Ready for the Summer’s Sail – or the Seven Seas?

Ready for the Summer’s Sail – or the Seven Seas?

So you want to go sailing?

Well, you could start like some guys I used to know. Find a sailboat that sunk during the winter after the cockpit drains froze solid and the boat filled with water. A boat like that is usually cheap, although you could call it “a project”. Float the thing and go sailing.

Ever heard of navigation? A hint: something to do with maps. The guys I used to know found some of those at the back of a phone book. What they didn’t know – but were to find out soon enough – is that the Baltic Sea got to pick all the rocks in the world before the Seven Seas had a chance to get any, which makes our precious home waters impossible to navigate without proper marine charts. The guys stopped at the first town that sported a marine store and bought a chart. Mind you, they had managed to hoist the spinnaker before pulling into their first port of call, something that most sailors skip during their first season altogether.

If this doesn’t sound tempting to you, then maybe you’re not like the guys I used to know, maybe you’re more like me. I like to find out about things beforehand, sort of like learning to swim before jumping in the water (is that even possible?) More specifically, I like to take courses.

I took a basic coastal navigation course in my early twenties. My parents had a motor boat and when I went boating with them, I liked to know where we were headed and tried to be as useful a crew member as I could. Later on, I continued to an offshore navigation course, more for a personal interest than for any specific reason at the time. After sailing a season or two – or to be exact, being an ornament on a sailboat with a very superficial understanding of what was going on – I wanted to really learn to sail. I wrote more about this in a previous post. So I took a basic sailing course (the equivalent of RYA Competent Crew), followed by a skipper course (RYA Day Skipper or ASA Basic Coastal Skipper) while taking every opportunity I had to get on a sailboat.

Then life got in the way, and the sea and the sailing was but a distant memory. But a year ago, something changed. I found myself constantly thinking about sailing, and about boats. I was secretly thinking about buying a boat. And what do you think was the natural consequence? I wanted to take more courses!

One thing I had always wanted to do was a sea safety course. My husband used to be a volunteer crew member of a Search and Rescue vessel for years and has some hands-on experience of rescuing real people from the real stormy seas. But I wanted to start with virtual storms and hoped I would never have to graduate to the real people and real situations. However, the course I took gave me a lot of confidence to hopefully be able to function in a real situation, something that is hard to learn from a book.

The Survival Course for Boaters took place at the Marine Safety Training Center and it was especially intended for ordinary boaters and sailors. There were all sorts of participants on that course. Some, like me, had some experience, some had only just started boating, and some were about to cast the lines and sail around the world. The first half of the course was theory – going through all sorts of safety equipment, pfd’s, boat appliances, everything you could think of – and the second half was spent splashing about in a giant swimming pool. We practiced man-over-board, lifting and winching people out of the water and back on a boat, getting in and out of life rafts, staying alive in freezing cold water while waiting to be rescued, and finally getting lifted into a helicopter. And all the while big waves were surging across the pool, it was dark and the wind was howling, there was spray flying through the air like in a real storm – a very authentic experience, if you ask me. I hope I never have to float out there in the real thing!

This year, before it’s time to launch our boat, I’m planning to take a first aid course. And maybe a firefighting course, as I’ve never tried one of those fire extinguishers in real life.

It’s probably not something you often think about, but when you’re sailing you’re really alone out there. Even if you just sail from one marina to the next, and never stray from well marked waterways, there are still times when you’re alone. There are so many things you need to be prepared for, so many skills you need to have. Ever since my ornament days, I have hated the idea of being a mere passenger on a sailboat – I want to and need to be able to perform all the tasks onboard. After all, with a crew of two, it means you double the chance of getting home safely – or where ever it is you are going.

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