Let's Go Sailing!
Whether you've set your sights on learning to sail, baby's first bareboat charter, or casting off for bluewater adventures, a school close by can provide classroom and hands-on instruction that fits your goal and budget. From our May 2012 issue.
Most sailing schools offer certifications from either US Sailing or the A.S.A. In general, charter companies in the United States and the Caribbean don’t require certification, but it may be required on your sailing résumé in other global destinations. “We ask customers to fill in a sailing résumé online, and we rate their ability,” says Josie Tucci of Sunsail. “However, bareboat certification such as A.S.A. 103/104 or Offshore’s Fast Track to Cruising and US Sailing’s Bareboat Certification will allow someone to charter from us, too.”
Photo: Courtesy of Sunsail
John Alofsin of J World adds, “What’s most important is to select a school and a course that will get you the real skills you need in order to daysail, charter, or cruise. If you want to go through the certification process during that course, great! But the piece of paper shouldn’t be the goal. When a charter company says, ‘Let’s go for a checkout sail,’ you should be very prepared for this.”
Some sailing schools also provide courses specifically for women, couples, or families. This might be a good option if you’re planning to cruise with your spouse or kids to give everyone a chance to learn to work as a team. Womanship, a sailing school based in Annapolis, Maryland, “brings women aboard to gain real skills and the confidence of proving to themselves, step by practical step, that they know what to do and when and—more important—why,” says owner Suzanne Pogell.
Photo: Fair Wind Sailing School
For a real sailing confidence builder, never underestimate time in the saddle. “While courses are great,” says Mollie Hagar of Modern Sailing School, based in Sausalito, California, “it’s what you do between courses that make you a confident and competent sailor. It’s pretty easy to sail anywhere when you have an instructor on board. It’s when they’re not on board that a sailor’s confidence has room to grow.”
Goal: Bluewater Sailing
If you’re ready to bring it to the next level, consider taking a course that teaches the skills you’ll need for sailing down the coast or across an ocean.
These courses typically range from three- to four-day liveaboard classes for coastal cruising to a week or more for offshore passagemaking. These classes aren’t for novices, and if you’re seeking certification, most schools require that you have all the prerequisite coursework completed and/or significant time at the helm before taking the class.
“Often times, when a sailor has a lot of experience, they’re not interested in the certification as much as they’re interested in gaining advanced skills,” says Hagar.
If you’re climbing the certification ladder, advanced courses usually include some combination of coastal navigation, advanced coastal cruising, and celestial navigation, all of which you may be required to complete before taking an offshore-passagemaking certification course. These advanced courses introduce students to passage planning, navigation, night sailing, watchkeeping, provisioning, and sailing in adverse conditions.
Modern Sailing School conducts a program called Adventure Sailing that offers real, hands-on experience in such cruising destinations as the South Pacific and Southeast Asia in which students are involved in every aspect of the passage. “Our most advanced courses are taught on our overseas Adventure Sailing trips,” says Hagar. “And, you don’t need to be a total expert to go on an Adventure Sailing trip. I typically advise people to have basic skills, as this will make the trip much more rewarding, but a lifetime of experience isn’t required. Having said that, there are a few select trips that we do that include overnight passages. Students on these trips are expected to take a night watch and should have the foundational experience to do so.”
For 22 years, John Neal and Amanda Swan Neal have been offering offshore-passagemaking training through Mahina Expeditions. The courses are intense; they’re designed for experienced sailors who really want a taste of serious cruising before heading out on their own. “Our goal is to have our graduates, following the expedition, ready to circumnavigate on their own boats,” says John Neal. “Of the 1,100 graduates from our expeditions, each year we meet several out cruising the world on their own boats. That’s exciting!”
Goal: Fill in the Blanks
One of the things that most sailors love about sailing is that there’s always something more to learn. If there’s a specific area in which you need to improve—say, docking—then consider taking a skill-specific clinic or attending a seminar. Many schools offer classes and clinics covering such topics as spinnakers, sail repair, and anchoring.
In addition, you can usually find free seminars that are offered at boat shows throughout the year and periodically through such organizations as the Seven Seas Cruising Association.
Click here to find out more about choosing a sailing school.
Offshore Sailing School founder Doris Colgate shares her tips for finding the best classes here.