It was somewhere in these past two years that I was going through my bucket list and decided to finally get my sailing license. After being licensed to drive just about anything on land and in the air, I thought it was about time to add one of my favorite elements: water.
I have always seen sailing as the ultimate group activity. Being locked with a handful of people for a week or two inside a tiny space was a both frightening and exciting thought. And different to a car or an airplane, it seemed to me that a boat was the ultimate mobile hotel: Going slowly from one beautiful place to another. And let’s be honest, many of the most beautiful places in the world are by the sea. Or at least reachable by sea.
There are two ways of becoming a skipper, they say: Either you tag along with experienced people for a long time and learn by doing, or you take professional sailing lessons. Both will probably require you to take an exam in the end. For the first option, there need to be a choice of people in your circle of friends which often sail the seas, which doesn’t exist in my case, so this option fell flat. The second one is much more easy – just find a good school and do it.
Learning how to sail was surprisingly easy to me – as opposed to learning how to fly an airplane. Basically it’s all about the maneuvers, like mooring to a pier or to a buoy, setting anchors, and the basic sailing maneuvers. But everything else is just like hanging out by the water: It’s about the journey, not about the destination. I like that. It could also be one of my life mottos!
Another decision was to whether take a live aboard course with six strangers in shared cabins on a murky boat, or to take the easy way – staying on shore during the course, having only few people on board, and having my own apartment. Needless to say, I took the second one. There’s so much difference between schools, it really pays to shop around and compare.
After a lot of theory, technical knowledge sessions, chart work, meteorology, radio communication, tying knots, lighthouse and obstacle marking and general behavior on the sea, we were seen fit to lay our hands on a real sailboat. The Sealover, our 39-feet Jeanneau Yacht, is easy and smooth to ride and she was never hard on us. Steering our way in and out of the harbor is easy when you do it slow and thoughtful. Sailing itself is easy, when you have accurate weather forecasts and avoid a few basic mistakes. Knots come in handy at any time, so I decided to learn a lot of them and to be able to bind them blindly.
Our villa in the Croatian town of Rogoznica was a pleasant surprise in itself, nestled into the hills with a beautiful view over the bay. Our steward Michael took personal care to cook our daily breakfast and made sure we’re fine at any time. He even made us pancakes on the last morning – which made it even harder to leave after such a pleasant week.
The final day – the exam. We do a complete leg on our own, the trainer is just watching. Which sail do we set first? Main or Genua? Main sail, of course. Wind 8 knots, southeast. It’s a smooth ride. From which side do we approach the buoy? Everything is going very well. Until it doesn’t. Just before the harbor, a fender goes loose and drops into the sea. “Fender overboard!” – now it’s time to practice the difficult task of rescuing an item from the rough seas. Doing a few turns, approaching slowly, putting the engine on idle. Very important steps, if the item wasn’t a fender but a person. Finally, the bumper is rescued and we can make our way to dinner in the beautiful town of Primošten.
Almost a week has passed, we all passed the exams and got our licenses. The most important things I’ve learned in this course are plenty, but there’s a few basic ones tat stand out:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Get comfortable with the ship, the route, the sea, the weather. Know exactly where you’re going and why.
- The weather. Probably the most single important item to check, and a single point of failure for most. The rules are simple: Know the weather, and stay in the marina if it looks bad.
- Knots. As boring and difficult they have seemed in the beginning, this basic part of seamanship is too important to ignore. Knots done correctly and swiftly can save almost any situation and let you rest well at night, knowing you’re tied well to that pier.
- Harbor maneuvers. Probably the most difficult part at first, but surprisingly simple: Docking and maneuvering the ship in narrow spaces is scary but has a simple principle. Lean against the wind.