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rob420 09-14-2010 09:58 AM

Sailing Schools: St Thomas vs. Tortola?
 
Hi,
I'm a sailnet newby and had a question about sailing schools in the virgin islands.

I've been sailing unofficially since I was a kid (but not recently)--and am looking to start sailing 'officially' (get certified) so that I can eventually start chartering with confidence.

I figured I'd learn where I intend to sail, which is the virgin islands. Having never been there, I'm looking at St. Thomas vs. Tortola--are there any recommendations?

Any recommendations on particular schools (or what to look for)?

Thanks for the help.

rmeador 09-14-2010 11:19 AM

I started with a sailing course in St Thomas and it was the most fun vacation I've ever been on. It was a combined ASA 101 and 103 class over 8 days of living aboard and sailing around the virgin islands (both US and British, including Tortola). We visited a different island every day, sometimes 2 per day. We'd sail starting early in the morning, arrive somewhere around noon, eat lunch either aboard or ashore, have the "classroom" part of the class (usually ashore in a bar), then swim or whatever, have dinner, explore the island, etc. Some days the "lunch" stop would be early enough that we'd continue sailing to a different anchorage for the night. The school was the Maryland School of Sailing and Seamanship, which runs their summer classes on the Chesapeake and their winter classes out of St Thomas. I highly recommend them. I have no affiliation other than being a satisfied customer.

FarCry 09-14-2010 05:30 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rob420 (Post 643507)
Hi,
I'm a sailnet newby and had a question about sailing schools in the virgin islands.

I've been sailing unofficially since I was a kid (but not recently)--and am looking to start sailing 'officially' (get certified) so that I can eventually start chartering with confidence.

I figured I'd learn where I intend to sail, which is the virgin islands. Having never been there, I'm looking at St. Thomas vs. Tortola--are there any recommendations?

Any recommendations on particular schools (or what to look for)?

Thanks for the help.

I appreciate that you wish to improve your sailing skills. On the weekends I work for a charter company on St Thomas and do charter briefings. In other words, after going through all of the systems, sail controls and a chart briefing, I actually go out with customers (like you) and have them demonstrate that they can raise the main sail, unfurl the jib, put a reef in the main and tack a couple of times with some semblance of understanding. In doing this dozens of times I've come to the conclusion that certifications have no connection whatsoever to sailing or seamanship skills. Sailing is a perishable skill. Some guests are not allowed to take the charter boat out without another person along (like me) to assist in revisiting basic sailing, anchoring, mooring, motoring and seamanship skills. Rarely does this happen but it does. Even more rarely does the client put up much of a fuss because it is typically quite obvious that they are incapable of controlling the vessel. I’ve taken out people that have stacks of every certification under the sun and they can’t figure out how to unfurl a jib. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone pull on the jib furling line, realize they can’t move it and immediately put it on the winch!!!!) I’ve also gone out with people who have no certifications but have experience and are very competent mariners. I’m not saying there is not a value in getting certifications but that it is not necessary to charter in the USVI and BVI. If you’d like to get certified then by all means do it.

Back to your request for sailing school recommendations. That is tough. Some schools have really good instructors that do a very good job. Some instructors just suck. I think the particular school has little to do with it. More than a few ASA instructors bounce between companies so you don’t always know who you will get. I would modify your quest to look for a reference to a good instructor first and then see about getting a vessel to learn on second. Once an instructor is chosen try and force the school to put it in writing that you will be getting that instructor. Hopefully others will respond that have taken courses with specific instructors.

CaptFoolhardy 09-15-2010 07:29 AM

Here's an alternative suggestion for you.

My wife and I have been sailing our 15' trailer sailboat for about 10 years and this year wanted to get bareboat certification so that we can charter. We went with U.S. Sailing instead of ASA; their curricula are nearly identical. I considered taking a course in the Virgin Islands but opted for Offshore Sailing School's St. Petersburg, Florida location and their Fast Track to Cruising course. The advantages to this approach were that being a less popular destination for sailors than the BVI there were fewer students in our course. In fact for the first portion of the course it was just the two of us and we had the boat and instructor to ourselves and for the live-aboard portion there was just one other student. Also, now when we finally do our first charter in the BVI it will be an entirely recreational trip. We'll be able to go where we want when we want, it will be just us on the boat and we won't have to spend an hour or two each day doing class or exams or MOB drills, we can just have fun.

Our instructor in St. Pete was Rob Gannon. We were very happy and I highly recommend him.

rob420 10-31-2010 01:32 PM

Thanks to all for your comments--I am really looking forward to getting out on the water soon.

Just a quick follow-up question, regarding certifications:

I've read the posts discussing the ASA vs. US Sailing certifications--but building on the comment above from FarCry, I would tend to agree that skills/knowledge speak louder than the name on the top of your certificate.

Based on that, I've decided to sign up for a course based on the ICSO certification (since my intention is bareboat cruising, international waters, etc.)--the question is, what is the general consensus on ICSO training, and will I regret not getting an ASA or US Sailing certification instead?

I figure if I want to start racing, that I could always get a follow-up certification (if needed).

I searched the forum--there doesn't seem to be much discussion on ICSO certifications.

Any thoughts?

JonKoucky 11-17-2010 11:55 AM

I took my family through Fairwinds and was very happy with the experience

HighFiveSailor 01-01-2011 07:53 PM

Do your homework
 
It is my understanding that Fairwinds Sailing School has had issues with both ASA and US Sailing so they needed to fabricate their own sailing certification to offer students. I have never heard of ICSO until now and did some research. I would agree with FarCry that the instructor is everything. Do your homework as there are MANY schools out there that don't offer quality even if their website looks impressive. If you desire certs, ASA and US Sailing are practically the same. Maybe start with schools or instructors who have won national awards or something.

omaho5 01-01-2011 08:42 PM

I noticed that some classroom activity takes place at noon around a bar.
If this is so, I would question the validity of the school.
I lived in the Virgins as a kid [23]. It has not changed much.
More drugs ,now.. Same crime, booze, and rip offs.
Beautiful area, though.

lobstahpotts 01-01-2011 08:52 PM

Something else to consider: I don't know your location, but if you are in close proximity to a reputable school, you could consider taking the course there and using the money you save on flights and whatnot getting to the VIs to save for the planned charter vacation, or start a fund for another charter vacation. As others have said above, this way you arrive down there and really just enjoy yourself, having gotten all of the technical stuff out of the way while still at home and probably having saved some money in the process.

dergon 01-04-2011 12:46 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rob420 (Post 643507)
Hi,
I'm a sailnet newby and had a question about sailing schools in the virgin islands.

I've been sailing unofficially since I was a kid (but not recently)--and am looking to start sailing 'officially' (get certified) so that I can eventually start chartering with confidence.

I figured I'd learn where I intend to sail, which is the virgin islands. Having never been there, I'm looking at St. Thomas vs. Tortola--are there any recommendations?

Any recommendations on particular schools (or what to look for)?

Thanks for the help.

We got our 101/103 on Lake Erie in the summer on a hectic long weeked, but then did Bareboat Charter down in the BVI.

We used Rob Swain Sailing School (Nanny Cay, Tortola) and very much enjoyed it. Our instructor Toddy was good guy and solid on the schooling. It was most definately *not* just a leisurely cruise every day. we drilled and practiced and studied then drilled some more.

I would have no hesitation in making a recommendation about them.

No disclaimers to make...just a satisfied customer. :)


ps- we bareboated for a week the following year also in the BVI. Having a bit of knowledge about the waters from our previous instruction certainly helped to make that first charter a bit less stressful.


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