PROVINCETOWN -- The Rhodes 19 knifed through the dark, unsettled waters of Provincetown Harbor, its hull finally level after a bracing 30-minute romp in a gusty north wind that had plunged the sailboat's lee precariously close to the roiling whitecaps.
Noah Santos , 26, descendant of generations of sailing men and the owner of Flyer's Boat Rental, confidently hauled in the main sheet of the 19-foot sloop, allowing the 15-knot breeze to fill the large white triangle of her mainsail. A Rhodes sails faster on a level ride, and here, in the inner harbor, under the shelter of the hulking piers that jut out from Commercial Street, the sloop picked up speed.
Santos, a former Marine, demonstrated the joys and travails of sailing in Provincetown's large natural harbor, where Flyer's offers the largest fleet of sailboats on Cape Cod. It is one of a handful of places on the Cape where sailors can rent and sail on their own or with an instructor.
On this jaunt, Santos's crew took in his lessons with wonder and consternation at the geometrical and linguistic conundrums. ``Haul in the sheets," ``let out the main," ``let go the jib," ``push away the tiller," ``hard a lee" -- the terminology was as intimidating and exhilarating as the unbridled force of the wind propelling the boat.
Despite the daunting learning curve, a first-time student under Santos's wing quickly picked up the idea of tacking and was soon dashing under the boom as spryly as a seasoned sailor, releasing the jib on one side and pulling it in on the other as the boat came about.
This was a day for white knuckles and slickers and tales of a brief seafaring stint that sounded even better over apres-sail beers and chowder at Clem & Ursie's. But Provincetown Harbor is just as likely to provide a quiet sail.
Curled within Long Point, the curving, slender beach that forms the tip of Cape Cod, the harbor is well sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly winds, as well as the occasional easterly breezes that send long, green ocean swells crashing into the dunes of Cape Cod National Seashore.
Flyer's offers the ingredients for a perfect sail for anyone who does not own a boat: a large area with plenty of water, even at low tide; sturdy Rhodes 19 sailboats, roomy enough for a small picnic but hardy enough for a bracing sail in high winds and choppy seas; plenty of guidance -- but not too much.
That's important for the occasional sailor who remembers how to come about and jibe and, most importantly, sail a boat to windward, but feels less than comfortable bringing a vessel into a 20-knot wind back to the mooring.
The Flyer's team, led by dock master Malcolm Hunter , asks prospective renters questions about their sailing experience, but generally will rent a boat to anyone who seems fit and knowledgeable to sail.
``We'll give you the benefit of the doubt," Santos said. ``We keep an eye on you; we don't let you go beyond [Long Point]. We want our equipment to come back in the same shape it left."
The sailboats have retractable centerboards, which allows sailors to beach their vessels on Long Point while they take a swim. Renters get life jackets for everyone on board, a paddle (in case the wind dies), a chart, and a stern admonition that they are responsible if they run aground and the tide runs out.
As long as they remain inside an imaginary line between the tip of Long Point and the shores of Truro, renters can sail wherever they want. In the deeper waters of the outer harbor, sailors may see porpoises and sunfish, plentiful sea birds, and the occasional shark.
For $90, Santos and his small crew of instructors offer lessons to the inexperienced; Flyer's also has Sunfish for sailors who remember how to tack from summer camp, but would be intimidated by the larger Rhodes. Flyer's does offer a variety of powerboats , but this is a boatyard that is about sailing.
``We're a group of people who like sailing," said Ann Colbourn , assistant manager at Flyer's. ``Powerboats make us money, but this is a perfect place to sail. Sailboats are a lot more relaxing."
Santos likes to give lessons in rough weather. It prepares his students for the notoriously fickle conditions in the waters of Cape Cod, which can catch unaware even the most experienced sailor.
The day had been fine until Santos cast off the Rhodes, and a dark band of clouds swooped in from the north, carried on that gusty wind.
Under the lee of the wharf, the sailboat sped along smoothly. But when it sailed past a gap between two piers, a 25-knot gust crept rapidly across the water and ripped into the Rhodes, catching Santos off guard and sending the sloop into a steep and sudden heel.
Santos reacted quickly: He pushed away the tiller and let out the mainsheet; the wind spilled from the luffing mainsail; the sailboat obeyed . . . and came out of the precipitous angle that had threatened to capsize it.
``You have to pay attention," Santos breathed through a sheepish grin as the gust passed and he let the mainsail fill again.
Contact David Filipov at email@example.com.