Finding the Right Sailing Course

There’s no single method for learning to sail.  There isn’t a licensing requirement for sailing like those required for operating a motor vehicle or aircraft.  Many accomplished sailors have never had any sort of formal training.  Because we don’t have friends who sail, we were forced to look for courses or someone who could teach us.

Our first thought was to combine a sailing course with a vacation to the BVI.  We had talked to a couple of friends about potentially going with us, but schedules are hard to synchronize.  If we went by ourselves, we would have likely been paired with other students.  More students on the boat would mean less hands-on time.  Then there was a chance we would be partnered with students who had a lot more experience than us, making it difficult for the instructor to meet everyone’s needs.

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Chris, Capt Jennifer, and Christine at the end of the weeklong course.

During our research we discovered Sunshine Coast Adventures out of Tavernier, Florida.  We decided to sign up for their Couples Sailing Course with Capt Jennifer Maclean.  These courses focus on teaching couples to work together to make sailing safe and fun.  We elected the 7-day course with hopes of completing ASA 101, 103, and 104.  Capt Maclean is a very accomplished instructor and has won the ASA Instructor of the Year Award 4 times.

We certainly didn’t come away as accomplished sailors.  But we did establish a solid foundation that allowed us to quickly build the skills necessary to secure a bareboat charter.  You can make the argument that ASA 101, 103, and 104 should not be combined into a single week time period because of the vast amount of information that has to be covered.  On day one, the Captain told us that we might not be able to complete it all, or that it could work out that only one of us achieved all three certifications.  She let us know daily how she thought we were progressing.  About three days in, Christine decided she was only going to attempt ASA 101 and 103.  She felt she wasn’t catching on quick enough and wanted more time to get through 103.  It worked out perfectly with me receiving all three certifications and Christine receiving ASA 101 and 103.

We had no illusions that we were ready to jump on a bareboat and sail into the sunset.  We needed more practice.  We did several day charters with Captains that allowed us to practice.  Having said all that, I highly recommend Sunshine Coast Adventures courses.  For us, it was a complete emersion into sailing.  We cast off the dock lines on Monday morning and returned to the doc the following Sunday evening.  We anchored each evening and got a great insight into living on a small boat.

We completed the certifications in June 2017 and were able to secure a bareboat for the week of Thanksgiving out of Key West.  We were very confident and had a fantastic time.  We are confident we could secure a bareboat charter with any charter service now.

The Spark

I had always had an interest in sailing, but growing up in northeastern Alabama on a shallow lake didn’t afford many opportunities.  I did spend time on the water, and have owned three ski boats and still have a 19′ Arriva ski boat with a 150 HP outboard.  A little over a year ago, Christine and I went on a cruise to the Bahamas where we spent a few days in one of the many resorts.  While there, we took the opportunity to get a quick lesson on a Hobie Cat and we were hooked.

Upon returning to work, my boss was also returning from vacation.  He and his brother and their families had charted a 54′ sailboat in the British Virgin Islands.  Tom and his brother had grown up sailing with their father, and are both accomplished sailors.  I immediately started researching to learn all I could about acquiring the sailing credentials needed to charter a bare boat.

Before we made the significant financial investment in a sailing course, we thought we should hire a boat to take us sailing in a real sailboat.  Christine signed us up for a 2-hour sailing orientation on Lake Monroe, in Sanford, Florida, through U-Sail of Central Florida.  We wanted more, and since we knew we wanted to sail offshore we needed to find someone to take us offshore.

We stated looking for charters online.  After research, we contacted Captain Hendricks of Sailing Winsome Sailboat Charters in Daytona Beach, Florida.  It was a beautiful, but blustery day, with winds gusting 20-25 knots.  We left the Intracoastal waterway through Ponce Inlet with gusting winds out of the east as the tide was going out.  Seas were 5-8 feet, but Captain Hendricks and his Pearson 365 was up for the task.  Again, we knew this would not be our last sailing experience.

It’s Only Money, Right?

On February 13, 2018, we became sailboat owners.  There’s a 1998 Pacific Seacraft 40 sitting on the hard in Annapolis, Maryland, just waiting to be moved to Daytona Beach, Florida.  We’re in the process of changing her name to Ella Mae, and setting Centre, Alabama as her new hailing port.  There are stories behind it all.

As the tagline says, we came to boat ownership by the seat-of-our-pants.  We read and researched looking for “the right way” to become sailors.  As with most things, there are no rules, and no single “right way”.  We’ll share our experiences to this point in future posts, and bring you along as we move forward.

Welcome!  Thanks for joining us!

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