Trip Preparation No 2: That’s Skipper MacLean to you, Mate

Ahhhh, sailing the ocean blue … after having completed the Crew portion of our sailing lessons in dismal weather, we were very happy to have a beautiful sunny day in English Bay for our final Bay Skipper on-water test. I was a bit worried about the written test, given that I didn’t exactly ace the earlier Canadian Yachting Association small craft safety test, but, after having taken four and a half hours of classroom instruction at Coopers with Drew, I was delighted to find out that I’d passed the Skipper test with 89% – not too bad for a former landlubber.

Luckily for us, since our second to last on-water session had been scheduled for what turned out to be a really disgusting day of pissing rain and no wind, the instructor had phoned in sick and we were rescheduled for this past Sunday, a glorious day with sun, a few fluffy white clouds and a 12 knot wind in the bay.

Ty and I headed out in “Woody’s Boat” with our instructor (Drew once again) for what would be our on-water test of how well we could handle the boat, a Martin 244 like the rest of Cooper’s fleet. I was nervous, since the last time out I had been unfortunate enough to be at the helm when the wind changed direction erratically and gusted then died each time I tried to figure out the direction from which it was coming … this made it difficult if not impossible to find the correct points of sail, one of the skills a skipper must absolutely have. “Points of Sail” are the 5 different directions with respect to the wind that the sailboat must be positioned in order to sail properly; they are, for all you afficionadoes of sailing language: In Irons (straight into the wind – not a good place to be since the boat stops and can’t be controlled – not a point of sail); Close Hauled (45 degrees away from the wind; sails pulled in tight to the mast); Close Reach (slighty farther away from the wind; sails let out slightly); Beam Reach (90 degrees away from the wind; wind blowing across the beam; sails let out to the back corner of the boat); Broad Reach (145 degrees away from the wind; sails let almost all the way out) and Running (wind directly behind the boat).

Thankfully, this day, for the first time in our lessons, we had great wind for the entire day. And, making the lesson even more productive, Ty and I had the instructor to ourselves, rather than being one of four. It’s amazing how much more I learned with only two of us rather than four. We sailed for about seven straight hours, and I did almost all of the sailing, since Ty’s done quite a bit in the past, heading out to the freighters anchored in the bay and practicing our maneuvers around and about them and the other boats in the area. As can be seen from this photo, I had the boat heeled over quite well as we screamed along close hauled through the water.

I was able to hit all the points of sail with relative ease several times from both directions; Drew gave me a gold star … we also practiced one of the most important drills, the Crew Overboard with Bob the buoy, many, many times. This involves a triangular maneuver, travelling away from Bob on a Beam Reach, then tacking all the way around to a Broad Reach and heading up on a Close Reach directly towards Bob, then quickly letting out all the sails as we approach so that Bob can be picked up out of the water on the windward side without being run over by the boat. It’s tricky but got easier the more times that I practiced it – another gold star.

While we were out there, we saw the Viking Ship once again under full sail and with a full crew powering the oars.

Part of the Skipper’s exam involved knot tying; we had to demonstrate the five basic sailors’ knots, the Bowline, the Reef, the Stopper, the Clove Hitch and the Half Hitch. Here Ty shows off his skill. The third of my three gold stars was for tying knots; unbelievably I managed to do them all (luckily I’d practiced the night before … yet another gold star).

It was a tiring but satisfying day; after the last class, I’d been quite discouraged and thought my sailing career was a bust. Now, though, I’m pretty confident that I could actually sail a small vessel reasonably well. We hope to be able to crew on a boat or rent a small sail boat to tool around on the lagoons of the South Pacific while we’re away. And, as Ty says, if he falls overboard and sees me sailing away, he’ll know that it’s on purpose rather than because I don’t know how to turn the boat around.

See all my pictures here.

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