Winter Training


Sailing a boat is an easy skill, you can stick a kid in an Opti, explain a couple of key ideas so they can go up wind and watch them teach themselves.  Sure, some of them are going to end up downwind and need a tow back, but an afternoon or two they will get it.  That said, sailing a boat well and safely over long distances is a life long learning experience.  The progression is continuous, I can’t remember what it was like not to be able to sail, but I still see the ocean of knowledge and skills I need to improve or acquire.

The course in Antigua was really eye opening for me.  I have not done any practical training for about 10 years and being coached by good instructor was interesting mix of dealing with my bad habits and checking where my skills are on the RYA scale and then working out what is needed to improve them.  One of the real benefits of the course was practising things that we don’t normally use in the day to day of our boat.  Other than Man over Board drills, using manual coastal navigation techniques on board was great fun and a real challenge.  We have spent a lot of time in the familiar waters of the Ottawa River and Kingston Harbour and when we venture further, we review the paper charts, but all the navigation happens on the chart plotter.

Over the last couple of winters we have done a course or two to allow us to round out our skills, the previous 2 winters were on safety, this year in was navigation.  Long before we came up with the idea of our course in Antigua, we looked at available classroom courses here in Ottawa through Advantage Sailing.  Kathleen chose Coastal Navigation which is a natural next step for her.  Not wanting to be left out, I decided to take Celestial Navigation.


Coastal Navigation is a tough course and Kathleen has been working hard, I am sure she will do well in the upcoming exam.  She was far enough into her course before we went to Antegua that the work she did for her Day Skipper qualification was just an extension of the classroom work.

I took Celestial Navigation mainly for fun, but it turns out that the RYA requires sea sights and reductions for Yachtmaster Ocean, so now I am keeping my eyes open for a sextant to add to Kinship’s navigation gear.


Learning to use the sextant is a real history lesson, a skill that dates back over 250 years.  Before the development of reliable and accurate clocks, navigation was far more of an art than a science.   It was not until Cook’s time that there was an accurate method of finding longitude and this method of sextant, clock and astronomical tables has not changed much since.  John Harrison’s work on solving the problem of finding longitude at sea in the 18th century underpins all celestial navigation today.  If it is hard to understand a world without GPS now, imagine a world where all you had was a latitude and ded reckoning.  There is a great book  by Dava Sobel and a TV mini series both called Longitude that details the incredible technical and political obstacles that Harrison had to overcome to prove his timekeepers.


Harrison’s H4, the first practical marine chonometer

A “Business Trip” to Antigua

Kathleen started to think about getting more training to improve her confidence.  We both have Sail Canada Basic Cruising along with radio, survival, first aid and navigation qualifications.  I had been researching the training and testing for RYA Yachtmaster but I had not formed any plans to get there. Kathleen talked to me  about nipping off for a week’s sail training as I was too busy at work.  She made the excellent point that we are in process of investing a lot of money in a refit for the boat, but we had not invested much in the crew over the last year.  She was right of course.  I looked at my work schedule and freed up some time as we started to research some options.  We found a couple of options for RYA training in the Caribbean and sent of some emails and landed on Miramar Sailing in Jolly Harbour, Antigua.   We signed up for a skills building clinic as we did not know where in the RYA scheme we could slot in.

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We joined the boat, Miramar, a Benateau Oceanis 400 and met our instructor – Ian Grant and our fellow student Anna.  Anna was starting the second week of a three week boot camp with Miramar.  Coming to sailing as an experienced sea kayaker she was gamely eating the elephant that learning to sail big boats is, almost from scratch.


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The west coast of Antigua is a great place to sail, with many bays and harbours to play with.  Ian talked to us about what we wanted to get out of our time on the boat.  For Kathleen, practice, skills and confidence building.  For me, the same with feedback on where in the RYA scheme I could slot in.  For us, to build our confidence in each other and to improve our communication as we sail.

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?

Ian’s natural teaching style and our needs meshed really nicely.  He quietly assessed where we were and pushed us both forward with challenges, often preceded with his catch phrase “What could possibly go wrong?”.  When we had a skill in hand he would move us forward to the next level or discuss the requirements at Yachtmaster level to put the exercise into context.  We practised man overboard (the less political correct version of the Canadian “crew overboard”) to the level where Kathleen and I could demonstrate solo MoB recovery.   The resulting tracks are entertaining…

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