Work Hard, Play Hard Page 2

After four years of college sailing, I thought I knew a thing or two about sailboat racing: hit hard, hike hard, trim well and yell loudly enough to intimidate the competition. Then I stepped aboard my first big keelboat, where I found winches, heavy lines, an electrical panel and a loud, frightening engine. Though I understood the principles of sailing, this was a very different animal from a
Author:
Updated:
Original:
mer3

PLAY HARD

Except for when we didn’t. Truthfully, we were still in the islands, mon. There were still beaches to comb, sun to soak up and gorgeous stretches of water to sail on. Our route began in Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco, at Fair Wind Sailing’s newest charter base. With convenient provisioning and easy access to the airport, Marsh Harbour is an ideal jumping-off point for a week in the Abacos. We celebrated the first day of sailing school with live music and fresh snapper at Mango’s restaurant, just a short walk from the Fair Wind base.

We began our journey on an unseasonably cold February morning, sailing up the Sea of Abaco toward Great Guana Cay. This was our first glance at the teal waters and white sand that set the Abacos apart as a cruising ground. The Sea of Abaco is essentially a lagoon between Great Abaco to the west and a series of cays and reefs to the east that form a barrier against the untamed waters of the Atlantic. Though this makes for calmer water and better snorkeling, it also translates into shallow depths and tricky holding ground that, in many places, had us holding our breath.

That night presented a classic Bahamian challenge, and we received our first lesson in resetting an anchor in the dark. We also received our second. But the next morning shone bright and we continued north, this time cutting out into the Atlantic to round Whale Cay and enter the Sea of Abaco back at Green Turtle Cay. Pat and I reveled in the thrill of sailing in the open ocean, and also enjoyed the challenge of navigating through old cruise ship channels, reefs and ever-changing shoals.

The channel leading into Green Turtle Cay is narrow and shallow enough to make the most experienced of mariners nervous. While Pat stood watch, I white-knuckled the helm all the way to the mooring, but it was well worth it. After a lesson on compass bearings and fixing positions, we dinghied ashore, rented bikes and rode into New Plymouth. Though we passed several spots for snorkel rentals, provisioning and dining, the island still felt peaceful and undeveloped.

mer4

Next morning we motored out of that nerve-wracking little channel and were relieved to round Whale Cay and set our sails back into the Sea of Abaco. This was our first truly sunny day, so Dave cranked up the Bob Marley, and we soared all the way to Treasure Cay. When I return to the Bahamas, it will be for Treasure Cay. This is truly a cruiser’s dream: protected dockage, pristine facilities, WiFi, a pool, a restaurant and, just past the marina, Coco Beach, a scene worthy of any “Top Ten Prettiest Beaches” superlative. Pat and I gladly left our charts and parallel rules on board in favor of grilled grouper, live music and dancing near the beachside bonfire. We also experienced our first Goombay Smash, a local favorite that we swore by for the remainder of the trip. We enjoyed Treasure Cay so much, in fact, that we stayed there another night.

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST END

Our final day at sea brought the rowdiest winds yet. The day’s lessons were on reefing, heaving-to and man-overboard drills, all of which would have been challenging even in light breeze. There were times when Island Retreat felt like too much to handle, but Dave instructed us in a way that made it seem we’d known how to sail a big boat all along. His confidence as a teacher made Pat and me feel confident as students, and just one week after arriving as rookies, we were scooping up man-overboard beacons in 25 knots of breeze like seasoned pros.

Looking back, there is one evening that stands out as the epitome of the experience. On our final afternoon, after an exhausting day of drilling in heavy weather, Dave sat on his hands and watched Pat and me sail Island Retreat by ourselves. We pulled her snugly into her slip, tied up her lines and tidied the deck, feeling proud of our newly acquired skills. We then took our third and toughest test to Curly Tails restaurant, sat at the bar and opened our test books. Then, with the island breeze on our backs, pencil in one hand, conch fritter in the other, we opened our ASA Bareboat Chartering 104 tests. It wasn’t easy, but after a couple of hours of plotting courses and racking our brains, Pat and I both passed with flying colors. We ordered a Goombay Smash to celebrate. Work hard, play hard.

Note: Fair Wind Sailing now uses the US SAILING certification courses.

THE IDEAL CLASSROOM When Dave Bello decided to build Fair Wind Sailing School’s seventh and newest base in the Bahamas, he said it was because it was “the ideal classroom.” It wasn’t until I experienced the challenging navigation, tricky anchorages and charming Abacos that I agreed. Unlike the BVI, the Abacos are reasonably untouched. You’re never fighting for a mooring in a crowded field; rather, you’re practicing your anchoring skills in secluded areas. The wind, water and sun are just as lovely, but the lack of crowds creates an entirely different feeling. Even Treasure Cay and Green Turtle Cay, among the best known of the Abacos, are relatively secluded. Sure, sailing in shallow waters with tricky holding is a challenge, but when you’re learning to be a charter captain, the more challenging, the better.

Related

Waypoint.image.cd

Say No To Waypoints

Ever since they first appeared in my navigational toolbox decades ago I have been wary of waypoints. They certainly do seem helpful, these electronic flags we plant in the ether to guide us to where we want to go. But I noticed early on they also tend to distort our perception. ...read more

Lead-shutterstock_429247

A Cruise up Florida’s St. Johns River

The chart showed 45ft of vertical clearance, and I knew the boat should be able to pass under the bridge. Still, there was that nagging voice in my head that wouldn’t let me be. “What if your air draft calculations were wrong?” it said. “And if you’re just a little too high the ...read more

pic00

Installing a Helm Pod

Our 1987 Pearson project boat came with an elderly but functioning Raymarine chartplotter, located belowdecks at the nav station. Since I usually sail solo or doublehanded, it was of little use down there—it needed to be near the helm. When I decided to update the plotter along ...read more

Panamerican

Pan American Game Success

Team USA’s young sailors went to the quadrennial Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru this summer with high hopes, and returned with a good haul of medals—two Golds, three Silvers, and two Bronze. Gold medals went to Ernesto Rodriguez and Hallie Schiffman (Mixed Snipe) and Riley ...read more

190916-AC75

U.S. Team Launches First America’s Cup Boat

Fast forward to around 2:25 to see the boat in action. First day out and already doing full-foiling gybes: not too shabby! Hard on the heels of the unveiling of New Zealand’s first AC75, the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic team has now launched its first America’s Cup ...read more

GGTobCaysHorseshoeColors

Picking a Charter Destination

Picking a destination should reflect the interests of your group, says People often ask about my favorite charter destination, and invariably, I sidestep the question with one of my own: “Well, what do you want to do on your vacation?” Most often I hear an incredulous, “Why, ...read more

sinking

Waterlines: Chasing Leaks on Boats

Chasing leaks on boats is a time-honored obsession. Rule number one in all galaxies of the nautical universe through all of nautical history has always been the same: keep the water on the outside. When water somehow finds its way inside and you don’t know where it’s coming ...read more

BestBoatNominees2020-Promo

Best Boats Nominees 2020

Bring on the monohulls! In a world increasingly given over to multihull sailing, SAIL magazine’s “Best Boats” class of 2020 brings with it a strong new group of keelboats, including everything from luxury cruisers nipping at the heels of their mega-yacht brethren to a number of ...read more