Professor Salt of the Offshore Sailing School
It's a simple recipe: Take big-boat sailing students and have them learn in paradise.
At first, I was worried about the varying skill levels. For instance, Cap’n Bruce Penrod had lots of experience and appeared born to take the helm, while some of the crew were sailing on a big boat for the very first time. But this disparity of skills actually was a plus. Often, the best instructors turned out to be the students themselves, and we instructors were only there to facilitate their personal journey.
|Bluewater experience doesn't come easy. The best way to learn what it's like offshore is to go offshore.|
And people surprise you. Fred the Fisherman wasn’t too graceful with a reel in his hands, but he really knew how to cut a rug on the dance floor.
I danced with Linda Ross until I could sense the frowning local West Indians were about to dial up my wife, Carolyn, on their mobile phones.
Each of us came away with some precious memories. My favorite moment starred Olga Maryasis, who, along with her husband, Isaac, had escaped from behind the Iron Curtain for America many decades ago.
I assigned her to pick up and secure the mooring pendant. I could see her hesitancy. Dark clouds flicked across her countenance. I did my best to reassure her. “Don’t worry,” I said. “It’ll be easy. The secret to doing something fast is often to do it slow. Don’t panic. Just do it as I showed you.”
She set herself up well, and she’d clearly thought out how to perform her task. She picked up the line and was going to secure it correctly when a helper grabbed it and passed it through the bow rail incorrectly. If left that way, it would foul badly as the strain took up; perhaps it could even have ripped off the bow rail.
I debated whether to intercede, then chose not to.
Olga froze for a second. She knew something was wrong. I could see the wheels turning. Then she rerove the mooring line and tossed its standing end over the side just as it became taut. When it was apparent that she’d done it correctly, a look of joy sprang onto her face. She’d just done something she’d never thought she’d be able to do, and she’d done it well. She leaped into the air like a happy schoolgirl and screamed, “Yes!”
Toward the end of the week, we raced from Virgin Gorda to Anegada. It was a picture-perfect trade-wind day, and there was plenty of time to tweak our sails, explain the mysteries of the cunningham, and play with our jib-car placement. Despite the fact that I spent most of the time rooting through our cooler in search of Perrier—or, perhaps, because of that—the vessel I was aboard came in first by a decent margin.
Thus, I was presented with a natural teaching opportunity regarding sportsmanship and maturity.
“OK,” I said to the winning crew. “Here are the important questions to ask your fellow competitors at the lobster feast tonight: ‘Are you sure you had your anchor up?’ ‘Could your engine have been stuck in reverse?’ And ‘Gee, you guys were out there so long. Did you have to factor in continental drift?’”
Sorry, yacht racing always brings out the worst in me.
Over the course of the week, the sea worked its magic. It always does. We all ended up as sailing buddies. I gave each participant a custom-made book and invited one and all out to our 43-foot ketch, Ganesh, for tea. Carolyn was, understandably, a bit shocked when I showed up after a week’s absence with a dozen sailors in tow.
“You brought your students back?” she asked.
“No,” I told her. “I brought my friends.”
Cap’n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander have replenished their cruising kitty and are getting ready to set off to spend their easy-earned freedom chips in French Polynesia.