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.

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