Back to School

I felt like Rodney Dangerfield....going back to school.  Sarah and I have both been working hard to make sure we are prepared for sailing.  Nothing can prepare someone more than hands on experience in all weather conditions.

Back to School included these classes from the American Sailing Association (ASA):

   -  ASA 101 - Basic Keelboat
   -  ASA 103 - Basic Coastal Cruising
   -  ASA 104 - Bareboat Chartering
   -  ASA 105 - Coastal Navigation
   -  ASA 106 - Advanced Coastal Cruising
   -  ASA 114 - Cruising Catamaran

The classes and instructors were great.  By far, the hardest classes were ASA 105 and 106.  In particular the written test for 105 took over 4 hours, involved a lot of chart work, math, and educated guesses (grin).  The pre-work for 105 was easily 20 hours of self study.  The practical skills for 106 included a 18 hour overnight crossing of the Gulf Stream from Miami to Bahamas in dicey weather.  More on that later....

First Week of Classes - BVIs

At anchor somewhere in BVIs
They key criteria for our first class was location.  I wanted to make sure Sarah was comfortable, and the sailing would be relatively easy.  There is no place like the BVIs.  Almost a Disneyland for sailing.  Great weather.  Consistent winds.  Line of sight navigation.  Well marked anchorages.  Great bars.

In a word...FANTASTIC.  We had a great instructor and great classmates on our week long trip.  In total we had 5 students our instructor plus his girlfriend.  You never know what you could end up with on a blind date like this.  We were fortunate to have such a great class.

Morning coffee with the Antares s/v Blue in background
Our boat was a Fountaine Pajot Belize.  It sailed great, and was a good platform for our first 'real' sailing class.  We spent a lot of time sailing - about 6 - 8 hours per day.

In the evening we were in some great anchorages, sipping sundowners, snorkeling and eating great food.  Looking back, I can't wait to get our boat to the BVIs and spend time exploring the islands, food and people!  It is truly a great place to sail, with a lot of things to do!

Second Week of Classes - Bahamas

As previously mentioned, this was a great & tough class.  It was completely different since this was a series of advanced classes, intended to kick up our experience.  A key ingredient to the challenge of this class was crossing the Gulf Stream.

Why is crossing the Gulf Stream challenging?  The Gulf Stream is a body of warm water moving at about 5-6 knots from the south to north.  If the wind is out of the north, blowing across the current at any decent speed, it will create significant waves and choppy water.  With northerly winds over 20 knots considerable chop and waves will develop making the crossing potentially uncomfortable.

A quote from 360 degree yachting:

"Only 49 miles to Bimini.", and then smack you are virtually in the Caribbean. This thought is construed by many a sailor. It sounds so close, so simple, and so tempting. Be wary the sleeping demon, the river that has to be forded to get there. On perfect summer days you could cross the gulfstream in a tender, but when currents running North, Northeast up to 7 knots it takes very litte to unleash a monster. The gulfstream warrants any sailors respect. Planning, patience, and the ability to deal with a miserable onslaught for a minimum of 6 - 8 hours are essential.

We started our crossing from Miami to Bahamas early afternoon.  The winds were SSE 15-20 knots. Some chop, but not too bad.  As we progressed into the gulf stream, we were beginning to beat into the wind since it shifted closer to SE...and we were sailing SE due to drift.  Catamarans don't sail well into the wind.  In particular our Lagoon 420 was a slug.  Because of the wind direction shifting and the 6 knots of current heading north, we significantly overshot to the north Bimini.  Sparing you all the details, it was a 18 hour crossing, overnight, bumpy seas...but a GREAT experience.  We didn't sleep a lot, but we did learn about the challenges of cutting across the gulf stream and the power of a 6 knot drift.

Sarah at helm prior to entering Gulf Stream
Our sail back to Ft. Lauderdale was great.  We had winds out of the north 20-25 knots....directly into the gulf stream.  What a ride!  We had 10-12 foot seas, lots of spray, and a relatively fast 8 knot crossing.  It was real bumpy...and a VERY good experience for Sarah and I to see how the boat handled such large swells.  Overall, not nearly as intimidating as we originally expected.

Could we have waited for better weather?  Of course...but this was a class to teach us how to sail in any conditions...and I am very glad we pushed ourselves.

So in conclusion, the time and money invested in the classes has been great.  We still have a lot more to learn and plan on taking some advanced classes including:

  -  Marine Diesel Engines
  -  Weather Planning and Forecasting
  -  Wilderness First Aid (here in Denver)
  -  SSB Communication
  -  Celestial Navigation


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