In my opinion, this class is a must after successful completion of the basic keelboat class. Hopefully, prior to signing up for this class, you have spent some time in the Colgate vessels and honed your beginners skills as a sailor.
Basic cruising classes are taught over two weekends or else over four consecutive days. Once again, I recommend spreading the coursework out of over two separate weekends.
The most readily apparent observation by students on the first day of class is that these are bigger and more complex sailboats. Classes are held on 30 foot boats with diesel engines and wheels instead of tillers. Most of the vessels have radar, a chart plotter, advanced instrumentation, a head, sleeping quarters, a propane stove, etc.
There is a lot to learn in these classes. I recommend that you learn as much as you can about the boat systems and instruments. This will, however, still only be an introduction compared to what you will learn in later classes. You will gain some experience with a larger faster vessel, with larger sails, that is able to handle more wind. On the water, you will also learn some basic approaches to recovering a person in the water. You will learn to work as a team of sailors and share the responsibility of skippering the boat with your classmates. It will become obvious that teamwork is essential but there has to be a leader on the vessel. You will be introduced to the basics of anchoring in a protected anchorage. This is a good time to learn a few basics of navigation and also about tides and currents. You will gain experience docking a larger vessel. Also, you will learn some of the rules of navigation to avoid collisions.
Once you complete the instruction and obtain your certification it is vital that you spend as much time as is possible on the water practicing, advancing your education, and honing your skills before you consider further education. If you haven’t already done so, this is a good time to meet others, learn with whom that you sail well, and to find a mentor. Reread the text book. Read it as many times as it takes for you to understand everything that is within the pages of the book. Apply what you learn in the book out on the water.
Club Nautique requires that you obtain ten skipper credits after completion of basic cruising before you can proceed to the Bareboat classes. I have seen a lot of people skimp on this requirement, find ways to craft credits via shortcuts, etc. I don’t recall but I might’ve been guilty of doing the same! I will say, however, that if I took a credit it was earned. One way to get these credits is to take a boat out with a more experienced person and get the skipper credit using the more experienced person as your crew but also as a mentor. Club Nautique has a number of planned activities, and it’s up to the team of students taking a boat out to ensure that they self-regulate and guarantee that they meet the requirements of the planned activity. For example, I recall there is an opportunity for practicing docking, another one for practicing the points of sail, and another one for practicing anchoring, crew overboard recovery, etc. Regardless, take it seriously, work together on the planned activities, ensure that everyone is comfortable with the lesson plan and that they have learned from the experience on the water. If you don’t do this correctly and in a manner so as to really learn the skills then you’re only “cheating yourself” in the long run. Further, you’re actually endangering those who will sail with you in the future and perhaps yourself as well. The bottom line is sail as much as you can, practice everything you have learned, learn to work as a team, hone your observational and reactive skills, learn to read the water and the wind, make some friends, develop a list of people that you want to call when you want to go sailing, etc.
My favorite memory of basic cruising was related to the fact that our instructor, who was retiring as an instructor and taking a private job as a skipper, took us to Sam’s in Tiburon for lunch to celebrate our completion of the course in his new position. This opened our eyes to the possibilities of cruising the bay in a sailboat. Club Nautique offers a bay cruising workshop that is extremely well done and will shed light on opportunities for sailors.
The one thing I recall the most about the acquisition of skipper credits pertains to a day with planned activity to practice crew overboard recovery. The wind was a reliable 25 kn with gusts to 30 kn in the bay. We learned that a 30 foot sailboat is going to try to point into the wind regardless of how far out you let the mainsail. Be careful. Don’t sail in more wind than you’re qualified to manage.
I also recommend continuing with the periodic Sunday and Wednesday night sails that the club organizes. Again, these opportunities allow one to crew with more experienced sailors.
I recall chartering a boat with a gentleman who was a fellow student in my basic cruising class. We were out practicing downwind sailing. We rounded up a few times after gybing. It was almost predictable. We were required to try to solve that problem as we were sufficiently perplexed and recognized the inherent danger of losing control of the vessel. We determined that the main sail was not released quickly enough after the stern of the boat passed through the wind. In essence, when we were downwind, the mainsail, having not been released, was in position for a close reach, and the boat simply turned into the wind as if to find that point of sail. Once we adjusted our speed of release of the main sheet we were able to gybe perfectly. This fine point of gybing seems obvious to me now but that’s probably because I learned it on that day. If you have not learned this by now then keep it in mind and be sure to control the rate of release of the main sheet after the gybe. It has to be just right. Learn this point at this stage and then, one day, when you are single handling your boat, as I do regularly, it will be “as easy as pie.“ Further, it may save your life to do it correctly if sailing downwind in the ocean with a following sea associated with a large swell, significant wind waves, and especially if waves are breaking.
I’ve mentioned mentors on several occasions. My mentors were and still are Paul McGraw and David Perkins. Dan Siciliano also counts as amongst those with whom I learn a lot about sailing. We still sail together and I learn from these three gentlemen every single day we are out on the water together.
David Perkins at the helm of Skiron. I’m enjoying the ride!