Candace and I just returned from the Colgate Offshore-Sailing school’s live aboard cruising class out of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. This was a weeklong class on bareboat cruising on a 40 to 50 ft sailboat. This post is about the class itself–I will post more on the boat and the area separately.
Offshore Sailing is a USSailing affiliate. The course assumes you have experience sailing smaller boats. Successful completion will get you the US Sailing Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising certificates. Theoretically you need the US Sailing Basic Keelboat certification to qualify for the others. Candace and I did not have that particular stamp, but we did hold the equivalent ASA certificate. They let us challenge the Basic Keelboat certificate examination early in the class so we could sit for the cruising exams.
The school offers this class in several locations. The Tortola based class is unique in that it is taught in cooperation with The Moorings on one of their charter boats. Other locations use Offshore’s own boats. Our class was taught on “Salaway”, a Moorings 494 aka a Jeanneau Sun Oddessy 49.4. More on the boat later.
We arrived at the Moorings base on Sunday. We got there early, and had to kill some time before boarding the boat at 6. We met our classmates Bill and Blair, while waiting. We spent the night on the boat in preparation for the class to start on Monday. Much to my surprise, the boat had air-conditioning when on shore power. Too bad the air in the aft cabins did not work.
We met David (our instructor) on Monday morning. We spent some time getting last minute provisions, grabbed a quick lunch, then met the instructor back on the boat for a detailed briefing on the boat systems. We spent the afternoon getting a feel for the boat beating around the end of Beef Island, and practiced anchoring for the first time at Monkey Point on Guana Island, where we spent the night. David whipped up a very nice chicken curry. (It actually came frozen as part of our provisions, but it was good–and had to be heated without the benefit of microwaves.)
On Tuesday morning David assigned us daily roles of Captain, First Mate, Second Mate, and Chef/Deckhand. He made the initial assignments based on order of appearance. Bill woke first, and was therefore Captain. I was First Mate–my first duty of the day was to swab the deck.
We spent the morning on class materials–mainly some basic sailing review, as well as some course planning for our afternoon sail to Gorda Sound. We practiced using the hand-bearing compass to take periodic fixes on the way. We anchored in Gorda Sound off of Prickly Pear Island. We set two anchors for practice, and dinghied over to BEYC to drop off some trash.
We took our Basic Keelboat challenge exams that evening. Bill also challenged. All three of us passed. Blair had taken the Basic Keelboat class prior to this class as part of the fast track program–so he didn’t need to challenge.Afterward, we celebrated with dinner at Saba Rock.
We spent Wednesday morning on more class work, which included more navigation, crew overboard drills, etc. We raised the anchors (the second anchor by hand) and sailed around in circles a while (more work then it sounds), and practiced Quick Stop crew overboard drills. We anchored for the evening off of Mosquito Island. Bill grilled some very nice Mahi Mahi.
Thursday morning was more class, then sailed over to Leverick Bay where we practiced picking up moorings. David showed us a trick where we would effectively lasso the mooring ball and lash ourselves directly to the ball while we picked up the pendant and ran other dock lines through it. We left the boat on a mooring and had lunch on shore. Afternoon was docking practice at the Leverick Bay docks. We learned some useful tricks on the use of spring lines when landing and launching. We also learned that a 50 ft cruising boat is much heavier than our Spirit 23 back on Lake Lewisville. If the boat is moving, don’t even think about trying to stop it by hauling on a dock line–you’ve got to make the line fast quickly before the boat takes it away from you.
We anchored back at Prickly Pear. Candace and I heated up the Eggplant Parmesan with some spaghetti. (I had chef duty that day.)
Friday morning we headed back to Road Town to drop off David, and take our instructor-free mini-cruise. We sailed back on a deep broad reach with following seas. We were seeing apparent wind upwards of 25 knots on a broad reach. The boat was a bit of a handful under these conditions–it was difficult to stay on course with the swells kicking the stern out one way or another every few seconds. Some squalls formed up behind us. We were almost to Road Harbor before we had to drop sails after the VHF weather station reported some high winds in the squall line. We had some more excitement docking at the moorings base, as a second squall came through just as we were turning into the dock.
We had lunch at the Moorings base, and were a little worried the weather would not let us take our mini-cruise. Fortunately things blew through, and we had a very nice sail to the Bight at Norman Island. We grabbed a mooring ball, then took it easy with drinks and snacks at the Pirate Bight, and dinner at the Willie T.
Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast, and a very nice reach back to The Moorings base. We threaded our way through all the returning boats, and made a perfect landing a dock with Bill at the helm.
David debriefed us shortly after arrival. He informed us that a boat sank during the squalls we experienced on Friday. Fortunately no one was hurt. Another boat was demasted, and a couple had their sails torn up. Our sense of accomplishment went way up. I am personally glad we caught some weather with the instructor on board, rather than experiencing it for the first time sometime on our on.
In general, we enjoyed the class. David tended to let us make mistakes and offer correction and advice rather than tell us every detail in advance. This works better with some students than others–I remember the lessons I get wrong far better than the ones I get right the first time. Now we just have to get back out there before we forget everything.