Sunday, December 22, 2013

BVI Sailing Charter 2013

Preparing to anchor in Anegada, BVI

Fidelity moored near Saba Rock, Virgin Gorda
After completing our American Sailing Association certifications earlier in the year, we decided one more crewed charter would do us well to gain some more experience before venturing out on our own on a bareboat charter (chartering a yacht alone, no crew or captain).  After working with our broker, we found "Fedelity", a 46 foot Jeanneau operated by Bob and Debbie Anderson.  Bob is also an ASA instructor, so we figured he would probably be willing to allow us to do a lot of hands-on operation and give us lots of great advice.  He did on both counts.

After three days spent in our beloved island of St. John, Bob and Debbie picked us up at the National Park dock in Cruz Bay.  Given our previous sailing charters, we held fairly high expectations from Bob, Debbie, and Fidelity.  It was very clear early in the charter, that our expectations would not only be met, but they would be far surpassed.

Fidelity was in pristine condition and she was our first introduction into a more modern monohull.  Our previous monohull experiences were on Morgan Out Island 41's.  While these venerable boats made for comfortable conditions and good sailing, they are an older design and much has changed.  Fidelity has many of the features I would look for in a yacht to live aboard - huge aft cockpit with a very usable folding table, a "sugar scoop" swim platform at the stern, and a very spacious layout with a nicely comfortable saloon.  She was a three cabin, three head layout making her great for chartering.  The forward stateroom, which was our accommodation for our week aboard, is the owner's suit complete with en-suite head.
Our forward stateroom

Unlike the shallow draft full keeled Morgans I trained on, Fidelity is a fin keel, lighter displacement boat.  At the helm there was a tremendous difference in the responsiveness of the boat.  While the Morgans felt like a graceful war horse, Fidelity felt more like a tuned sports car.  Helm changes were immediate, pinching in heavy wind was easy and I felt very connected with the 46 feet of boat beneath me.  On the other hand, the gear and forces behind them were massive.  I was awkward and uncoordinated working the sheets and halyards.  It had been six months since I had crewed a boat this size and I really struggled to find a rhythm.  On our first morning while putting the final tension on the main halyard, a block at the base of the mast failed.  I had read about such a failure, but I can assure you reading about it does no justice to seeing it happen first hand.  To be honest, it scared the hell out of me - it also reaffirmed how serious this type of gear and the handling of it really is.  Throughout the week, I found myself clumsy at times which really shook my confidence.  I compare it to the basketball player that hasn't played in some time.  In the player's head, he knows his approximate level of play, and with it comes confidence that it will be achieved.  When he gets on the court and a pass comes his way, he throws up an air-ball.  He hasn't lost that skill, but that level is not immediately at his grasp and it's a shock.  That immediate shock is exactly what I went through.  Captain Anderson coached me through this, and I'm glad he was there.  During our week aboard, we soaked up a lot of knowledge from him.

Sharon at the helm of Fidelity
Preparing to anchor near Little Jost

One thing we were pleasantly unprepared for, was the spectacular culinary show with which we were treated for each and every meal.  When booking a crewed yacht charter, the chef and his or her sample menus are always taken under great consideration.  When we booked Fidelity, we knew we would be eating well, but we had no idea that Debbie had grossly understated her abilities and talent in the galley.  Nor did we know the lengths that Bob and Debbie go to present meals Al fresco in the cockpit at a level that would make high-end restaurants embarrassed.  Seared sushi grade Ahi tuna, mango Mahi-mahi, delectable shrimp, indulgent breakfasts, and amazingly appetizing lunches - a menu designed and organized to our every tasty desire.  Debbie spent countless hours in the galley, making each meal an event to remember, and Bob had gathered a wine selection based on our tastes that did not fail to impress.  

Our charter with Fidelity found us hitting everything on our itinerary, plus a few unexpected side trips offered up by Bob.  Our favorites were all visited - Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda.  We also took in a lot of new territory.  We snorkeled the "Indians" near Norman Island for the first time this year, a place we have been meaning to go over the years but somehow passed up for other activities.  On one particular day, our goal was to sail to Marina Cay.  We were excited about our visit - Marina Cay was another spot that has been on our to-do list for many years.  Once underway, Bob offered the suggestion of heading over to Cooper island on our way.  We took the dinghy from Cooper Island, to Salt Island and the wreck of the RMS Rhone for snorkeling - more places high on our to-do list "someday".  The eerie-factor at the Rhone was high, and it was spectacular snorkeling the wreck while divers took a closer look beneath us.  Salt Island was great for wandering around and exploring.  Towards the west end of the island lies a makeshift graveyard where islanders buried the dead that washed ashore from the Rhone's demise.  

The incredibly flat island of Anegada, due north of Virgin Gorda, was also on the itinerary we asked of Bob.
Sunset in Anegada
 The sail there and back was well worth it, and proved to be a very relaxing experience with the sails set and the autopilot steering our course.  We arrived far earlier than Sharon and I had imagined we would, which allowed for us to do a good amount of island exploration and visiting many of the local watering holes.  It was immediately apparent that we would want to return there in the future, so we moved around the island like a sampler platter of appetizers with the intent that we will know exactly what we want to see and do the next time our hull meanders into this beautiful anchorage.  And when you hear Jimmy Buffett talk about Anegada lobster - take his word for it...  Or ours.  This is something not to be missed.

Our week aboard with Bob and Debbie was a great way to end our crewed charter experiences.  It was horrendously depressing to see it come to an end, but with every end comes a new beginning.  This was such a great stepping stone towards our ultimate goal, allowing us to log more hours under a professional while still having a vacation of a lifetime.   

Motoring to pull up the anchor
"Crowded" Cow-wreck beach, Anegada

Sunday, December 1, 2013

'Twas the Night Before A St. John Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through Cruz Bay,
We were all anxious for the arrival, of the fat man and his sleigh;
The stockings were hung by the palm trees with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The tourists were nestled all snug in villa beds,
While visions of north shore beaches danced in their heads;
And Sharon in her bikini, and I in my trunks,
Dinghied to the boat, headed back to our bunk.

When over by Beach Bar there arose such a clatter,
I peeked from a port hole and saw Santa's sleigh land with a splatter.
He had clipped my mast, flying low was his style,
Now the elf and his deer were on the beach in a pile.

The reindeer were scattered all over the sand,
Some injuries were suffered in their attempt to land,
Comet was bruised,  Rudolph's nose was withered,
How would Santa get his island gifts delivered?!

We ran through the circle, past the Tamarind Inn so quick,
We would get The ACC dogs to rescue St. Nick!
More rapid than eagles, barking as they came,
Santa patted their heads, and called them by name:

"Now Moose!  Now Georgia!  They love those butt scratches!
On Missy!  On Cally!  On Peaches and Patches!
To the top of Woody's, to the top of the Banana Deck!
Now yank away!  Dash away!  Pull like heck!"

Down Love City streets, these loyal pups pulled that sleigh,
It's said every dog shines once, and this was their day.
So up all the hills, all the way to Coral Bay they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too -

Later with some splashing, I heard near my hull,
Paddling and pawing, this night wouldn't be dull.
As I climbed to my cockpit and was turning around,
I saw St. Nick in a dinghy, with the pups towing him around.

He was dressed in a red Speedo, it sure wasn't pretty,
But the dogs were so proud, they saved Christmas in Love City;
A bundle of new snorkel gear hung at his side,
And it looked as if he were a Low Key guide.

His eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were sunburned, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
"These pups pulled my sleigh through the sand as if it were snow"

With a candy cane snorkel held tight in his teeth,
He hopped off my stern and dove for the deep.
He played with each dog, swimming and rubbing their bellies,
And he shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He wondered how these dogs, had landed at the ACC,
With wet little noses, and furry hearts full of glee.
A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head
"I'll find each one of these dogs a home and a warm bed";

A tear dripped down his cheek, as he went back to work,
The dog's stockings were last, then he turned with a jerk.
He tucked each dog in, and closed each kennel door,
"Wish I could take them now, wish I could do more"

He sprang to the office, and left a note for the staff,
"I left so many toys for your dogs, you'll surely have a laugh"
And I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight -
"Merry Christmas to all, and to the ACC good night!"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Where have I been?

S/V Fidelity, our home for our 2013 Virgin Island Adventure
In what seems like just a blink of an eye, it has been over two months since my last post.  Why?  In short, I have been running on virtual overload.  Each year, we venture to the Virgin Islands somewhere around the first or second week of November.  Likewise, each year I find that I have packed on some physical heft as a result of a few factors.  Mainly the cause for my abdominal growth is an excess in indulgence during the summer months at my summer lake home.  It seems that as we pass the summer days by on our pontoon boat, the beers and snacks slowly add up in the form of...  well... fat.  Typically as the summer season comes to an end around Labor Day, I realize I have put on 15-20 pounds that I like to take off before we head south to the islands some 8-9 weeks later.  As I lumbered on to the scales this Labor Day, I found I had astonishingly added 27 pounds.  Impressed I was not.

Right around this same time, I had also set a new goal towards our future in the islands.  I have always wanted to learn Spanish and as I see it there are three major languages in the islands - English, Spanish, and Creole.  Considering that Creole isn't exactly a dominating language, Spanish is my choice.  I had assumed that I would tackle this task by purchasing Rosetta Stone materials, but when I started researching the purchase of the product I found the reviews alarming.  A fair number of reviews cited issues in the software along with various other complaints.  These complaints combined with the fact that I simply have no time to allocate towards sitting in front of a computer to do the lessons swayed my focus towards another product - the "Pimsleur Approach".  This program is audio based making it very attractive for someone like me that commutes nearly 4 hours a day, staring endlessly at taillights.

I also had some unfinished business in regards to my sailing training.  In the early part of the year, after deciding to pursue American Sailing Association certifications, I enrolled in a home study course for my ASA 105 Coastal Navigation & Piloting certification offered through the American Sailing Academy in New London, CT.  This certification would compliment my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat, ASA 103 Coast Cruising, and ASA 104 Bareboat certification.  My original plan was to complete this course before we left for Island Dreamer Sailing school.  As it turned out, there was simply too much material to cover for me to finish.  After our Bareboat certification, it was suddenly summer and I simply put off the required studying.

ASA 105 Coastal Navigation & Piloting materials
So there you have it.  The week after Labor Day, I set a fairly lofty agenda.  In just two short months, I would train harder than I ever have and clean up my diet in order to drop my 27 pounds of extra weight, I would start aggressively learning Spanish, and I would achieve my navigation and piloting certification.  So for the past two months, every calorie has been counted, every meal has been measured for protein, carbohydrate, and fat content.  My day has started at 4:45am with a morning commute to the gym, and a Pimsleur Spanish lesson on the way.  After a 2 hour hardcore gym session, my work day started.  My lunch break became either a third hour in the gym, or a navigation study session.  My commute home usually entailed a repeat of my morning Spanish lesson, and after finally reaching home around 7pm or later, evenings often included more navigation plotting and calculations.

We are now just a few days from our trip, and the end of my allotted time to complete my agenda.  How did it go you ask?  I'm tired.  Mentally, and definitely physically.  However, I write this post weighing 26 pounds less than I was on Labor Day.  I have put away my 36 waist size jeans, and now comfortably fit back in my 32's.  Each day at work, I have very limited, short, simple conversations with Spanish speaking coworkers.  As limited as they may be, they are conversations none the less.  I am very thankful I have people to practice with that are enthusiastic about my progress.  I have to admit, I am very happy with the Pimsleur program.  I really have progressed much further than I had imagined I would.  And how about my ASA 105 certification?  After a 3+ hour marathon test, I was worried that my work had been rushed, causing mistakes.  I was even more worried that if I failed, it would mean taking that 3+ hour test again...  I am happy to report that Saturday morning I received a congratulatory text from Captain Dave Higgins stating I scored a 97% on my navigation and piloting exam.  Paperwork for my certification is currently being filed with the American Sailing Association.

With all this, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment as well as a tremendous need to unwind.  I can not wait to be at the helm of Fidelity, a 47 foot Jeanneau which will serve as our home during our time in the Virgins this year.  This will not only be a reward for all the hard work, but it will also serve as a stepping stone towards our ultimate goal.  While cruising the US and British Virigin Islands we will be racking up an entire week's worth of valuable operation time and experience.  Bring on the vacation...

S/V Fidelity's cockpit
S/V Fidelity's saloon

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Big Frickin' Sails - Pucker Factor

Big frickin' sails.  When I first heard this phrase, the first thought that came to mind was, "must be for a big frickin' boat".  I first saw "Big Frickin' Sails" on a sailing web forum.  As I read on, I found that the phrase was actually coined not to describe the physical sails on a boat, but rather to describe a day's sail which increased one's personal pucker-factor, or risk tolerance.  The author of the phrase further explained, it didn't matter if it was a 60 foot yacht, a small daysailer, or a sunfish - the point was it is an experience under sail where the skipper can look back and say "Whoa.".

Today, for me, was a Big Frickin' Sail.  It's been quite a few weeks since I have been out.  We were out of town a lot during the summer, leaving Connecticut to go relax at our lake house where we have a pontoon powerboat.  This is actually alright because the winds typically die down a bit during the summer, leaving the best sailing conditions in the Spring and Fall seasons.  Sharon was unable to go today, so I asked a long time friend and neighbor Zsolt Megai to crew with me.  Zsolt has been a great friend for almost ten years now, and is always up for any sort of outdoor adventure.  At 73 years old, he's as fit as any 30-something I know, and the two of us have a tendency to always find ourselves in situations that press the envelope.

Given the conditions and weather forecast, we decided to go to Bantam Lake here in Connecticut.  While not being especially large, Bantam is the largest natural lake in the state.  It's a fairly decent area, has a small sailing community, and has a nice state operated boat launch.  After rigging my boat "Rhumb Line", we decided to reef the main sail (reduce sail area for heavy wind), and then we proceeded out.  It's always better to reef early when you think you might need it, as it's far easier to shake out an unneeded reef rather than put one in during heavy conditions.  We tacked back and forth into the main bay of Bantam, and decided we could handle the wind with full sail, so out came the reef.  We then enjoyed spirited sailing around the main bay before dropping the sails and motoring into a little cove for lunch at anchor.

As we were finishing up lunch, we could see heavy white caps in the main bay.  It was clear that the forecast of winds building to 14-16 knots, and gusts well into the 20's was unfolding as planned.  A few quick knots later the reef was back in, the anchor was pulled, and we sailed back out under the main sail alone.  As we fell off the wind on a nice port tack, Zsolt went forward to raise the jib (the head sail).

Here is where hindsight is 20/20.  I always, without exception, stow my gear properly and make everything ship-shape before sailing off.  Well, I guess in this case, there was one exception.  I don't know why neither of us took care of it.  The anchor line was all over the front of the cockpit, the jib sheets were loose, as well as the main sheet.  Under main sail alone we were already building big speed and I had my hands full with the tiller.  As the jib flung violently loose in the wind, the jib sheets twisted about faster than Chubby Checker, fully entangling themselves in the loose anchor line.  The winds were well into the 20 knot range and it was overpowering us, giving enough pucker factor to make a dime from a quarter.

I watched as Zsolt worked on the tangle, and I tried to move my heft as far up on the upwind rail as possible.  The main sail was taking the brunt of some major gusts, and the jib was flailing, making my mast bend and flop as if it were made of spaghetti.  As Zsolt managed to get the spider web of lines and sheets untangled we sailed on, taking one-plus-foot chop waves against the hull continually drenching us.  With both sails now under control, I thought we were fine.

The wind continued to build.  It was ever more apparent that we were on the hairy edge.  Being bald, I really didn't think this was possible.  Busier than a one-legged man in an butt-kicking contest, we worked the boat - letting the sheets out in big puffs, and pushing the tiller to head the boat up into wind.  We were making 6.5 knots of speed with each gust seeming to grow in power.  "Rhumb Line" has high sides and is not meant to be hiked, but we did anyway, leaning out as far as we could, and still watched our leeward rail drop below the water line until water came in.

We were now at the far end of the lake, away from most that could lend assistance to us if needed.  We tacked back around heading back into the widest area of the lake giving the wind the most fetch.  Again we were insanely busy working the boat, and watching the rail drop below the water line.  Part of me was laughing with the excitement of the speed and power, while the other part was trying to control nerves and my heart rate which seemed likely to go into arrest. While I was frantically telling Zsolt "We need to get out of here, this is too much", he returned his usual calm retort of (in heavy Hungarian accent) - "Teeeemy, eet ees okaaay.  We are luurning the leeemits of your boat."  With a brand new Honda outboard attached, I really didn't want to find the limit of the boat.  Capsizing would be a $900 mistake, or - I guess maybe successful test of the limit.

After we sailed through the thick of it all, and returned safely, I understood the value of it all.  This Big Frickin' Sail, this solid quarter-to-dime pucker-factor, was another learning experience.  Zsolt was right.  We had raised my tolerance level, and I had gained more hours sailing under conditions that were extremely heavy for my little boat.  I'm looking forward to my next big frickin' sail - but I hope it will be a while.  Thanks for a great sail Zsolt!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Step 3: Get a small boat and "sail the hell out of it"

After deciding on ASA certifications, and signing contracts with Island Dreamer Sailing School, my next step was clear.  While researching how we would learn to sail, one piece of advice was common among all the skippers I had spoken with.  Without exception, everyone recommended finding a small sailboat, or sailing dinghy, and "sail the hell out of it".  Our ASA training would be followed up and supplemented with sailing our own small sailboat.

The idea behind sailing a small boat is that each and every move the skipper and crew makes, along with each slight change in wind or waves, makes an immediate and drastic perceived effect on the boat.  This differs from large, heavy, keel based sailing yachts where actions with wind, sheet, and wheel are not as easily recognized.  It was explained to me, that by gaining lots of experience on a small sailboat, I would learn to have a much better "feel" for the boat I was sailing and what effect my actions had upon it, therefore making me a better sailor.

Me, first time sailing a Laser (Virgin Gorda Sound, BVI)
Deciding to buy a small sailboat was far easier than the actual act of making the purchase.  There seemed to be endless options.  At first I thought about really small dinghies such as the Laser and the Sunfish.  I had a little experience sailing a Laser in the Caribbean.  It was a lot of fun, but it didn't really appeal to Sharon after she watched me repeatedly get catapulted into the water, thus doing more swimming than sailing.  Lasers, Sunfish, and the sort, are agile rides but they share the downfall of being a very wet ride and being more or less intended for one person.  These options were out.

Next I started looking at what seemed to be the next size up in dinghy sailboats.  These boats were generally in the 14-18 foot range and many models are sloop rigged (a main sail and a head sail) which is great as it is ultimately the type of rigging encountered on yachts we would consider living on.  These boats have virtually no ballast (the skipper and crew make up the ballast), and employ either a dagger board, or more commonly a swinging centerboard.  Another plus, is that they are "trailer sailors", meaning they are carried on a small boat trailer, are easily/quickly rigged and launched, and can be readily stored in one's yard right on the trailer.  These types of boats seemed like a good fit, but the majority of options I found were geared towards racing, and "one design" race classes (Thistles, Catalina 14.5, Mutineer, etc).  The problem for me with race boats, is that they generally have very low sides (freeboard), are extremely twitchy, require hiking (crew hanging off the high side of the boat) and end up giving a very wet ride with a high chance of capsize.

Getting acquainted with "Rhumb Line" on Bantam Lake
An important part of my selection would be keeping Sharon interested - meaning dry and comfortable and relaxed.  Wet, twitchy, capsizing boats were not part of what she was willing to explore - and owning a boat she wouldn't sail was pointless.  I needed a boat with a design and features aimed at leisurely recreational sailing, while still allowing for spirited sailing in stronger weather.  Larger trailer-sailors in the 20-22 foot range were available but presented a few other problems (Catalinas, Potters, etc).  Firstly, they take up more room while stored on the trailer.  Second, they take a long time to rig before sailing.  Lastly, many of these boats are more meant to be launched and retrieved once a year, and left on a mooring during the sailing season.  This was not an option for me.

Our American 14.6 "Rhumb Line", at Bantam Lake boat ramp
With my criteria set, I was having a hard time finding options.  Each winter, I attend the Hartford boat show to check out all the latest in power-boating.  Unexpectedly, there were two small sailboat vendors in attendance - Catalina, and American Sail.  I was immediately drawn to a couple of American Sail models - the American 14.6, and the American 18.  These boats stood out with features geared not towards racing, but towards an relaxing day on the water.  They were straight forward beamy (wide), sloop rigged with quality Harken blocks and hardware, and were made from hand laid fiberglass right here in the good ol' US-of-A at a family owned and operated company.  These boats featured a no-hiking design with a hard chine hull, overhead boom height (no ducking on tacks and jibes), forward storage compartments in the bow, high backed comfortable seating, motor mounts, swim ladders, and even a place for coolers.  The owner, Dave Stanton, quickly had me enamored with these boats which he sells in nicely setup packages.

After a continued month of researching and looking for other options, I couldn't find a better boat to suit our personal wants and needs for the sailing we wanted to do.  I ordered my American 14.6 optioned with a Plexiglas door for the bow storage, a motor mount, Honda 2.3 outboard, trailer, multi-colored main sail, and cover.  While most use boats like this without a motor, it was a requirement for me.  My sailing grounds would be Long Island Sound, and the launches available to me require motoring out of channels upwards of a mile before being allowed to raise sails.  On delivery, I outfitted my American with a Danforth anchor and 100 feet of rope rode, a handheld Garmin GPS, waterproof charts, lines, and a few bumpers.  After our ASA training, we would be ready to "sail the hell out of it".

At the helm on Bantam Lake

Monday, August 19, 2013

Step 2: Choosing a sailing school

"Island Dreamer", a 41 foot Morgan Out Island, our platform for ASA 103, 104 certifications

"Kermit", a 20 foot Balboa we used for ASA 101 certification
When Sharon and became serious about learning to sail - for us formal education was the only option.  I personally don't know anyone locally that sails, and I also wanted a skilled instructor that would adhere to some sort of structured program, versus some guy saying "pull that line over there and crank this thing-a-ma-jiggy" in between chugs of beer.  I do know one captain that is not officially an instructor, but someone whom I would fully trust to teach me.  However, his west coast location, and the fact that we would have no official proof of my instruction, eliminated him as a possibility.  When considering a life aboard, I wanted to know we had educated ourselves correctly, and not cut any corners.  After all, one day our lives might depend on it.

Sharon reviewing ASA course books aboard "Island Dreamer"

After doing much research, I also decided that we should obtain some sort of standardized certification.  While no specific license is required to sail (non-commercially), US Sailing and American Sailing Association are two widely known and accepted standards.  By showing these levels of certification, it is official proof of the training one has accomplished for their sailing resume - be it for bareboat chartering (renting and skippering a yacht yourself), or for possible employment.  Deciding that education standards were a must helped to narrow down the type of schools we would consider.

Tim at the helm of "Island Dreamer" under Capt. Margie's command

The American Sailing Association and US Sailing both have similar levels of certification, starting with the basics of keelboat sailing, progressing up to and beyond bareboat chartering.  My goal was to achieve proficiency to a level in which we would feel comfortable enough in our skills to safely live aboard a 40-50 foot sailing vessel.  With this goal in mind, it was decided that we should aim for Basic Keelboat, Basic Coastal Cruising, and Bareboat Charter certifications.

Sailing "Island Dreamer" through a narrow mangrove channel
Google search quickly found a local school on the Connecticut's southwest coastline of Long Island Sound, offering US Sailing courses.  On one hand, the benefit of a local school would be the ability to schedule at least a portion of the schooling on weekends, thus saving vacation time.  On the other hand, a local school is also a downfall.  We don't like Connecticut, nor do we feel we fit in here - so why would we ever feel comfortable with a Connecticut school or a class setting here?  Also, education of any flavor is generally expensive, and this school was no exception.  The final nail in the coffin for the local school, was the complete unresponsiveness from the owner when I asked for additional information.  His nonchalant and seemingly non-caring attitude towards me as a possible client quickly helped me eliminate his school as an adequate solution.

Sharon at the helm of "Island Dreamer"
The next best option to local training, was to find a school somewhere in an enjoyable area, where we could pursue our education as somewhat of a working vacation.  I found lots of options in the Virgin Islands, as well as Florida.  But one school really stood out.  Touting the advantages of private, "couples to couples" instruction (a husband/wife instructor couple teaching a husband/wife student couple), as well as a no-yelling policy, Island Dreamer Sailing School grabbed my attention.  Located in Miami, and offering certification while sailing in the Florida Keys was also a very appealing benefit.  While Sharon was still unsure, I was quickly beginning to think this was the right school for us.  Even with the added cost of airfare, this school was still less expensive than the local option we had explored, and offered a much more private and tailored program considering there would be no other students.

I placed a call to Harold Ochstein, the owner of the school, and also an instructor.  Harold immediately convinced me that he truly understood our needs, and our reasons for seeking knowledge towards a new life adventure.  This was not a used car salesman making a sale, this was a guy that had been in my position, and had gone through the things we were facing.  Cementing our choice, Sharon also placed a call to Harold herself.  Harold's calm, reassuring nature soon put all of her concerns at ease.  With our decision made, and acknowledgement of the work ahead of us, dates were decided and contracts were signed.

Capt. Harold Ochstein grilling a great meal aboard "Island Dreamer"
It was real now.  Funds were committed.  Much like college, once a few thousand dollars vacates your checking account, it all gets a little more serious.  An even more valuable commodity, vacation time, was also entered in work calendars.  More precious than gold to us, we would have one full week less to spend at our vacation home to ease the stresses of living in Connecticut.

Promptly after booking with Island Dreamer Sailing School, our course materials arrived in the mail.  With a matter of months until our week aboard Island Dreamer with Captains Harold and Margie, we had three course books and a lot of material to cover.  Each of the three levels of certification we were pursuing would require passing a written test, and also demonstrating our skills via a practical assessment aboard.  It was immediately apparent that if we were to be successful, we would need to cover all the course materials before our week of training aboard Island Dreamer, thus allowing us to focus fully on all the physical sailing skills.  Our lunch hours and evenings would be filled with regular reading and study sessions.  Our week aboard was approaching.
ASA Course Materials

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"From one crazy sailor to another"

Kirk Neuert
Way before Sharon and I had ever considered private charters, we used to take a cruise aboard Princess Cruise Lines each Fall.  In 2009, we met Kirk.  Kirk was traveling alone, had a similar knack for adventure, a witty sense of humor, and a thirst for cold beer at happy hour.  Kirk favored the same bar as Sharon and I, an outdoor venue on the upper lido deck with a great view of the adult pool area and the reggae band that had been hired for the week's entertainment.  Our similar interests and a great bar tending staff made it a nice daily ritual of meeting up for a few cold ones while enjoying the sights and sounds.  It also probably didn't hurt that Kirk is Canadian.  Being from the utmost northern side of the Adirondack mountain region, I'm so close to being Canadian myself that I could almost wring maple syrup out of their flag.  Ok, ok, I'll stop with the Canadian jokes... Eh.

Tim and Kirk, 2009
Over a lot of sudsy story telling while aboard, Kirk came to tell me about many of his ventures, starting successful websites and various businesses from scratch.  Soon he explained his latest endeavor, of owning his own sailboat.  He wasn't talking about dinghy sailing or a day sailor, he was going for the real deal.  When you first meet someone, it's difficult to distinguish beer talk and what are real plans.  It was entertaining, and at the time I barely knew him so I let it all slide at face value and enjoyed the light conversation as he laid out his grand plan to obtain his boat.

Lifting Zephyr
The week aboard the Caribbean Princess ended and we managed to hook up via Facebook.  Here's were it all came together.  Within a matter of months, all the "grand plans" Kirk had discussed with me all began to take shape, in the form of pictures and posts on Facebook.  This wasn't beer talk any longer, he was making it happen right then and there just as he had described.  I watched in awe online as he acquired "Zephyr", a 30 foot Islander.  I watched in eager anticipation as Zephyr moved into stands on the hard.  Then one by one projects took shape through the series of pictures he posted as Zephyr was upgraded, repaired, cleaned, and coaxed into her new life with her proud new owner.  From delivery, through all the hard work and determination, all the way to her launch - I watched her story unfold online in front of me, just as Kirk had planned.  It was inspiring and I felt as though I shared in the gratification of his success.

Zephyr being loaded
As I think of my own plans, I get comments of doubt, and surely more doubting stories are shared beyond my presence.  I think back about Kirk's big plans.  I've noticed, like me, he is willing to take on big ideas that might not be mainstream.  And he does this with a fearless flair, not caring about doubting minds or the possibility of a public failure.  This inspires me to think big, push hard, and follow through with my ideas.  People like Kirk make big plans every day.  Some work, some don't - and they move on.

Kirk and Zephyr

Recently I was chatting with Captain Kirk online (Ok, ok, no more jokes...  Eh.).  We were trading stories of our latest ideas and plans for interstellar domination (I can't help myself).  As we chatted, our excitement and enthusiasm seemed to build from one another.  It was a symbiotic moment of equal inspiration and a shared drive of familiar goals.  As he was about to share his latest plan to build a new boat from scratch, he started with "Well, from one crazy sailor to another"...  It was an appropriate, telling moment.  I think we both understood.  Our "crazy" ideas and plans were not crazy to each other.  We might succeed.  We might fail.  But we would try, undaunted by skeptics, and we would gain encouragement and understanding from each other.  These types of relationships are important to have around when planning a life change of the magnitude of which Sharon and I are considering.  Right when apprehension, and fear of the unknown creeps in, it's reassuring to know there are others out there just as ambitious as you.  Crazy Canadians anyway...  Eh.