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datswite 02-17-2012 08:47 AM

Sailor Training
Hey, folks. I'm looking for some opinions from those with more sailing experience than me. I started sailing 2 years ago by enrolling in an ASA 101 Basic Keelboat course in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. I "bought into" a Hunter 27 at the same time, and I needed to learn how to sail the darn thing. I latched on to sailing immediately, and I my interest has only deepened. I sail every chance I get and spend my days reading and daydreaming about my next adventure.

As I mentioned previously, my current education consists of an ASA 101 class. My experience is well beyond what they taught in that introductory course. I've been around Smith Point in conditions that were way beyond my skill level, and I've learned a lot over the past 2 years. I've spent up to 1-week aboard gunkholing around the lower Bay with several multi-day trips added in for good measure. While they Bay can get nasty, I'm sure it pales in comparison to what I'll experience offshore.

My long-term goal (i.e. next 5-7 years) is to trade-in my current lifestyle for that of a full-time cruiser. I'd like to spend a few years farting around the Caribbean and then take off on a circumnavigation. Aside from the logistical considerations about how to do that (i.e. money, different boat, etc.), how do I best prepare myself for the skills required to tackle the adventure?

I intend to sail my current boat as often as possible. But I need more training. In your opinion, what route should I take to gain that experience. I plan to enroll in the next several ASA courses, 103, 104, 105, etc. Is that a reasonable plan? Will those courses really prepare me for crossing an ocean? I have the textbook from the next level ASA course. After reading the text and looking at the curriculum, I have reservations about whether I'll learn anything in that class. However, I need to spend the money, take the class and get the t-shirt as a prerequisite for the next level courses.

I have no dinghy experience, but I've heard it's a great way to learn. Should I make dinghy experience a priority?

Any input will be appreciated.

killarney_sailor 02-17-2012 09:51 AM

Sailing a dinghy will make you more aware of the interactions of boat, waves, and wind than a keelboat and you could some dinghy sailing for that purpose but it is unlikely to be a big deal in preparing you for extended cruising. What you could do is really pay attention to how your boat feels and experiment with adjusting your sails (eg traveller or outhaul) one thing at a time in consistent conditions to see what effect it has on boat speed, heeling, general feel of the boat - approach this very systematically and keep notes.

Don't know the curriculum of the courses in the US, others may comment on this. One other way to improve is to crew for people who are knowledgeable - for example, crew on a trip to or from Bermuda to get some offshore experience. Different skippers, different boats, lots to learn and you will get different takes on how to approach the whole experience - again keep notes.

JoeDiver 02-17-2012 10:23 AM

I do 2 kinds of sailing:

1. Relaxing chill out sailing - I just get out, set sail and sit back to enjoy. Tack when I need to but try to trim up and sit back as much as possible.

2. Training - I go out and try stuff. Different trims, main only, jib only, heave to, MOB drills, stopping, starting, slow speed, pinching; you name it I go out and try what I've read about until I can do it in a repeatable and fluid manner. I even sabotage myself by releasing lines, sheets, whatever I can think of to see how I react and recover. I'm sure people are watching me and wondering what the hell is this guy doing.

Depends on my mood and what I want to accomplish that day....also how many people are also out on the lake. I tend to keep training days to the times I'm one of the only ones out there.

From what you post, sounds like you're well on your way to your goals. The extra classes you're looking at will serve you well, and then just go out in your boat and do the things you're learning about. For something new, see if you can go out with an experienced sailor on his/her boat as crew in exchange for being taught. (bring a gift, like a bottle of booze) I'm waiting for a buddy to get his boat ready because it's rigged for a chute and I've never personally flown a spinnaker....

You'll be just fine.

Sailormon6 02-17-2012 11:00 AM

It sounds like you need to gain some experience in long distance ocean sailing. Taking courses is always good, but there are alternatives. I suggest you look for an opportunity to sail around Delmarva, either on your boat with the assistance of an experienced friend, or as crew for someone else. Every year there are people who sail around Delmarva in groups, and it's a great way to get a little offshore experience and to see if it's to your liking. You'll learn about on-board living, sailing, weather, and navigation in unfamiliar waters, and you'll gain self-confidence.

jackdale 02-17-2012 11:46 AM

Instruction, with a good instructor, is valuable. You can learn from their expereince (read mistakes, incidents, etc..)

As someone who certifies instructors I tell prospective ones that being able to say "and when that happened to me ..." provides credibility.

Get experience between courses. Practice what you have learned.

Many experienced sailors are crappy teachers; they do not know how to reflect on their practice. For them it is natural and easy. Good instructors have both the experience and the ability to transfer their knowledge and skills to others.

MSN2Travelers 02-17-2012 12:34 PM

Combine instructor lead training with crew experience ...
I think you are starting to see a common thread of advice. Your way forward should include a combination of training with an instructor and on-the-water experience.

Your goal should be learning vs. achieving a “certification” from one organization or another. That certification only indicates to others that you passed a written test and demonstrated that you could perform tasks you were taught out of a book at some time in the past.

Most people take ASA 101/103/104 as a bundle to avoid the exact situation you find yourself in now. You took an introductory class and bought a boat. Yes, the materials covered in ASA 103 will be redundant at this point and likely some of ASA 104 by this point too. You can take a bypass test for ASA 103 and/or 104 to reduce costs. What I’m trying to say is formal training with an instructor is important but it doesn’t have to be in a certification awarding program.

Learning on your own is not a good idea for the plan/schedule you have laid out for us. You need to sail/learn with others. You need to see how things are done and ask why. We tend to learn from our own mistakes but we often learn more from those made by others when we can observe.

You are in a sailing rich area of the country. Locate a yacht club near you that has a juniors program and get involved. Additional resources can be found a local college/university that has a sailing club or a municipal sailing center.

Most yacht clubs have regularly scheduled “social” racing during the week. Skippers are often short on crew and would be willing to take on a beginner that knows the difference between a line and a rope. This would give you an opportunity to learn while gaining experience. Nothing helps translate sail trim theory, you read about in a book, into practical experience like racing “around the cans” or distance “day races”.

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