This is definitely a very delayed post. I was just looking at our blog and realized that I only documented my experience with ASA in the “Learning to Sail” section. Doing the ASA program, from 101 to 114, was only the start. It was my the first formal exposure to sailing. It was a great first experience and it served its purpose (to provide me with some foundational tools), but to be honest, I would say most of what I know about sailing and most of my experience came from racing/sailing on a J24 and completing the RYA Day and Coastal Skipper program in Antigua.
By the time I’m writing this article, I completed over 650nm of coastal sailing in 2015, including overnight passages, four weeks of living aboard various boats in Florida and the Caribbean, a week charting a 44 catamaran, and one racing season in the great lakes. 650 miles is nothing compared to most experienced sailors (although this was done in less than one year without long offshore passages that help pack the miles in just a few days). By all accounts, I’m still a rookie and I have a long road ahead before I feel comfortable enough to do the type of cruising that one day we want to do. So my intention with this post is simply to describe my learning to sail experience after the ASA trip for others that may be considering going through this path.
As you can see from previous posts, our interest in sailing began in the fall of 2014. We created a clear short and long-term plan that involved me doing extensive training in 2015 with the goal of starting to go on charter vacations by the end of 2015. The plan first involved doing a liveaboard program to complete ASA 101, 103, 104, and 114. Then I would get more experience by racing with the local teams at Michigan’s Lake St Clair.
This worked well, but soon after returning from the ASA trip I realized I needed significantly more formal training and experience. So I booked a week-long liveaboard Day Skipper Program with Ondeck Sailing in Antigua and an additional week-long Coastal Skipper program with Miramar Sailing also in Antigua. This last one (Coastal Skipper) also required that I complete the Coastal Skipper Theory Course. I decided to complete the theory course online though a company called Navtone.
My RYA Experience.
Day Skipper with Ondeck Sailing. My first week in Antigua was with a company out of Fallmouth called Ondeck. Although they are well known for their racing charters, they have an excellent RYA operation. The course was aboard a racer/cruiser Dehler 39, which was more of a racer than a cruiser. The instructor was an awesome character named Logan. He is a Rastafarian educated in England who began every day making tea and telling the crew captivating stories of his sailing adventures. His demeanor was always calmed an under control and, unlike other instructors I have experienced, he never made anyone feel anxious.
The day skipper course is supposed to be the equivalent of the ASA 104, but it was significantly more intense than my ASA 104 experience. The differences were primarily in terms of the day-to-day intensity of instruction (e.g., number of drills) and the scope of the curriculum (e.g., navigation, night passages, etc).
The highlight of the trip was a night navigation exercise doing an overnight passage around Antigua. We divided the passage among the two day skipper instructors. The plan assumed no access to chart plotter even though we could use it to confirm our location at all times. But the real challenge was to create a plan that you could follow based on our relative position to known light sources and other land features. It was challenging and a bit scared but we felt extremely accomplished when we entered Falmouth Harbor at 4am or so.
Coastal Skipper with MiraMar Sailing. The second week of training was with Miramar Sailing out of Jolly Harbor we aboard an Oceanins 400. This was by far the most formative experience so far of my development as a sailor, thanks to a great curriculum and an excellent instructor: Pippa. The level of detail and rigor of the course was equal parts motivating, challenging, and intimidating. Not until the end of this course had I felt a real sense of mastery as a skipper. For the first time I truly felt I was on my way to becoming a skipper. Here are some of the intense experiences of the course.
- Extensive navigation exercises (daily)
- Extensive drills of close quarter maneuvering under sails (e.g., sailing through busy harbors)
- Anchor and docking under sail
- Extensive docking under power drills at all wind angles
- Ocean passage from Antigua to Guadaloupe, including one overnight passage.
- Intensive focus on skippering (i.e., managing the boat). More on this below.
About the last point, this is really what set the coastal Skipper apart from any other course I’ve done. There was an intense focus on the management of the boat activities, from cooking, dishes, pre-departure checklists, crew instructions, etc. Until now, every time I was on a course I was over focused on the mechanics of sailing (navigation, sails, helm, etc) but I paid little attention at my skills managing the crew (mostly because I never really had a real crew to manage). So the focus on these skills was extremely useful and my mindset about my role as skipper completely changed after that trip.
All in all, my RYA experience was 100 times more intense and useful than the ASA experience. I think ASA served its purpose but I definitely think RYA was necessary to really solidify some of the formal training.
I am not done with formal training though. I will continue doing some advanced courses (RYA offshore theory, RYA offshore mile building, etc) and hope to one day sit for the RYA Yachtmaster exam.