Capt. Rick Martell and Jean-Paul Deloffre of Blue Sailing spent a busy week aboard Flyer and it showed. Perky as a daffodil, she was parked in the water, the sole boat tied to a long dock at Hinckley Yacht Services on a sunny, breezy April Sunday afternoon in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
For the most part, she didn’t look to me any worse for wear. Her cover was off, the instrument panels functioned, the lights came on, the engine ran, the stove could be lit. The MOB device had been taken to Liferaft Survival in Tiverton, Rhode Island, for servicing; soon, a life raft that meets International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) standards would arrive. The boys had even made time to scrounge around at the local Wal Mart for new dishes, cutlery, and cookware.
I climbed aboard and spied some rust on the portside winch. Jean-Paul told me that a hose to the water heater was leaking, but other than that, Flyer seemed A-OK — not quite Bristol, still without sails, but A-OK.
While Rick screwed on a new cover to a multi function display and Jean-Paul busied himself belowdecks, I stood in the cockpit and gazed forward, taking in the deck up to the bow pulpit while contemplating what it will feel like to be rolling along on her for a solid month. Flyer is beautifully balanced under sail — that I recall. Over the years, I always loved being invited to crew and deliver her throughout the Caribbean. She always felt graceful, solid, steady, reliable. Comfortable, too.
But it’s been quite a while since I’ve crewed aboard her, so it somehow felt appropriate to toss out a silent prayer for safe passage to St. Mary of the Fair Winds. She’s the patron saint of navigators and was a favorite of Christopher Columbus. I learned about her during a recent trip to southern Spain that included a bit of sailing. During my two-day stop in the great city of Seville, I toured the Alcázar, a royal palace that was once a Moorish fort, intent on standing in the same room where Columbus told Queen Isabel of his New World exploits, and seeing the painting of St. Mary.
It was one of those classic touristy “I came, I saw, I conquered” moments, and I thought of it now as I contemplated the upcoming June passage.
Once I got my prayers out of the way, I turned my thoughts to anticipated practical lessons I’m bound to gain from captain Rick and fellow crewmates, two of whom are experienced sailors who are friends of Jean-Paul’s and will fly over in late May to help us making the crossing.
The RYA is the United Kingdom’s governing body of the sport and its curriculum is recognized as a standard bearer internationally. I was eager to know how Flyer will figure into the curriculum once she’s leased into the fleet at Blue Sailing, so I asked Jean-Paul to come back up on deck to answer a few questions.
Blue Sailing, he told me, was started in 2010 as the first RYA center in France offering a range of shore based and practical RYA courses, from Competent Crew to Yachtmaster Ocean. About 60 candidates pass the offshore program at Blue Sailing.
Flyer will be used to train students for the practical RYA and France’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency offshore exams and will run in parallel with Melody Blue, a Swan 431 also in the fleet.
“My idea is that all students will do some of the training on Melody Blue and some of the training on Flyer,” he said. “On Melody Blue, they’ll focus on pilotage, maneuvers under sail and power (MOB recovery, blind navigation, docking) whereas on Flyer they’ll focus on passages (including nights at sea), onboard management (organizing provisioning and meals, watches, weather forecasting). On average, students come with us for four weeks, so they’ll do two weeks on Melody Blue and two weeks on Flyer.”
And Flyer will keep her name – I was really happy to learn this. “I think it conveys the true free spirit of this yacht,” Jean Paul said, adding, “This boat is special. Even though it will be useful commercially, it is much more than that. It’s not a disposable thing, and I’m not sure it’s even a thing at all — it’s so much more than that. It brings people together and causes so much more to happen.”
Jean-Paul, an experienced offshore sailor himself, won’t join us for the passage, but he’ll greet us upon our arrival at Flyer‘s new home port in South Brittany. “See you in 4,000 miles — 3,800 if you don’t tack!” He said with a smile.