Some Balance for The Skipper, Too
The Moorings and other
bareboat-charter companies have learned from long experience that
relatively few charterers get into trouble, and the less cocky they
are, the less likely they are to take risks. In the British
Virgin Islands, especially, the cruising environment is somewhat like a
childproofed living room. Yes, you can bruise yourself on the furniture
if you rush around not looking where you're going, but I sensed that in
The Moorings' view, if you've taken the Fast Track to Cruising course
and follow the guidelines provided in the briefings, you'll get by,
have a great time, and build confidence and competence for engaging
more challenging locales.
I can endorse this view up to a point, but I'd recommend that students
take aboard the instructor's oft-repeated advice to know their
limitations and act accordingly; for example, first time out, take a
professional skipper for a day or two to ease the stress level while
getting reacquainted with the techniques and disciplines of sailing.
Although I saw myself as an observer, I, too, was there to earn the
certificates, and soon after stepping aboard, I learned that the US
Sailing certificate courses are book-intensive. Our texts were US
Sailing's Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising,
and while they overlap somewhat in subject matter, jointly they provide
a solid base of information from setting the sails to plotting a
course, stowing provisions, fire safety, and diesel-engine maintenance.
After the books landed in my mailbox, I flipped through them, saying to
myself, "Yeah, OK, hmmm, uh-huh," but I began to pay close attention to
David, our instructor, once I saw how much detail he was going into on
every topic. The brochure said, "5 p.m., anchor down; personal time."
When we pulled into Manchioneel Bay, Cooper Island, on our first
evening aboard The Moorings boat, it was dark, because we'd been on
nonstop instruction and drills since boarding at 10 a.m. And David
hadn't finished with us yet: I prepared dinner while keeping an ear on
"class," which continued with the whiteboard over the cockpit table.
"My," I thought, "he really means to get through both of those books in
five days." I was happy not to be coming to this program with as little
background as my classmates. And I did a little bedtime reading, just
to be on the safe side. In fact, whispering palms notwithstanding,
reading was all that went on at bedtime.
I wasn't worried about my ability to identify the parts of a diesel
engine, having suffered contusions from most of them over my career,
but I needed to cover myself for other topics in the exams. I thought
I'd better know the book answers, because my first response to almost
any question is to ask another question, so I can qualify the
circumstances of the first.
And that's the element that the Fast Track to Cruising, thorough though
it is, can't imbue into its students: experience. There's no substitute
for time spent on the water. Not until the physical and mechanical
actions of sailing become second nature will the mind be free to take a
broader view of situations and think from "outside the cockpit," as it
were. Which is why learning from a trained, professional instructor,
someone who's already at that level, will always be far superior to
picking it up as you go along or relying just on books. A book can't
put a steady hand on your shoulder and say, "Relax. Think," which is
what David would do in situations in which it seemed only immediate
action could avert disaster.
Over the course of 10 days of intensive study and sailing, Melissa
acquired three certificates. That means a great deal of valuable
information has passed through her eyes and ears and settled somewhere
in her brain, some of it for instant recall and some to emerge later,
perhaps when, to use David's term, "learning opportunities" arise.
Would she be comfortable chartering a bareboat on her own? No, and
because of the baggage I bring along--all the stuff I've absorbed over
my career and everything I've forgotten--nor would I be comfortable if
she did. But having watched her survive, struggling at times, her
immersion, I know she, and, therefore, I, will be much more relaxed
when we sail together in the future. I'll sleep better knowing that if
we have to bail out of the anchorage at night, she can confidently
shackle the halyard into the headboard or operate the windlass, and
she'll know to which side to leave the markers and where we might look
That will bring a little balance to my life, too.