From The White-Knucklers File
Your first bareboat charter is a rite of passage to lifelong sailing adventures. So what are you waiting for?
In June 2010, the group took a Moorings 4600 and sailed out of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. “It was my first bareboat charter anywhere,” Sweet says. “It was an easy boat to sail.”
While Sweet and his crew didn’t take formal classes before heading south, they availed themselves of a Moorings Friendly Skipper once they arrived at the base. That’s the trained pro who, for no extra cost, hops aboard for a few hours to help boat and crew get acquainted. “It let’s you maneuver with someone looking over your shoulder,” Sweet says. “It certainly helped.”
While the real-time services of a skipper at the start of a bareboat trip are lauded throughout the charter industry as a sure-fire way to help dial down jitters, it’s not a replacement for experience and knowledge gained by sailing as much as you can in home waters and by taking classes.
Classes, whether through such accredited organizations as the American Sailing Association, US Sailing or a reputable independent school, show that you’re committed to your sailing vacation. Learning options abound. (See last page.)
Perhaps the leading and largest program that puts sailors on the road to their first bareboat charter is Fast Track to Cruising, offered by Doris and Steve Colgate’s Offshore Sailing School. Over the course of its impressive 47-year history, the school, also the official sailing school of The Moorings, has offered a range of courses, through its own curriculum as well as through the US Sailing curriculum, that have successfully trained sailors like the Atkinses of Fort Myers.
“The program that works for most people is the Fast Track to Cruising,” says chief executive officer and president Doris Colgate. “With Fast Track, you’re taught all the drills you need to know to successfully handle a cruising boat such as what you’d get from The Moorings.”
Others also praise the importance and value of instruction.
“Formal training looks good on a sailing résumé,” says Dave Conrad, the owner of Bay Breeze Yacht Charters, in Traverse City, Michigan. Conrad spent years working at Caribbean bases and reviewing credentials of bareboaters before he started his own company, which also teaches A.S.A. courses.
As you eyeball your prospective destination and begin to ask a charter company questions, never hesitate to let the base manager know what your worries are, Conrad adds. “A good charter company will always work with a client who’s genuinely interested in safety and getting comfortable with sailing,” Conrad says.
Learning the Ropes
The course to your first bareboat charter is more straightforward than you might suspect.
While sailing schools are committed to teaching the basics, instructors also understand the minimum level of competency that charter companies expect from aspiring first-time bareboaters, and they tailor coursework to help you attain that goal. And programs like the Colgates’ Fast Track course are taught in such a way that crews with uneven abilities can learn together.
“US Sailing schools do a good job of placing people based on an interview,” says Richard Jepsen, the chair of US Sailing’s education division and the chief executive officer of O.C.S.C. Sailing. “We’ll suggest a short coaching session of three hours aboard a boat with an instructor to run through basic maneuvers. Then we’ll make a call. We’re career counselors as well as instructors.”
At the end of classes at a particular level comes a formal test that ultimately leads to certification, which, while not always a formal requirement, “has a lot of value vis-à-vis the U.S. Coast Guard and in Europe, where proof of boater competency is important,” Jepsen says. “Certification in bareboat cruising is about equivalent to 10 weekends on a boat larger than the one you sail at home.”