The season is in full swing and Charlie has noted more and more credit card captains flailing around in BVI waters seemingly without a clue on how to sail. So, what’s a credit card captain you may well ask. It’s someone who has managed to persuade a charter company to rent him/her a boat after providing a fake resume or perhaps a sailing school qualification that he bought with a huge tip to a dubious sailing instructor. Their best qualification is a good credit card. Check out Credit Card Captains on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.
A busy charter company doesn’t have time to scrutinize all sailing resumes (unless there’s an accident); similarly, a sailing school qualification doesn’t guarantee a competent sailor. In fact, all US sailing school certificates are not recognized in Europe unless they have a further endorsement, an international certificate of competence. Part of the reason is that the Caribbean is not tidal and a week of calms does not necessarily deny students a passing grade on tests. So, are sailing schools offering value for money?
Sailing schools do offer a valuable introduction to sailing and Charlie is proud of the many hundreds of students he has launched into the wonderful lifestyle of sailing. He gets to see many of them annually, either on charter or bound for exotic destinations on a newly acquired yacht. But it should be emphasized that five days sailing on a 45-Ft approx. yacht only gives one rudimentary practice and knowledge. Months of practice are needed to become competent in all conditions.
A good instructor will go through the day’s routine, which may cover things like basic sailing techniques to man over board recovery and rules of the road. Then, when the anchor is down a drop of grog is dished out and the day’s successes and failures are discussed. Charlie had a first the other day. He had just deployed the bright orange PFD and shouted man over board when a huge shark surfaced and nosed the PFD before swimming away, still hungry. Inquiries about good snorkeling spots diminished after that and questions about yacht purchase switched to how much a house would cost in the Caribbean.
A good instructor can demonstrate his own experiences into a lesson to highlight a rule or necessary action. One day Charlie was on a port tack sailing close hauled in choppy conditions when a boat sailing downwind approached on a collision course. His large Genoa was deployed and poled out on the starboard side indicating he was on a port tack. The rule says that when two boats are on the same tack on a collision course the windward boat is the give-way boat. As we approached it became obvious that he was not going to give way and derisive words were picked up on the wind, “Hey, fuggidy bucket! A shoal I stack” is what it sounded like. Charlie took evasive action at the very last moment and tacked over and it was just moments later that he saw the other boat’s main boom was sheeted and prevented off on the port side, wing and wing, making him a starboard tack boat with right of way. The Genoa had totally obscured the main and it was a great example of the rule. ‘If in doubt of the other boat’s tack then you must give way.’ In other words, things are not always as they seem.