I was perfectly happy to buy a boat and learn as we went; perfectly happy to have never set foot on a boat prior to taking off on our adventure; perfectly happy to run it aground on our first outing. Katie, however, thought some training would be prudent.
We decided on a six day, live-aboard, American Sailing Association (ASA) training program provided by Blue Water Sailing School (BWSS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The program covered ASA courses 101, 103, 104, and 114.
We arrived at BWSS early. The office was closed but one of the captains was happy to show us to About Time, the Island Spirit 37 catamaran we would call home for the next 6 days. Later that day we met Captain Arno. After our introduction he went out to provision the boat for our trip while we had a chance to walk around the area. We found a local Italian restaurant for dinner and then headed back to the boat to get some sleep.
Up early. Partly because we were eager to get started and partly because the berths in the Island Spirit were... sparse. No worries though. We weren't here for a vacation.
After we filled our coffee mugs, we sat down for our first ninety minute lecture. ASA 101. Mostly basic boating and safety information. After, we got our gear on and started motoring out of the marina. We were only delayed slightly by the two draw bridges we had to pass under before we exited the waterway. In little less than an hour we were in the open ocean and on our way south, to Biscane Bay.
The forty mile trip south was quite an education. The wind was constant, so there wasn't much sail trimming. However, we each got a turn at the helm. It was a six hour journey and we were all excited to reach Miami and be able to get out of the ocean seas. We turned West into Government Cut. The West side of Virginia Key provided us with a nice anchorage for the evening.
After we got settled for the evening, we sat down to take the written test for ASA 101. Then, we all had our part to do for dinner each night. Captain Arno usually prepared some meat while Katie and I were on the grill. It was very similar to camping with some new friends.
BWSS forwarded all of the course material to us long before our class. We had read most of it prior to our trip. The lectures each morning were generally review of what we had read in the ASA books with the added benefit of having a captain around for questions. It was really helpful hearing Captain Arno's anecdotes.
Today we were sailing in Biscane Bay. The bay provided us the wind from the ocean while keeping us relatively protected from the waves - which we welcomed. We performed a lot of maneuvers today. Plenty of tacking and jibing. We all had a chance to be on the sheets or at the helm.
We slowly made our way south to Boca Chita Key where we docked for the evening.
Second test, ASA 103. The questions are multiple choice and mirror almost exactly what were learned from the morning lecture and the days sailing. Captain Arno was scored our tests each evening and was always available to further explain any questions we got incorrect.
We spent the morning practicing docking at the Key. We each got an opportunity at the helm as well as throwing the docking lines. We did all of this from the boat, we never hopped off to attach lines from the shore. We got plenty of practice throwing and retrieving lines from aboard the boat. Of course, we will likely have help at any marina. However, it was nice to practice the skill so that we felt more comfortable with the process in the event we are on our own.
That afternoon, we were headed North, back in the bay. We used the skills we learned the previous day by performing man overboard (MOB) drills. These drills were done under sail power alone, using the figure-eight method.
Once we were done with MOB drills, we set off North to the same anchorage we used on Day 2. During the trip we saved a few more MOBs in the form of life preservers Captain Arno surprised us with by throwing them overboard.
The anchorage was a little wavy, so we pushed into a semi-private harbor. We nestled in between the multi-million dollar ocean front residences and sat down for the ASA 104 test.
We woke to an overcast day with drizzling rain. We were headed back to BWSS today. While I was sipped a cup of coffee I noticed that another one of BWSS's fleet, a mono-hull named Third Wish, was anchored beside. They were headed back after a week of training as well.
"Any two sailboats headed in the same direction will quickly find themselves in a sailboat race." - Unknown
So, we both headed out to make it a race back to port. We had great wind, but in the close reach North, we were no match for Third Wish. The mono-hull had us beat sailing so close to the wind.
It was an enjoyable trip back nonetheless. And the excitement didn't stop. As we approached Ft. Lauderdale, we had to stay clear of a Zumwalt-class Destroyer performing naval exercises directly off the coast.
That evening we demonstrated our knot tying expertise and took the final written test of the trip, ASA 114. We spent the final night aboard back at the BWSS marina.
Captain Arno got us our ASA sailing books and certificates for the four classes we completed. We were out by 11 AM. We planned our training to coincide with the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show (FLIBS). So we spent most of the afternoon at the show.
All-in-all it was a great trip. While we did learn a lot, I feel the biggest benefit was simply getting comfortable running a sailing vessel in the open ocean. The only thing to do now is practice, practice, practice!