Unfortunately, we had beautiful weather with clear blue skies and lovely winds, which was most unusual for Maine in the month of August,so we weren't able to navigate through fog.
When under sail, Larry gave brief, individual instruction to each of us on a variety of skills. One day I sat at the bow talking with Larry as we served as lookouts. Tim and Jim were our navigators for the day. Larry called back to them and asked for the recommended compass heading. They responded “285 degrees”, Larry said, “Check that again, just to be sure, there are some shoals we need to be careful of”. Larry turned to me and said, “should be 305 degrees”. I laughed and commented on how he knew the proper course for each destination by heart. Larry then told me the compass headings for many islands in Maine, for Bermuda, and so on. The navigators called forward that they were correcting the course to 300 degrees. Larry nodded approval. “That’ll do for now,” he told me.
In addition to navigation instruction, Larry and Letty gave us each an opportunity to take a sight with a sextant to get an idea of how celestial navigation works. Their readiness to address all questions seriously, giving thorough answers, was extremely helpful. I’ve heard tales of frustration from a friend whose sailing instructor at another school gave each of the men an opportunity to practice skills but brushed her off when it was her turn. I noted no such bias at this school. In addition, while Larry sometimes assigned us to work in pairs while we were learning, he then made us do the task individually to be sure each person had fully grasped the concept.
While Larry did the bulk of the teaching, Letty was available to provide assistance to individuals.
Letty was also ready with a variety of suggestions on everything from computers to waterproof socks!
Throughout the course I was surprised at how calmly Larry and Letty handed over the wheel of Samana, which is not only a floating classroom but also their home. In teaching us docking techniques and methods of slipping a line to leave a dock, Larry told us we needed to get over our fear of hitting the dock. He revealed that he had hit the dock and put “dings” in his hull when he was learning. He said it’s important to be able to “gun it” in forward or reverse when docking in order to quickly get the boat moving in the desired direction. You can’t do that if you’re timid about it. It was a joy to watch Larry demonstrate how to dock Samana in close quarters. He drove her in perpendicular to the dock, and we tossed a bow line to a person on the dock. Then Larry used the prop walk in reverse to swing the stern around to the dock, neatly fitting Samana in a tight spot just ahead of a beautiful boat tied up to the dock. When I got home, Ken commented on my new, more assertive style of docking our boat.
Interestingly, Larry and Letty weren’t overly concerned with having us memorize a variety of knots. I had practised my knots for weeks before the course, worrying that I might not pass if I couldn’t tie them fast enough. While he showed us how to tie several useful knots, Larry indicated that he relied on a few basic ones for most situations.
And the Wheelers have certainly experienced some challenging situations! In addition to a circumnavigation and many years of sailing, Larry and Letty also had the unexpected experience of going through the eye of Hurricane Mitch when it altered course as they cruised to Bermuda. They have tremendous respect for the power of the ocean and storms at sea, but both have solid skills and experience, which enabled them to survive 50-foot seas. Their willingness to talk about their experiences is part of what makes their school so helpful.
Choosing a sailing school is a personal decision, based on individual strengths and weaknesses, the type of sailor we wish to be, the time and money we have to spend, and the manner in which we learn best. Clearly, there are many reputable sailing schools to choose from.
No course can bring every student to mastery of every aspect of sailing in a week. There are skills we learned which will require additional practice. I earned my bareboat certificate while enjoying a wonderful vacation at a reasonable price. In the winter of 2000 the Wheelers began offering winter courses in the British Virgin Islands. I just may have to take another course!
Cathy was featured in the March 1999 issue of Good Old Boat, along with her husband, Ken, and their Baba 30, Kahlua. For the past two years the McIntires have been following their dream: living aboard Kahlua while transiting the inland waters between Minnesota and the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic seaboard.