Sailor Song


Dec 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

Here's the life you should have led by now: spent formative years in the yachting community of Annapolis, Maryland; hoisted first mainsail at age six; began summer career as Annapolis Sailing School instructor at age 16; earned U.S. Coast Guard captain's license at 18. Postponed graduate school after college. Traveled to Colorado and, what the heck, took a job as a ski instructor. Began toggling between summers on the Chesapeake and winters in the Rockies. Forgot, utterly and without regret, graduate school.

That, alas, is Susann Steinke's life and not yours. At 30, she's one of the top instructors at the Annapolis Sailing School, teaching students how to read charts, perfect bowlines and reef knots, rig 30-foot sloops, and navigate—by sight and compass—the choppy waters of the Bay. Occasionally Steinke sails offshore for a week at a time, supervising a student-skippered, 30-mile circumnavigation of the Chesapeake's Kent Island. Those days, especially, her life seems nothing short of paradise: screaming downwind on a stiff breeze, dining on steamers and crabs in a sheltered cove, falling asleep to the sound of clanging halyards and nattering gulls.

But that's only half the story. Every October, after six months of saltwater toil, Steinke transports herself and a few suitcases to Copper Mountain Resort, where she takes up residence as supervisor of the children's ski school and spends her workdays wedge-christying through fresh powder with trainees in tow and her off-duty hours in the moguls.

The life of a sports instructor does, however, have its drawbacks. For one thing, it does not usually lead to riches; Steinke earns just enough to pay the mortgage and keep herself in late-model K2s. And sometimes, while shacking up with her parents in her childhood home in Annapolis, she'll pine for a favorite pair of Levi's left behind in her Keystone house. Bummer. Then, of course, there's that wrenching moment every fall when she must break the news to her Chesapeake students: "Sorry, but I can't sail with you in the Caribbean this winter because I have to ski every day." Mercifully, Steinke has learned to endure such affliction with a stiff upper lip. "Most people endure 50 weeks of drudgery to spend two weeks doing what I do all year long," she concedes. "You won't hear me complain."

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