Saturday, April 12, 2014

Learning to Sail - ASA 101 (Day 2 of 2) - Basic Keelboat Sailing

Damon takes the helm!

Another day of adventure in the log book! With day two of my ASA-101 certification class, I have passed my exam and can now safely operate 23' sailboats for an afternoon on inland waters!

I was greeted by a perfect water day at Harbortown Marina.

The day started as beautiful as the day before. Perfect sunny clear skies with a light to medium wind consistently from the south. Billy and Ash met me at the boat promptly at 9 AM and within a couple of minutes we were pulling out of our berth. I cast us off as Ash manned the outboard motor and tiller. First up today was to practice docking procedures when approaching a busy pier.

Billy taught us the classic Captain Ron Docking Maneuver. In this strategy you drive directly toward a solid concrete wall and make a hard turn when you are just six feet away. You then pop the boat into reverse to settle it right against the wall. It actually worked quite well with the small boat we were sailing. In any case we stationed one of us on the bow ready to push off the wall if we came in too fast. The good news with a small boat is it is very easy to move on the water with just a gentle shove.

After both Ash and I had successfully docked three times each, we made our way back into the channel to motor out to the Banana River. We left the sails down because next up was to practice anchor operations. Our instructor had us motor to a fixed marker in the river, put our bow into the wind and slowly come up to the marker. Each of us as crew took turns letting the anchor out over the bow. As we let out the anchor we would motor and drift slowly backwards giving a slight tug on the anchor so it would set in the sand below. Once set, we applied power in reverse to see if it held us in place.

Now at anchor, we could put up our sails and start the wind based activities of the day! Under-sail we next practiced man over board drills. In this standard drill a floating cushion is thrown overboard to simulate someone falling into the water.  We then practice maneuvers that allow you to sail away from the person, turn back sail towards them, slow the boat to a stop, not hit the person, but still have them close enough and on the leeward side of the boat to allow for a successful rescue.

Both Ash and I had mixed results, and I certainly have mixed feelings about this drill. First of, one does not get advanced notice that someone is falling overboard. Our instructor told us what he was doing when doing it. At The Sailing Club of Central Florida's Community Sailing Class, we were not told when the drill would occur, which I think added a lot to the feeling of urgency when it happened. On the other hand, the man overboard drill did show us a great way to practice boat and sail control, and especially, control while single handed. I think this type of practice is invaluable and will more often than not be used for rescuing lost hats than lost passengers.

Spotting a person by day in calm seas may be doable, but...

The harsh truth is rescuing someone who goes over in calm waters during the day really is not applicable to the typical man overboard situation. People fall overboard when the weather is ultra-rough, they are doing something very ill advised, and it is usually in the dark of night. (Hence why they did not see coming the thing that had them go overboard to begin with.) Getting really good at this drill definitely has tons of benefits, but the least of them is retrieving a crew member.

Mast, Spreaders, Shrouds, Backstay, Halyard,...

Last up for our sailing morning was reviewing the terminology associated with the different parts of the boat. We also were taken on a quick tour of our little bay to show us the big locks, SR 528 bridge, and tourist infested sand bar. All in all our morning had us sailing three miles in two and a half hours.

Back at our marina slip we tied up our boat and headed into the office. We had completed all of our sailing instruction for the two day class in a day and a half. Next we were to take a written exam, and upon passing, keep the boat for our own use for the rest of the day!

The multiple choice test was comprehensive, and much more professionally put together than the one we took at the Community Sailing course. I did think its heavy reliance on multiple choice made the test much easier than it needed to be. To keep grading brainless, there were no fill in the blanks, making the terminology much easier to figure out. I ended up scoring a perfect 100% on the 75 or so questions. I later found out that Ash scored very high as well. Ash and I agreed to go out sailing together on our own after lunch and we bid farewell to our instructor Billy.

After the dining experience of the day before, today I chose to bring a bag lunch. It is hard to beat a peanut-butter and grape jelly sandwich with carrots on the side no matter how old I get.

Back on the boat I offered to have Ash be in charge of the vessel while I act as crew since I had a bit more experience. He manned the helm and I ran his lines. We had some good fun, but struggled to keep the sail interesting. My personal goal is to use sailing to help me learn to quiet my mind and live in the moment. This means using long quiet times to practice listening and calm thinking. This was not necessarily my partner's goal. He lamented not having a pontoon boat or fishing equipment. :)

We kept things interesting by flirting with the no trespassing signs by the military shores, running a man overboard drill, and playing chicken with many water borne obstructions. After a good while I took over the helm and decided I wanted to sail South under the SR 528 bridge. The opening is very narrow so we had to lower the sails and motor through the opening directly into the wind.

After turning out of the wind I had a very profound learning experience trying to get the sails back up. It turns out it is a good idea to cleat the jib sheets before putting up the foresail in moderate winds. As Ash tried to put it up, it flogged like crazy in the now 15 mph winds. In doing so, it tangled up its sheets in gigantic knots. Knots that did not pull free easily. At the same time the water was very choppy on this side of the bridge since the bay was so much larger, giving the wind more time to kick up waves. So I ended up sitting on the bow of the bouncing boat with a sail and ropes flapping in my face desperately trying to untangle the lines.

It all turned out fine with no significant injuries, but definitely new things learned. The larger bay to the south of 528 was definitely much more fun to sail, but since it was larger, our progress was much less apparent. Turning back, we ran down wind, challenging ourselves to sail under the bridge without motor power. We made a perfect run and safely passed under the bridge with only about two feet of clearance to spare. Looking at our watches, it was time to turn back towards the canal.

Ash and I agreed we were both good company and may sail again together in the future, especially to share the costs of the boat rental. At the same time, I am learning to sail to spend more quiet time with Sharon so she may be my next sailing partner, after all, I have so much I want to share with her.

Overall, I am very glad I took this Basic Keelboat Class. The supervised water time was very helpful in giving an ordered overview of the basics of sail-boating in a larger water environment. The instruction was a mild step up from the volunteers at The Sailing Club, but still very loose and laid back. The boat was safe and clean, but definitely not completely maintained, and a bit out of date.  In this way, if you are looking for a low cost education on the basics of sailing, I can definitely recommend Beachside Sailing in Merritt Island, FL.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Learning to Sail - ASA 101 (Day 1 of 2) - Basic Keelboat Sailing

The Hunter 23 I sailed on today.  A step up from the 14'  boats in my last class.

Since completing a community sailing course last month, I have stepped up to the next level of sailing training by starting a course (Basic Keelboat Sailing) certified by the American Sailing Association at Beachside Sailing on Merritt Island. This two day course is the first of three courses which prepare one to soundly skipper a bareboat charter sailing yacht up to 50 feet in length for multi-night coastal passages.

In preparation for the class, I was mailed a course book and asked to study it thoroughly prior to the first class day. While my previous community training experience included extensive classroom instruction, this class is set up as an exclusively water based experience. I was expected to know the book content prior to showing up for the class. This studying was very easy for me since it is mostly a retread of my previous class, just with a bit larger boat. If this was my first class, I think I would have been a bit overwhelmed by how much there was to absorb without yet having seen a boat in person.

Beachside Sailing is located at the Harbortown Marina on Merritt Island, FL just off the 528 Beachline which connects Orlando to Cocoa Beach. The marina is just a mile or so from the exit off of the freeway. The road on which it is located parallels a barge canal which also serves a big neighbor, a SeaRay factory which builds jet boats!

I arrived at 9 AM to meet my instructor Billy and my fellow classmate Ashton. Both Billy and Ashton were very laid back, I had a real pleasure being part of the crew with the two of them. We headed straight for the boat with a quick stop at the restroom on shore, our little 23 foot boat had no toilet facilities.

My instructor Billy enjoys the sun.

The day consisted of a morning sail from 9:30 to about 11:30, a break for lunch till about 1:00, and then a second sail from 1:00 to 4:00.

Our first sail consisted of a lot of set up time, learning how to rig the boat and handle all of the lines. We also learned how to cast off and run the outboard motor. The winds in the morning were very light so we really could not do much sailing. In the past I would have found this very frustrating, but one of the reasons I am learning to sail is in support of my developing my ability to really live in the moment and enjoy life as it comes. In truth, the light winds really made the morning peaceful, and gave ample opportunity for the three of us to get to know each other. It also gave us time to enjoy the wildlife including manatees, birds, and a pod of dolphins!

We were on our own for lunch. I decided to try the marina's restaurant Nautical Spirits. I had a very good hamburger in a beautiful screened porch overlooking the water, but at about $14 tip included, I think I will be bringing my lunch tomorrow. During lunch I enjoyed the use of the marina's extensive free WiFi.  They had great signal strength, but the data speed was nothing impressive.

After lunch, I made my way to the deck chairs which sat along the water, and relaxed for fifteen minutes or so until we met up to start our second sailing trek.

Ashton really enjoying himself.
Look at how far we are heeling!

During lunch the wind really picked up. Back out on the water, we really had a great time. With 10 to 15 mph winds, we were challenged to trim the sails and really put some power into the tiller. Billy ran us through some tacks and jibes as well as some long straight sails to really get us comfortable with setting a course and trimming the sails. After about an hour and a half, he took us over to a cluster of channel markers and laid out a triangle course for us to execute. A triangle course forces a sailor to practice sailing on all points of sail and through both turn types, tacking and jibing.

I had some harrowing moments on the triangle course today. The course was sailed clockwise and the southern leg ran right through and obstacle course of concrete pilings. (I'm not sure how wise this was on Billy's part for a first day course.) In addition to having to thread the boat between these 20' high concrete abutments, we were also doing in on a close hauled sail. This means we were very limited on how far to the left we could sail. In the end I threaded the needle with only about five feet to spare, twice!  So cool!

A few notes on preparedness, for one, sun screen was essential today. I applied three coats of SPF 60 throughout the day and in turn came out unscathed. The other thing that did jump out at me was that the larger boat with stronger winds meant the sheets (sail control lines) were ripped through my hand more than once causing surprising pain. Thankfully I had brought my sailing gloves. (Well admittedly inexpensive weight lifting gloves bought at Walmart.) Once I put the gloves on, the danger was reduced. I also learned when to expect the most tension, and how I should position my hands for maximum control.

Tomorrow's weather looks to be just as beautiful as today's but the winds look like they will be lighter, meaning slower sailing. Thankfully, calm and easy going is the main reason I am undertaking this activity to begin with.