Cruising Life Crash Course

Last spring, Alex and I spent our first wedding anniversary in Florida attending a week-long, live-aboard sailing class taught by Blue Water Sailing School. Check out our video montage of the trip and read on to get the full story!

Note: This post originally appeared on our sailing blog, The Bay and Beyond, which now redirects here.

The course we chose, Course A: Bareboat Skipper, covered the three American Sailing Association (ASA) courses required by most companies for bareboat chartering: ASA 101, ASA 103, and ASA 104. After signing up for the course in December 2015, Alex promptly started reading the ASA textbooks that were shipped to us while I spent the better part of the next few months doing my best to ignore them. Begrudgingly, I forced myself to cram most of the assigned reading into the last 2 weeks before our trip and arrived in Fort Lauderdale reciting the points of sail in my head and feeling uncertain about what lay ahead.

After making some last-minute purchases (sunglasses!) at a nearby mall in Fort Lauderdale, we arrived at the marina eager to settle into our classroom for the week–Third Wish, a Dufour Gib’Sea 43.  Despite numerous camping trips during my childhood (both in a tent and later in a pop-up camper), I’m not sure I fully grasped the amount of available space aboard a sailboat until Alex and I finished stuffing our luggage into our chosen quarter-berth. Unbeknownst to me at the time, our already limited space would end up feeling even more constricted after sailing away from the comforts of electricity to brave the stifling Florida heat armed only with an air-scoop in the deck hatch above our bed.

Our training that week started almost immediately, and I was given the honor of hailing our first bridge tender via VHF radio as we made our way out of the marina in Port Everglades. After a gorgeous sail down the coast of southern Florida, we spent our first night anchored off of the Miami South Channel, and enjoyed a waterfront view of the Miami skyline during a family-style dinner on the back of the sailboat.

During the next few days, we spent our time honing our sailing skills in the forgiving waters of Biscayne Bay, passing by local landmarks like Stiltsville, Marine Stadium, and the Cape Florida Lighthouse. We spent one morning learning how to dock the boat in Boca Chita Harbor, and provided free entertainment to a nearby yacht owner who enjoyed watching our seemingly endless attempts to throw lines over the dock cleats from the comfort of his deck chair. After dinner, we spent time practicing our knot-tying and reviewing sections of the ASA textbooks. At one point, after we spent most of the day in the hot Florida sun learning how to sail wing-on-wing and performing multiple man-overboard drills, I remember thinking to myself that sailing was an exhausting hobby. Shortly thereafter, a cruising couple sailed past us in their boat, both sipping glasses of wine as the auto-helm carried them slowly into the Miami sunset–a perfectly-timed reminder of why we started down this path in the first place.

At the time, I can say that I was less than enthusiastic about spending what I considered to be my summer vacation reading sailing textbooks and taking exams. However, looking back on it now, I would recommend a similar live-aboard class to any new sailor. Although Alex and I spent some time sailing prior to the Blue Water Sailing School course, living aboard a sailboat for a week and spending a good amount of time at the helm gave me confidence that I don’t think I would have found sailing on other people’s boats. That confidence helped to make our decision to buy our own boat an easier one, and I’m excited to continue honing my skills on the Chesapeake this season.