Baptism by Boat

Often the traits of a good crew—teamwork, communication, responsibility, mutual respect—don’t top the list of traits associated with an average teenager. So what happens when you put eleven 16 t0 18 year-olds on a 50-foot Beneteau and send them off to sea for five weeks? I found out last summer, during a sail training program with Broadreach Academic Treks. From disaster to delight, I saw
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
bao,ubt1

Often the traits of a good crew—teamwork, communication, responsibility, mutual respect—don’t top the list of traits associated with an average teenager. So what happens when you put eleven 16 t0 18 year-olds on a 50-foot Beneteau and send them off to sea for five weeks? I found out last summer, during a sail training program with Broadreach Academic Treks. From disaster to delight, I saw firsthand that a bunch of teens could not only sail a boat, but could do so while displaying teamwork, communication and all those other traits that make for a darn good crew.

On the first day of the trip, our captain, Cuyler Boad, and first mate, Anna Lee Bradley, welcomed us aboard and told us what to expect over the next five weeks. We’d begin with intensive sail training, graduate to island exploration, and conclude with an itinerary of our choice, with tests for International Yachtmaster Training (IYT) certificates administered along the way. Considering our lack of experience, the idea of eventually sailing with little or no guidance seemed daunting, but Cuyler and Anna Lee assured us that sailing would soon come as second nature.

baptism.int2

On our first leg from St. Maarten to St. Barts, we tacked, gybed, helmed and plotted our way to Ile Fourche, a beautiful and secluded islet just off St. Barts’s western shore. Over the next few days we made only one more passage, from St. Barts to Statia, and otherwise honed our sailing skills in preparation for our IYT International Crew Certificate test.

The written portion was a breeze, but we all knew the practical test would challenge our abilities. We would have to raise and drop the sails and anchor, put in and shake out a reef, and complete several tacks and gybes, making sure everyone played an equal part. During our practice drills, we meticulously over-communicated and systematically rotated jobs so that everyone was participating. It was far from perfect, but we were well prepared enough to pass into the second phase of our adventure.

Suddenly, we were no longer the skeptical teens who had reluctantly relinquished their cell phones and looked on with horror as Cuyler explained the complexities of using a marine toilet; we had grown into regular seadogs. There were fewer stumbles, stubbed toes and bumped heads; we barely missed freshwater showers; canned chicken seemed more and more edible; we slept under the stars with no complaints when a midnight rainstorm sent us running for cover.

And, of course, it wasn’t all work and no play. Our sailing lessons were interrupted by swims, diving competitions and—one fateful night when we discovered the “strobe” setting on our headlamps—dance parties in the cockpit!

baptism.int3

Now certified sailors, we spent phase two of the trip bouncing around the islands. We stayed two or three nights at each place, going ashore to explore beaches, towns and jungles. We wandered through communities pulsing with reggae, sampled local cuisine and even got to know the locals at a retirement home and at a soccer field. Dominica was a favorite for most of us, where we spent a busy few days scuba diving, hiking volcanoes and touring the island, then took part in a mango-eating contest on the beach where Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl was marooned in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Three weeks into our journey, we arrived in Bequia, where it was time for our second test. It was identical to the first, but we tested in groups of three or four, which meant everyone had to be competent. It’s easy to fall into a role that plays on your strengths and hides your weaknesses, and Broadreach wanted to push us out of this safety-in-numbers approach, encouraging us to rely on each other and trust our own abilities. It took a few tries, but we all managed to pass into phase three.

At some point during our five weeks, we each reached a point where we finally believed we were sailors. Mine came as we approached the Tobago Cays. I was at the helm, and although I had spent the best part of an hour scouring the charts, I’d only found one reasonable entrance: between two reefs where the depth dropped to only a few feet in spots. Cuyler called for silence and sent lookouts to the bow and beam. My hands were shaking. If I made a mistake, we would run aground. Armed with polarized sunglasses and the depthsounder, with the motor barely above idle, I steered us in. My heart nearly stopped when the depthsounder showed 8 feet (our draft was 6), but my fear gave way to confidence as it climbed back up and we emerged in the peaceful refuge of the anchorage.

A month after leaving St. Maarten, we reached Trinidad, our final stop. We’d already sailed over 500 miles, stopping at 14 different islands, but for three of the students, Cuyler, Anna Lee and me, the trip wasn’t over yet. We were going to sail the boat back to St. Maarten, doubling the distance we’d covered in just five days, stopping only once. A pod of dolphins escorted us out of the harbor, dancing beneath the water’s surface and leaping at the bow, brushing against my feet as they dangled over the side.

By the time we neared St. Maarten, hurricane season had taken hold. Though we were battered by 40-knot winds and driving rain, we’d become confident enough in our skills to actually enjoy the challenge. When we weren’t on watch, we studied for two more IYT certificates: Radio Operator and Flotilla Skipper. Our last sail flew by, and soon we were packing our bags and saying our goodbyes.

I hopped onto the dock in St. Maarten, windblown and salty, with three sailing certificates under my belt, a dozen new stamps in my passport, 10 new friends, two new role models and a bag of the dirtiest laundry my washing machine has ever encountered. My five weeks at sea taught me not only to tell the bow from the stern, but how to communicate, take responsibility, and respect myself, my shipmates and the ocean.

Related

GG17-SAONA47-DX0796

Boat Review: Fountaine Pajot Saona 47

Here’s a riddle: What is less than 50ft long, has two hulls, three big cabins and four decks? Answer: The Fountaine Pajot Saona 47. In fact, it may even be five levels if you count the large engine rooms. This boat is a “space craft” in every sense of the word.DESIGN & ...read more

RichardBennettMIDNIGHT-RAMBLER3249x202

Storm Sails: Do you Need Them?

Many sailors embarking on ocean passages will take along the obligatory storm jib and trysail, with the vague idea that they may come in handy. Few sailors, however, have a real understanding of how and when to set them.It doesn’t help matters when we hear from seasoned sailors ...read more

IntheWater(1)

Boaters University Unveils Rescue Course

Boaters University has just announced its latest online course, Safety & Rescue at Sea, taught by Mario Vittone, whose name you might recognize from the pages of our sister publication, Soundings Magazine and his Lifelines blog.Mario Vittone is a retired U.S. Coast Guard rescue ...read more

IMG_20170920_132819

How to: Installing New Electronics

I had been sailing my Tayana 42, Eclipse, for a few years without any installed electronics on board. I’d gone pretty far up and down the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts with paper charts, the Navionics app on my Android phone, a hand-bearing compass and the ship’s compass. ...read more

02-Douglas-Adkins---Coriolis---Orcas-Island-KevinLightPhoto

A Phoenix-like Concordia

Cutting a fine wake on the cobalt-blue waters of West Sound on Orcas Island, Coriolis sparkles like a diamond. Her lovely silhouette is offset by emerald forests that frame the ocean, within spitting distance of the border with Canada. Seen up close, this Concordia yawl is a ...read more

IMG_1051

The Latest Boat Trends from Dusseldorf

The world’s biggest boat and watersports show, held in Düsseldorf on the banks of Germany’s Rhine River each January, is the place to scope out emerging trends in the boat design and building.What would be the new trends for 2018 and beyond? Hint—sophisticated electronics figure ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comGood ConnectionsI wish I’d had a dollar for every time I’ve cobbled together an electrical fitting with a “that’s good enough” shrug. An old shipwright once taught me that “good enough is not good enough” ...read more

tides2

Gear Test: Tides Marine Sailtrack

Gravity is an important force at work on a sailboat. It keeps the boat upright, it makes the anchor drop to the bottom, and it makes the mainsail slide neatly down the mast to be flaked and put away at the end of the day… until it doesn’t.In the case of dropping the mainsail, the ...read more