For most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the approach of winter means shorter days, colder weather, and a time to put sailing on the shelf until spring. While the sport's magazines and websites continue to allure us with stories and photos sent from warmer climes, without jumping on a plane or resorting to frostbiting, most of us won't likely get back into the game for a few months. Even though much of sailing is like riding a bike—you don't forget it once you've done it—inevitably a long hiatus will cause us to forget things that might have seemed second nature while we were getting out on the water on a more regular basis.
So what should you do in the interim? How do we keep our sailing skill set from getting too rusty or, alternatively, how do we improve and enhance what we know? One answer lies in sailing seminars.
Back to School Often it's harder for adults to adopt an open mind into which new ideas can take root and grow. We get fixed in our ways of doing and thinking about things, and learning about sailing is no exception. Yet this sport is sufficiently complex that our grasp of almost any topic can be enhanced with more training.
For newcomers, the incentive to attend seminars is pretty obvious: sailing is a fairly intricate activity, requiring knowledge in a wide array of topics, some within our control and some without. (For many of us, it is precisely this challenge that we find so intriguing. It's what initially drew us into the game, and part of what keeps us here.) To get better, newcomers can go out and employ the tried-and-true approach of trial and error, but this can be a frustrating, inefficient, and even costly method of gaining knowledge. Attending a seminar can be much more rewarding and doing so usually presents the opportunity to gain access not only to the knowledge of the instructor and the lessons within the curricula, but also to the pooled anecdotal experience of all the students.
Among the more experienced sailors, many balk at attending seminars, thinking they're already saturated in their knowledge and experience. This misconception can be countered with the simple fact that while the forces of wind and water are largely unchanged from whenever these folks were first introduced to sailing (except as attenuated by memory, of course), the development of boats, sails, equipment, and rules is not static. This fact keeps sailing dynamic and ever-evolving. By going back to school, we can all keep abreast of these changes and will likely get exposed to fresh ideas on what may have seemed stale topics.
|"It's uncanny how many times I've heard students who have decades of experience say they found something new and valuable in the course."|
For example, even if you are planning to continue to sail the same boat you've been sailing for many years, by attending a seminar you'll likely get exposed to some new innovation in either equipment or technique that will enhance your enjoyment, safety and or performance. There might be a new type of rigging that will stretch less than what you currently use, a new and innovative method of GPS navigation, or even a fresh approach to roll-tacking in light air that can improve and re-invigorate your sailing skill. "It's uncanny how many times I've heard students who have decades of experience say they found something new and valuable in the course, often in basic principles which they thought they'd understood," explains Bill Gladstone the coordinator of North U (North Sails series of sailing seminars).
For new and old sailors alike, off-season seminars can also help debunk certain myths that persist about topics and techniques. They also help us focus and prioritize the flood of information now available to sailors in this electronically driven Internet age. There are some fabulous electronic tools in the marketplace, but you have to have the knowledge about how to use them. For
example, by now everyone's heard at least one story about a boat steered on autopilot hitting a bell buoy that was programmed in to the GPS as a waypoint. Certainly the hardware can't be blamed for such accidents: it's the operator that needs to know how to use it.Instructors Make a Difference
As we all know from our school days, often our grasp of any particular subject depends more on the quality of the teacher than what's being taught. Sailing is sufficiently complex to expect instructional excellence and not summer camp-style teaching. When asked how important instructors are to the student's learning, Jahn Tihansky of J/World in Annapolis says, "They are
Fortunately, most sailing schools and seminar programs have developed not only excellent curricula, but often a staff that is both knowledgeable and effective with proven teaching methodology. Some of the world's best sailors can be the world's worst teachers, so when evaluating your educational options look for instructor quality not only in terms of sailing experience, but teaching experience as well. As North U's Gladstone says, "We want them [the instructors] to be focused on your sailing, not their sea stories." Accordingly, North U instructors are not only accomplished competitors, but experienced lecturers and teachers as well.
US Sailing and the American Sailing Association (ASA) have both developed sailing education certification and accreditation procedures that many schools use in their training methods. Steve and Doris Colgate's Offshore Sailing School, J/World, and many other institutions use these guidelines among their instructional staff, and administer tests to qualify students in various proficiencies, including Keelboat and Cruising certificates.
Not Just for Racers Since racing sailors have an added incentive to refine their skills, they're typically more voracious in their appetite for learning about go-fast techniques, racing rules, and optimizing strategy and tactics. However, there are many challenges faced by racing sailors that confront cruising sailors as well, such as knowledge of weather, tides, navigation, and safety. One strong example of a seminar that transcends categorization is the popular Safety at Sea series. This particular seminar is so vital that the organizers of the biennial Newport-Bermuda Race mandate that 30 percent of the crew for any entry in the event must have taken it. Apart from programs like Safety at Sea, there are an abundance of seminars and classes offered these days where the teaching style as well as the curriculum is adapted specifically for the interests of the cruising sailor.
Whatever your orientation in the sport, and regardless of your level of proficiency, there's probably a seminar out there that you can use to enhance not only your sailing skills, but ultimately your enjoyment of the sport as well. Just give it a go.
A Sampling of SeminarsOK, so how do you get started in choosing an off-season seminar that's right for you? Have a look at the following partial list that includes options for both the racing and cruising crowd. If these don't work for you, check out others that might be offered in your specific locality through newspaper and magazine ads, the phone book, and local yacht clubs and sailing organizations.
J/World—On-board instruction for various levels of ability is supplemented with classroom talks on all aspects of performance. Classes range from three-day seminars to weeklong instruction during regattas in four locations: Newport, Annapolis, Key West, and San Diego. Check out www.sailjworld.com.
Kolius Sailing School—Run by veteran racer John Kolius, the seminars include five-day courses held on Galveston Bay, TX in Vanguard 15s and Lasers. The focus is on optimizing dinghy racing techniques. Check out www.kolius-sailing.com.
North U—A multi-media approach in seminars offered at over 24 locations in the US and abroad. Each one-day lecture presentation is accompanied by a textbook and an optional CD. The Trim Course focuses on making your boat fast, while the Tactics Course and the new Advanced Tactics Course concentrate on boat positioning, strategy, navigation, and the racing rules. Check out www.northu.com.
Offshore Sailing School—Several locations in the US and Caribbean and a variety of programs for all ages and abilities. Courses include Performance Race Weeks offered at South Seas Plantation on Captiva Island, FL, which give a weeklong immersion in both on-board instruction on Colgate 26's and North U classroom presentations. Check out www.offshore-sailing.com.
Olympic Circle Sailing Center—Weekend performance courses held on the breezy Berkeley Circle on San Francisco Bay. Check out www.ocscsailing.com.
Premier Sailing—Weekend race training and crewing courses offered in J/24s on the lower Chesapeake Bay. Check out www.sailingschool.net.
Rick White's Sailing Seminars—Learn to sail beach catamarans and dinghies in Key Largo or in your own backyard. Check out www.catsailor.com/isc.html.
J/World—Unique, pre-bareboat program trains students in boathandling, navigation, provisioning and other cruising skills. Also, extended cruises and deliveries provide on-board training. Check out www.sailjworld.com.
North U Cruising Seminars—Course focuses on techniques for improved performance, safety, and enjoyment, with topics including upwind and downwind sail trim, boat handling under power, navigation and piloting tricks and tips, and anchoring. Special emphasis placed on heavy weather sailing and seamanship, safety, and emergency techniques. Check out www.northu.com.
Offshore Sailing School—Caribbean and south Florida locations offer on-board charter and cruising instruction. Check out www.offshore-sailing.com.
Safety-at-Sea Seminars—One-day seminars held in Newport, Annapolis, and elsewhere to educate sailors in a variety of safety essentials applicable to the offshore sailor. Check out www.ussailing.org/safety/seminars.
Pacific Yachting and Sailing—With courses ranging from basic sailing to offshore passagemaking, this Santa Cruz, CA-based organization has a fleet of boats from 22 to 52 feet and USCG licensed instructors. Checkout www.pacificsail.com.