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Trip Report - Rob Swain Sailing School 1/11/13-1/20/13

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Trip Report - Rob Swain Sailing School 1/11/13-1/20/13

Postby RickG » Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:25 am

After many trips to the islands the attraction of a sailing vacation keeps growing. The idea of visiting awesome bays and beaches that you can't visit from land, even waking up there? It's enough to make you think about doing the work to be able to take out a sailboat. How long could it take? How hard could it be?

Well, it can take a while. A yacht charter company won't let you rent a $200K+ boat without some real experience and schooling. Trying to get liveaboard sailing certified during the short season in the Mid-Atlantic is hard. After a learn to sale class in 2008 things did not progress... opened a brewpub, ran my tech company, had a bunch of crazy clients... I wasn't going to make it happen part-time. With three more classes to take, and a strong desire to make it happen, I spoke with my buddy Jay Pennington, who works at CYOA Yacht Charters on St. Thomas, about how to make it happen.

How hard could it be? Sailing schools have intensive programs to make it happen. Jay recommended Rob Swain Sailing School on Tortola for the quality of their boats and instruction. They have a Fast Track to Bareboating class that encompasses three ASA classes Basic Keelboat, Coastal Navigation and Bareboating. Basic Keelboat is two days land-based working through the sailing fundamentals in IC24s out of Nanny Cay on Tortola. Coastal Navigation/Bareboating is six days/five nights on a Beneteau 44 with 3 cabins and 3 heads.

How hard could it be? Eight days, three written exams, three practical exams, 15-20mph winds and 5-7 foot seas. Looks like a vacation, feels like work. It's strange to be in the islands by myself. My best trips have been with Sweet Christine and my daughters. The last time I traveled alone was in 1996 when I visited Tortola, Jost Van Dyke and Virgin Gorda on my own. I don't like traveling alone, too much time to think and too much thinking. But, getting Christine into an eight-day technical class wasn't going to happen, and she couldn't get off work in January.

So, the plan is for me to get the certifications and experience necessary to get a boat and take Sweet Christine out. She can learn by doing and pick up how to help on the boat as she goes.

The whole exercise went well. I was very pleased with the instruction at Rob Swain Sailing School. The Beneteau Cyclades 43.3 Cool Girl was a good boat for instruction and in good shape for training. Nanny Cay Resort wasn't resorty and I would stay at Maria's by the Sea and rent a car if I do another class with Rob Swain's School.

Rob Swain Sailing School Fast Track Bareboat Sailing Course, Nanny Cay Tortola

The course I took encompasses Basic Keelboat and Live Aboard Cruising classes. These include practical and written exams for US Sailing's Basic Keelboat, Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising. I could have skipped the Basic Keelboat class - maybe. I've taken the Learn to Sail class more than once and took the Basic Keelboat class at Annapolis Sailing School in the 1980s. But I'm conservative and felt that a couple of days sailing an IC24 off of Nanny Cay would help reinforce the fundamentals. I'm glad I did it that way, it was great practice and vacation fun.

For the detail oriented, here are links to the curricula:
- Basic Keelboat Curriculum: ... ising.html
- Live Aboard Cruising: ... ising.html

The basic keelboat was fun with great weather and big winds. The IC24s are much nicer than the J24s I've been on - big open cockpit and very comfortable with four people. The area off of Nanny Cay was sheltered from the swell and there was enough breeze in the harbor to sail off and on the mooring ball. Each morning started with classroom for about 90 minutes hitting the basics - parts of boat, knots, points of sail, sail trim, rules of the road. On the water the students put the sails up and took turns at helm and the sails working through the exercises. The general goal was for each student to experience every point of sail at each position many times. We did. The instructor Austen was knowledegable and easy going. I'm considering running Sweet Christine and my daughters through this course.

The live aboard cruising course naturally builds on the sailing fundamental and adds the systems of a bigger boat, a Benetau Cyclades 43.3 in our case. My instructor Burton made the class for me. He hit all the material and went deeper, explaining why the material mattered. He is an experienced cruiser as well as dive master and pilot instructor. He also hit alternatives and focused on the practical, while preparing us for the exam. We had some teaching moments - needed a sail repair that had us leaving the dock a bit late the first day… no mooring balls left at our first anchorage, seeking a good spot to anchor as the sun is getting very low. We also had a badly worn alternator belt in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda - with the wrong spare… requiring alternator belts to be ferried over from Tortola to Leverick Bay. "You may have an itinerary, but your boat and the weather may not cooperate. Don't force a schedule, it can get you in trouble."

Live aboard cursing was taught on Cool Girl, a Beneteau Cyclades 43.3 that was about eight years old. In need of a bit of mechanical and gel coat TLC, she was a great boat to train on with one instructor and one other student. After breakfast each day we'd work through the daily checklist. We generally did classroom work in the cockpit after the boat check. We'd plan out our day and work navigation. If we were near a dock each student would practice a half-dozen dockings before we'd sail on to our next destination. We did a Marina Cay, lunch a the Dogs, Bitter End, Leverick Bay, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke loop. So, sailing up-wind to Virgin Gorda North Sound with plenty of tacking, easy beam reach to Anegada and a broad reach to Jost Van Dyke. We spent an extra day in the North Sound waiting for an alternator belt; that let us spend more time sailing in the relatively close quarters with a lot more points of sail - gybing and tacking. We were anchoring every night, but we'd also practice picking up mooring balls before dropping the hook for the night.

Was I ready to sail a live aboard charter sailboat after taking the class and passing the practicals and written exams? Sure, as long as nothing exciting happened; that's called experience. I'm looking forward to working on getting more experience!


More details here so that you can see what the whole experience was like. It was a good vacation for me. A couple that was interested in learning to sail together could certainly treat it as a fun vacation. I'd tack on some relaxation time at the end!

Friday 1/11/2013

430AM taxi for an 600AM flight to Newark and breakfast in the United Club, on St. Thomas (STT) by 2PM. Into Jay's car with a fresh cold Duvel in my hand by 210PM with lunch at the Beach Bar at the Beachcomber. 415PM Tortola ferry to Road Town, customs, taxi, hotel. Thanks Jay!!

The Nanny Cay Hotel has a nice setting centered around a well kept courtyard. The staff are nice and helpful, but a bit reserved. Room is clean. It's fine as a transit hotel or a land base for sailing, but it's not a resort in the classic sense. Which makes it better for me because its cheap. There's a nice pool and a single small beach, but that's not what I'm here for. I've stayed at Maria's by the Sea before, and Nanny Cay Resort did not top that.

Peg Legs bar was hopping and the bartenders were attentive and friendly. Like. The restaurant was in the mid-good range with decent ribs. I had an awesome server who mothered me a bit. "It's not good for a man to travel alone! He get trouble! His eye wander!" Great service really does make a great meal, even with average food.
After a walk around the marina it was back to the room and pass out buy 930PM.

Saturday 1/12/2013

An early morning walk around for some morning light photos with a granola bar and tea for breakfast on the balcony. Mentioned at the hotel front desk that the electronic lock on my room door was not working. "I call de man," said the unhelpful desk clerk with one ear in a cell phone. Took the valuables, except the ipad, in my dry bag. The room was next to the laundry and the West Indian ladies working there said they would watch my room. These were some fine women who were happy to tease me a bit in a motherly/grandmotherly way. No problem.

Sailing school started at 9am with instructor Austen from New England. Austen is a sailboat racer and has a love of fast boats. He was patient with us and a good instructor. After some white board work and knot practice, we went out to the IC24 training boat for about 3 hours to practice sailing upwind, downwind, maintaining a heading, sail handling, simple navigation. It was a good time.

Back for a late lunch with Austen and my classmates Miranda and George. George was to go on to the liveaboard classes with me. The Gennaker on Nanny Cay is a great spot for breakfast and lunch. It is Jamaican owned and the service is brisk. Devon is hilarious with lots of smiles and outbursts. When you order from him he says "Best on the island mon!" after each item. When he brings your drinks he delivers them with a flourish "Best Ting on the island mon! Best iced tea on the island mon!" Fast too.

After a nap by the pool, with a wakening by a brief rain shower, I stopped by the front desk and tried to get my room lock issue resolved. Nobody there knew anything about the problem. They moved me to another room, which was a hassle.

I headed out to dinner. Mulligan's is at the entrance to Nanny Cay. There was football on and quite a crowd. Austen had recommended the burgers. The Mulligan had pineapple, bacon and LTMO on a soft fresh bun - all very nice. The burger was a 6 oz frozen hockey puck. With a hand-patted burger it would have been great. I ran into George there and ate together at the bar. This became a habit and George and I ate the rest of our meals together.

Back to the room to study for the Basic Keelboat test and some rum.

Sunday 1/13/2013

Breakfast at the Gennaker was a Full English with black puddings, rashers of bacon, fried eggs, toast, beans, mushrooms and grilled tomato. Nice. I joined George at the table and we got to know each other better. He's a retired construction manager for a big chemical company who lives in Louisiana. He loves adventure and does a lot of organized trips. Good guy, smart guy and a good sailing partner.

Class at 9 we did some class room work and headed out to the IC24. The three of us rigged the sails pretty quickly and got the knots and rigging setup correctly. We did four hours of good sailing in nice conditions. Back to the base and the exam. All three of us did very well.

George and I decided to grab a nice dinner on our last night on Tortola. We grabbed a taxi to Brandywine Estate Restaurant. Great setting, excellent food and a very nice wine list. Luckily George likes good wine. It took a while to get a taxi back to the base. Half way back, George realized that he had left his credit card at the restaurant. I really thought the taxi driver was not going to take us back. It ended up costing a good bit, but George was happier to get his credit card back. Back at the "resort" I enjoyed a glass of rum and packed for the morning departure.

Monday 1/14/2013

Quick check out at the hotel and breakfast with George at The Gennaker. Report to the boat at 930am and George and Austen are pulling the main and jib off the boat. Both sails have tears that need to be repaired. The jib is repaired at Nanny Cay, but the main goes to the manufacturer, Doyle Sail, in Road Town. The main isn't finished until about 3, for a quite late departure for us.

While waiting for sails, Burton takes us through the coastal navigation and bareboat introduction. We work out sail plan, get familiar with the boat, do some course work and grab lunch at The Gennaker - "best in the island, mon!" Provisions from Bobbi's arrive and they are fine. The fish and steaks are frozen and individually wrapped. They include a bottle of Cruzan complimentary. No cardboard boxes on the boat, due to risk of cockroaches. We hit Bobbi's store for some extras - 10 gallons of drinking water, beer, wine, sodas, some more lunch meat and individual snacks.

We get everything stowed and have time to stow our personal gear... and do some course work... and the jib arrives back... and finally the main is returned. The jib had a panel replaced and the main had a section near the leach (back edge) repaired. We get the bonus lesson of how to place a jib on an auto-furler; too tight and it will bind and you will not have enough jib (name of sheet) to reach to the cockpit, too lose and it will flog. With a quick push, we are under way after 3.

Our sail plan for the week is not fixed and must vary with the weather. Burton tells us stories of getting in trouble when he forced weather to hit a specific goal. If the wind, weather or waves change we may need to adjust. The plan is also driven by our teaching goals. Given that, we go with:
* Marina Cay - Monday
* The North Sound, Virgin Gorda - Tuesday
* Anegada - Wednesday
* Jost Van Dyke, White Bay - Thursday
* The Bight, Norman Island - Friday
* Nanny Cay, Tortola - Saturday

With docking practice at:
* Marina Cay
* Leverick Bay, Virgin Gorda
* Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Burton takes us out of the dock and around the very crowded docks, and George takes the helm. Out of the harbor on the motor, then sails up once we have some sea room (far enough from shore that we won't be blown onto the shore). I take the jib out and winch it tight. We pull the main up from the mast with me winching; Burton is pulling back on the main halyard to help the main up. Then it's beat upwind tack by tack - past Norman, Peter, Copper. Part-way through I switch helm with George. If you're on the helm your steering and adjusting trim as the wind shifts. If you're on the sails, the running rigging, your not doing much except for tacks.

At about 5PM we start the engine and motor sail around the East of Beef Island. We got a late start and we're losing the light. We need some light to anchor. We come down around the reef around Beef Island and turn into the wind and begin take in the sails, with just enough engine to keep us in place. I take us into the mooring field and we try to anchor in a likely spot. Burton was a cruiser for years and has a lot to say about anchoring. He's not about to pay $30 for a mooring ball when there are plenty of wonderful anchorages. We drop the hook - that is the short way of saying that we trip the breaker repeatedly because the anchor chain is too tight around the capstan (anchor winch), we free some chain and the capstan begins to work. As we drop the chain in 20 feet of water we let out 5 times as much as the depth + our freeboard (height of the deck above the water). Pulling back on the anchor with the motor, the anchor slips... and again... and slips. It's getting dark and we don't have the anchor in place - too much grass.

The second try in another spot, and the boats are turning on their lights. We succeed in another spot that is a bit deeper than Burton likes. A newbie who was not good at anchoring would have been in trouble, all of the mooring balls.

Time for dinner. Snapper in foil with vegetables on the charcoal grill. It takes about 20 minutes to get coals going, and it takes a lot of lighter fluid in the wind. Wrapping fish in foil is really the only practical approach. Uncle Ben's preconstituted rice blend and salad make a great meal. A bottle of South African Sauvignon Blanc makes it even better. Happy 50th Birthday to me.

After cleanup, George and I dinghy over to the Pussers. The place is packed with every table full. A couple of drinks, call home over the wifi, we're in bed by 10. Sleeping on a boat is different

Tuesday 1/15/2013

Practice maneuvering boat around Marina Cay. Sail up to Great Dog for a rolly lunch on a ball, and snorkel at The Chimneys. Beat to North Sound. Great big rollers and a strong wind. Even with tacking we were making the same time as sailboats under power. Try to find a ball at Saba Rock, no go, caught a mooring ball at BEYC. Grilled fish for dinner. Drinks at the Pub at BEYC.

Wednesday 1/16/2013

Plan to head to Anageda. But, morning engine inspection showed a split alternator belt. Wrong spare on board. Replacement and a spare sent over by Beef Island ferry to BEYC. Repaired by around 3PM. Meanwhile, dinghy over to Saba Rock for very good good fish taco lunch with great service, very clean spot. Enough time to practice dock maneuvers a half-dozen times at Leverick and take on ice and water. Took an anchor at Leverick Bay. Happy Arrr with Beans at the Jumbie Beach Bar. Steak dinner and to bed buy 1030.

Thursday 1/17/2013

Up early for breakfast and off the hook by 830AM. Jibing, tacking, sail handling in North Sound. Quick lunch on a mooring ball. Navigation and dead reckoning lesson. Sail 005N from the Virgin Gorda entry waypoint to Anegada way point. Beam reach to whole way, not a single tack or jibe. Hit the waypoint. drop the sails and motor through the navigation bouys. No drama.

Drinks at Potters on Anegada, then dinner at Neptunes Treasure. We got a chance to talk with Vernon Soares and had a great couple of cocktails before dinner. Vernon is one of the best storytellers. He wowed my mates with his story of moving his family to Anegada in 1963 and mapping the passages through the reef with sticks. Dinner was mahi, lobster with corn salad, ratatouille, herbed rice and m favorite awesome line caught tuna in escabeche tomato sauce; sounds different but it is so very good. We had an awesome time. Glasses of rum to finish the night.

Friday 1/18/2013

I'm up at 6AM to take my final written exam for bareboating certification. Writing a 70 question exam in the cockpit of a sailboat as the sun rises east of Anegada is pretty darn cool. Breakfast and sailing 33 miles to Jost Van Dyke is even cooler. It was a great day of sailing with following seas, 15 knot winds and a beam reach the whole way. We dropped the hook and had a relaxing time in Great Harbor, with a quick jaunt to White Bay for Cocktails. Dinner was BBQ buffet at Foxy's. I was surprised that Foxy recognized me, but after enough visits I guess he sees the repeats. I checked on my business card from 1996 and its still up the rafters. The food at Foxy's is better than I expect, just about every time.

Saturday 1/19/2013

Up early and headed to Nanny Cay. A good day's sail through the cut by Sopers Hole. We docked, checked the boat in and cleaned the boat out. I was on the ferry from Tortola to St. Thomas by 1245. It was great to hook back up with Capt. Jay and swap some sea stories. Many thanks to Capt. Jay for hooking me up with sailing school. We hit Pie Whole for beers and dinner and relaxed at his house, working through his liquor collection.

Sunday 1/20/2013

Jay had to work early, so I had Mr. Wells pick me up at Mahogany Run and head down to Hook, Line & Sinker for brunch. Mr. Wells had planned to grabbed some good saltfish at a very locals place; when I suggested that he take me there it was "Oh no, you not fit there so good." Yeah, white guys never get the good saltfish. Brunch at Hook Line & Sinker is great - Western Scramble, bloody marys - very nice. Jay grabbed lunch with me and we planned the next trips. Soon come.

Cheers, RickG
S/V Echoes - Coral Bay - St. John, VI
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Re: Trip Report - Rob Swain Sailing School 1/11/13-1/20/13

Postby waterguy » Wed Jun 19, 2013 8:40 am

Great report this is some thing I always wanted to do.
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Re: Trip Report - Rob Swain Sailing School 1/11/13-1/20/13

Postby patr » Sat Jun 22, 2013 9:58 am

Wow! Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed report! Congrats for doing so well, sounds like you aced the courses.
I am going to share your report with my DH, as this is something I think he would absolutely love to do. But *sigh* he never seems to be able to find the time.
Looking forward to reading about your sailing adventures.

~~Longing to be back on St. John~~
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