While eyeing the cold winter water from several stories up on an Island ferry, my thoughts wandered as I looked out on the frigid expanse of the Sound. It seemed hard to believe that just a few months earlier I was out sailing on the water, the color of which now resembled the weather, winking from near black to slate gray.

As the waves roiled past the ferry’s bow, I thought back to my teenage years, when in the 1960s I made my first summer forays out on the water. I was 14 years old and knew next to nothing about wind, currents, tacking, even the names of the parts of a sailboat. But as a new member of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and not knowing anyone, I realized that the quickest way to meet people was to volunteer to crew on the club’s classic Vineyard 15s which all the kids my age were using.

“Don’t worry about tipping,” they said. “15s have a 2,000-pound keel and will never go over.”

On most days you sailed wet. When the boat heeled over and water sluiced over the rails, the rush to windward was exhilarating. But not having grown up on the water, it was a sensation I had to get used to.

I was in awe of the seamanship and skill of my fellow teens. While still very young, they demonstrated such mastery and skill that it was an inspiration. I remember them all, names that still appear in racing results, often near or in the top spot: Steve Besse, Zander Meleney, Pam Mills (now Besse), Ann Besse (now Shepard), Charlie, Paul and Marion Duane, Mike and Mark Granfield, the Hehres (Fred, Rich and Carol), Becky and Bob Jewett, the Hales (Marion, Tom and Phil) and so many others.

I learned to keep my head down and literally learn the ropes while on the race course. My first skipper was Neil Strock of the Strock dentist family. Out on the Sound one afternoon the wind was getting heavy and Neil asked me if I had ever hiked before. Of course, I thought. I had gone to camp in Maine and hiked the White Mountains.

“Good,” he said. “Put this belt on and hook it to the mast with this line and lean out.”

“Over the water?” I asked incredulously.

“Of course,” he said.

“What happens when the wind drops?”

“You jump back in.”

Seconds later, my feet pressed against the gunnels, I leaned out over the water, the waves rushing by underneath me, and looked at the fleet spread out in front of us. I was nervous, but it didn’t matter. It was almost like flying.

My next Vineyard 15s was owned jointly by the Hehre and Aronson families. Carol and Margie took turns skippering and I gained a newfound respect for the distaff side of the class. Sailing is one of the few equalizing sports. Sure, boys can provide the muscle on the lines, but skippering a boat is about the mind, instinct, experience and courage. I quickly became an admirer of both Margie and Carol.

On one particular race day, we were out on the Sound and squall-like winds enveloped us. The boat tossed and turned violently. Carol was on the tiller and magnificent, barking out orders while her eyes stayed fixed on the horizon which continually disappeared as we slid down into deep troughs and the waves towered above us, nearly topping the mast.

I was reminded of the 2,000-pound keel and hoped what they said was true. We rode out the stinging chaos and soon made it back into the harbor. But my admiration, respect and faith in them was established. And it was never shaken in the summers that followed.

Years later, my belief in sailing as a valuable teacher for both boys and girls gathered more support. My friend and sailing competitor Dan Culkin was relating how amazed he was by his 12-year-old granddaughter Kate and her sailing knowledge. As they were getting his Vineyard Vixen geared up for the day while still at the mooring, Dan saw her standing on the bow looking out at the water.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

She turned to him, the wind blowing back the hair from her forehead.

“I’m looking to see where the boat won’t go,” she said.

The answer astounded him, showing him in such a succinct and intelligent way that she had a complete understanding of what happened to a sailboat when it was turned into the wind.

Kate’s precocious answer took me back to my tender yacht club friends and made me smile. Vineyard kids growing up next to the ocean and developing a deep understanding of it was nothing new, but a continuation of a long-standing tradition — boys and girls learning together to respect each other and the sea, and most importantly understanding that they can rely on each other when the tough winds blow.

Kate just turned 25 last week, but even now I know there is yet another group of Vineyard kids getting ready to sign up for summer sailing programs. The Sound is currently barren of boats and the water dark and ominous. But wait a few months. All will be well again soon.

David Lott lives in Vineyard Haven.