Basic sailing course


This is my first blog posting leading up to a dream I've had for many years. Dream is to sail around the world in a catamaran. I suppose that dream comes from a childhood growing up in beautiful countries (Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Haiti, and Malaysia) and having sailed small catamarans as a young boy, and having taught myself to windsurf as a teenager when the sport first emerged. More recently, my focus has been on sustainability, and dreams of living exclusively on renewable energy provided by the sun. Sailing around the world gives me the chance to explore all this and more. I hope you'll join me on this journey as I think we'll all will learn a great deal about life, living, and our future on this spaceship we call earth, as we hurtle towards a new tomorrow.

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Seems to me that the text book and classroom experience for basic sailing might give you the impression that this is a fairly technical skill that requires learning a lot of new jargon and skills. I suppose it does in the long run. Looking back though I think it best to think of it in the following way...

You want to go from A to B on a sailboat. Sailboat because they are beautiful, simple, quiet, natural and require no fuel. You must unhook the boat from the dock, get out of the marina, hoist the sails, find a way to get to B. Hook the boat up to the dock again. That is all there is to it. Everything in the course and on the water simply helps you do this safely and with some skill.

From my perspective this helps, but I suppose that would only be if you are the type of person, like me, who loves to learn by doing. For those of you who feel more comfortable being told how everything works and how to do it first, and then practising the skills, then that first few hours in the class room should help. For me, it was just confusing...but fortunately I just kept dreaming about getting from A to B...jump on the boat, untie the knot, push off, steer out, hoist the sails, find some wind to fill the sails, see where it takes me, adjust, figure it out, zig zag if necessary to get to B, drop the sails, tie her up again.

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Day 1 - Learning the Ropes

Sailing must be to a great degree about safety since the water is a place that does not suffer fools lightly. As with any water sport there are at all times potential dangers for you, your crew and passengers. Keeping everyone safe is your first priority. This starts with yourself. You need to be protected so that you can effectively control the sailboat. You need to make sure you have the proper sun protection including a hat, comfortable clothing and and sunscreen. In order to be able to operate effectively under a variety of conditions you need good boat shoes, gloves to protect you hands while working the lines (rope in land lubber lingo). Also, make sure you are prepared for the length of your journey. Ensure you have water, foul weather gear (ie. rain gear), and enough provisions for everyone so that they are all comfortable for the duration of the planned voyage. Of course, before stepping into any boat you should put on your personal flotation device (PFD). Make sure it is comfortable, the right size and correctly secured.

Sailing comes with a language you'll need to learn. While working the boat as skipper or crew, you'll be better ready to take action quickly and safely if you know the names of each part of the sailboat you'll be asked to work with. The essential elements are probably already familiar to you. The mast, holds up the main sail. If you've canoed you'll know that the front of the boat is the bow and the rear is the stern. Each side is the beam. The halyards raise and hold the sails through a pulley at the top of the mast. Lines are the the rope you'll use to trim the sails (let them in or out through the winches). Winches can be used to help provide additional power for raising the sails and trimming various parts of the sail.

Above is a diagram with some of the essential elements you should know (Wikimedia reference):

  1. main sail
  2. jib
  3. spinnaker
  4. hull
  5. keel
  6. rudder
  7. skeg
  8. mast
  9. spreader
  10. shroud
  11. main sheet (rope that lets the main sails boom in and out)
  12. boom
  13. mast
  14. boom
  15. backstay
  16. stay
  17. vang