You are hereProject Retirement, ep 5

Project Retirement, ep 5

By Q-Bert - Posted on 24 February 2021

The one where I don't wreck a boat.

During Christmas time in Arizona, 2019, my wife and I decided to learn to sail.

Back in Ottawa, we applied for a course with Advantage Boating: Basic Cruising. We applied in March and it was to start in June and we couldn't wait. Less than 2 weeks later, the province shut down because of COVID. I tried to reach Advantage Boating and got no response at the time. As far as I could tell, our course was cancelled and our money was gone.

Not so. Advantage Boating finally reached back and said to simply wait and see what the province decided. April passed, and so did most of June. Mid-June, they contacted us and told us that they were ready to do "remote learning" for the theoretical part, and would accommodate for the "on the boat" part. July rolled around and we started the class.

We had to pick up our class material: mostly a book called "Basic Cruising Skills" that was unfortunately rather thick. Unfortunate because it soon became clear that this course was going to involve a lot of learning in a very short amount of time.

My wife and I attended the online class, for the theoretical parts. That was a few evenings every week for about 4 weeks. The instructor was adequate, but it was obvious that they had never taught a course online before, and somewhat struggled with the technology for the first week. There was a lot of material to cover over a few weeks and we ended up spending some of our evenings practicing each other: "What's a pintle ?" "I don't care." "I don't think that's the right answer..."

Then we had our "hands on" weekend.

Day 1: Crazy wind
On the first day out, the morning had light winds, and we practiced points of sail, such as heading into the wind, and then having the wind unto our "beam". It wasn't exactly relaxing, and my wife spent some time holding the tiller but wasn't having a good time of it. We came back to the marina for lunch, and then headed back out. This time, the wind was much stronger. I spent the next 4 hours fighting the boat, with the instructor constantly saying "bear off", and "head up". My wife tried to hold the tiller for all of 4 minutes. At the end of day 1 we were spent and my wife had been scared into a panic for most of this time. She was not enjoying herself. We even discussed just dropping out.

We finally decided to stick it through.

Day 2: Gentle Wind
On our second day out, we barely had any wind. This permitted us to practice proper sail management, anchoring, and crew-over-board maneuvers. All of this was done in the morning. We came back to the marina for lunch. In the afternoon, the wind was so dead that we just spend an hour doing docking maneuvers, and then our instructor proposed that we just move the remaining time to a later date that same week. We accepted.

Evening 3: OK Wind alone on the boat
So, we got a "third day" out of a 2-day course. We found ourselves back at the marina one particular evening, meeting the instructor at the boat. We asked if my wife and I could go out by ourselves and the instructor agreed, and proposed to "chase" us with a motor boat in case we needed help. We thought that was a splendid idea. So out to the lake we went.

I think that one evening was the difference for us. It gave the opportunity for my wife and I to just "tune in" and try different things and still have the confidence that the instructor could get us out of trouble. That evening gave us confidence.

The following week, we took our paper exam, passed, and found ourselves with the title of "skipper".

Unlike most of our classmates, we did not go out and purchase a boat that summer. What we did was to enrol in a "sail-share" program were you pay a lot of money to borrow a boat (or "split" a boat, as it were). You have access to a calendar program and get to pick time slots where you can bring the boat out unto the lake. It served us well and we were able to bring it out about 10 times before the short season was over.

The sail-share program had boats at the Britannia marina and the Nepean sail club marina. Getting in and out of a marina can be a dramatic affair, and we originally wondered why people would just sit on the hill right next to the Britannia marina entrance (from the lake, not the road, duh) and watch the boats come in. It became clear why. Not even my first day out, and a large sailboat comes into the marina with an older lady screaming "help we lost our motor!". About 3 of us ran to their aid and they threw some lines at us and we were able to grab on and slow the boat from the shore. Turns out the skipper had put gas into a diesel engine and lost propulsion as he headed out. He was able to turn around before completely losing the motor. Good thing we caught their lines as they were heading into the first docks. This cannot be a rare occurrence if this entrance attracts spectators...

The Nepean sail club marina has a weird entry channel were the buoys are rather far apart, and if you don't follow them, you have good chances of running aground on rocks present under the waterline. I came very close to testing this when we passed a buoy a good number of meter on our right (or "starboard" lol), when it *should* have been a good number of meters to our left (or "port"), so as to not place the boat in the middle of rocks (or "shoals"), or else you are seen as a noob (or "landlubber").

The more observant readers will notice that we survived the 2020 sailing season.

So, what about 2021 ? I am taking the VHF radio course, as well as the Basic Navigation course in order to fulfill the pre-requisites to take the Intermediate Cruising course this summer. Potentially, that course will take place over a week on a boat sailing from Kingston. We will most probably join the sail-share program again this summer and hopefully make it out more than 10 times this year.

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