, that’s a whole different set of skills. The school works at creating good sailors. I learned a lot from Trevor, and I’m enjoying sailing on the Bay thanks to that education.

  3. Avatar
    Thom 4 months ago

    Sad that people feel the need to trash a perfectly nice article in the comments. Everybody is a know it all on the Internet. Trevor is a great instructor and OCSC is a great sailing school. Our community is grateful for their contribution. Many ways to learn and many ways to enjoy sailing.

  4. Avatar
    Scott 4 months ago

    I became an OCSC student way back in 1986, after a couple years as racing crew. I wanted to know what happened aft of the sheet winches. My OCSC instruction took me all the way to my (then ASA) 50′ charter cert. I continued to race, and everything I learned at OCSC was valuable. Chiefly, how to stay calm and in control of the boat, no matter what’s happening, calmly assess, delegate, and make decisions. OCSC is a great school and a community of terrific folks, from the office to the classrooms, to the docks.

  5. Avatar
    Anne Bell 4 months ago

    I was fortunate to have some brief one-on-one sailing time with Trevor while taking the Basic Keel boating course. My god what a great instructor! Calming, precise, encouraging, and a sense of humor. He worked with me until I got techniques right — and he is a fan of the Hornblower series (which I grew up reading). If I ever sign up for a refresher course or advanced course, it is Trevor I’ll be hoping to have as my instructor!

  6. Avatar
    JEFFREY BELL 4 months ago

    I actually really liked the answers. I also have been sailing for a lot of years and have never been interested in racing. I prefer the feeling into the boat, the wind and water and taking my time. To me, sailing is a sacred experience that need not have to do with speed.

    To be honest, it may be that my disinterest in racing is because I suck at it. I am nearly 70 now. When I was 16, I crewed on a P-Cat for a season out of Mission Bay. I was so lousy at racing that we came in dead last every single race we entered. LOL. But I really did not care much. I just love being out on the water in a good, stiff breeze, or sometimes even a bit more.

    Trevor, you sound like my kinda sailor.

  7. Avatar
    Nicky Murphy 4 months ago

    Trevor Steel, and the other outstanding instructors at OCSC, took me on as a newbie who had never sailed and turned me into a competent, safe, and dare I say, somewhat accomplished sailor. Trevor taught me not only the skills I needed to meet my goals, but also instilled confidence in my abilities and inspired me to grow as a sailor. He is also one of the kindest, wittiest, and most genuine people you’ll ever meet. However, he’ll bitterly deny those compliments due to his self-deprecating nature, and I suspect he’s cursing my name right now if he’s reading this. I now sail my own boat on the Chesapeake and often find myself reflecting on the many valuable lessons and skills Trevor taught me. I’m glad to see him recognized here in Latitude 38.  

  8. Avatar
    Nancy Reed 4 months ago

    INTERESTING READ.

  9. Avatar
    Kevin 4 months ago

    Nice article Trevor
    I was a student a couple of years ago and had Trevor as an instructor often including a couple of PTs
    Uncompromising Experienced and he pushed you to learn to be a sound safe sailor as a pre requisite foundation ,a solid fella over a beer after.
    Good article.

  10. Avatar
    John 4 months ago

    Phew…glad the trolls weren’t the only voices heard here. OCSC is an incredibly valuable source of knowledge and experience for people who want to start sailing or grow their knowledge of sailing. Trevor is one of the most honest and genuine people you will ever meet. Thanks for highlighting them here!

  11. Avatar
    Alan Poropat 4 months ago

    I thought Trevor’s answers were very insightful and did answer the questions, mostly. Hate to be redundant, but I too have had instruction from Trevor. Calm, humorous, very observant, and what I liked most was his being very methodical.

  12. Avatar
    Bill O'Connor 4 months ago

    Boy…like I hit a hornet’s nest…does no one have a sense of humor? My comments, when read as intended, were not critical of the person.
    (“lol”used to mean: “tongue in cheek, with a good natured poke in the ribs” ….no longer in this world of overly sensitive folks.)
    I bet this fella is a fine teacher and good for him. His choice sailing authors however leaves me cold and no one has answered yet what in the world he meant by “….driving your racing boat into destruction in order to win….” (By the way, I concur that OCSC is a fine sailing school.)

  13. Avatar
    Phil 4 months ago

    Thanks to Trevor, I have gain enough confidence to own my own boat, and sail it outside of the golden gate. A great personality, always ready to share a piece of knowledge, a story or a good joke. Thank you Trevor!

  14. Avatar
    Owen Bramlett 3 months ago

    My wife and I had never been on a sailboat but were interested. We met Anthony Sanberg of OCSC at a boat show who asked “would you build tennis court before you learned how to sail?”. That was 1987. On day one of intro to sailing my wife thought she would die, I had a great day. On day two, she was fine and I was sure I was a goner. Obviously, we survived and ended up over the years owning three wonderful boats and forging friendships that continue on today. OCSC always maintained high standards for their training and we were grateful for that when we witnessed opening day fiascos. Going back to OCSC instructors, on that day one, Byron Glover was the instructor in that Cal 20 on that typical July day. Byron and several others became more than friends, we became family. Unfortunately, Byron passed away recently and we’re all trying to deal with that loss. Seeing this article about Trevor reminded me of the thirty years of enjoyment sailing gave us thanks to a great sailing instructor and good friend.

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