Getting my skippers license
So I should start by saying I never really had an interest in sailing growing up and only recently got into it via watching cruising channels on YouTube. I have, however, always strived to work less and live more, and as an IT Contractor I'm fortunate that I can work remotely from anywhere in the world. This led to me wondering what life living aboard would be like, mixing cruising with working, along with what the sensible path towards that would be. I didn't want to just throw our mortgage away and disappear. I was also concerned about seasickness as I tend to get travel sick if I'm reading in the car and I've been seasick in the past from rough ferry crossings. With that in mind, I managed to convince my partner Amy into a Learn to Sail holiday in Croatia. It sounded like a perfect mix of learning while staying aboard the boat for a week, sailing around the Dalmatian islands.
You could do both competent crew and skipper providing you passed the theory test and practical assessment. Amy wanted to do the competent crew and I wanted to go for the skipper. However, having no prior experience, I had a lengthy chat with the school about whether it would be possible to get skipper in a week. I was advised that it is possible but it completely depends on the individual and can't be guaranteed. With this in mind, I chose to have a boat to ourselves so we would get private tuition for the full week vs being in a group. This was a lot more expensive but as I'm naturally a quick learner I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as I could. There were 11 modules of e-learning to be done for the competent crew and a further 13 modules for the day skipper. The content itself was free but you paid for the final exam. There are around 40 hours of learning which I managed to get through in about two weeks, reading the content on evenings and weekends, including the learning required for my VHF license.
After this I wanted to know more about the practical side of sailing, so I started watching youtube videos on everything from knots, to sail trimming and manoeuvers. I'm also massively into gaming on PC, so I started looking for a simulator where I could practice the knowledge I was learning. I came across two, sailaway and esail. After trying both and reading about the tech behind them, esail seemed to be more realistic with a better user interface and a host of in-game tutorials, from the basics of motoring around cones to a full passage. For the passage, you had to plot coordinates on a map using a pencil and a plotter, noting down your headings of each part. Then you had to unberth from the marina, sail to your destination via the coordinates and moor up without making contact with surrounding objects. I must have spent more time on the simulator than I did on the theory, much to my partner's amusement, but this paid off massively when we got to Croatia.
Arriving in Croatia, we spent a couple of days in Sibenik before heading to Betina Marina where the school is based. Sibenik is stunning, with narrow streets and old architecture it welcomed us to Croatia and started our holiday. When we got to the marina we were shown the boat we would be staying on, a SAS-Vektor 36 called Jimmy, and told there would be a briefing at 9 am the following day. We spent the evening getting familiar with the boat, flying my drone around the marina and meeting other people that were part of the flotilla.
The next day we were introduced to our skipper for the week, Mark, together we went over the flotilla route looking for any hazards along the way. We then practised reversing the boat stern-to in an empty part of the marina, to warm up to how she handled. Shortly after we set off to our first destination and started getting to grips with the controls on the boat. This is where my time on the simulator paid off, I had the knowledge and just had to apply it. That being said, I made sure to sit back and let Mark go over everything from scratch in case I had learnt something wrong. Throughout the week I was also explaining what I knew to my partner Amy, who was struggling a little more than me to take it in, after all this was my current obsession, not hers. Mark commented that due to this he was confident that I understood what he was teaching. As the week progressed he started taking more and more of a backseat and letting us do everything ourselves, only stepping in if he needed to. We'd constantly talk over everything we did, getting feedback as we went, this was invaluable as we could ask as many questions as we wanted. Mark made sure we learnt how to do everything short-handed as we told him it would mostly be just the two of us when we start sailing ourselves. The format of living on the boat for a whole week helped with absorbing all of the information, you are constantly in the environment you're learning about and there are a lot of things you can only learn by doing.
At the end of the week we'd done 128 nautical miles and we were feeling pleased with ourselves. Amy had passed her competent crew and shook off some of the anxiety she had about sailing. As part of the skipper course I had to retake my theory test in person, this is to make sure that you remember the theory and also to safeguard against someone else doing the test for you. I passed the test with a mark of around 80% and when I got back to the boat I was presented with a skippers hat. For the rest of the evening, I had a grin on my face from ear to ear.