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Sailing with Charlie: Frustration!

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Charlie spends a lot of time on the water and at least half of it involves teaching neophytes the rudiments of sailing. At the end of a one week course, Charlie reckons that most students know more about sailing than half the people sailing around out there amongst the islands; at least according to the set of the sails on many charter boats.

Apart from the general aspects of sailing like tacking, jibing, trimming and reefing sails there’s a ton of stuff on safety requirements, anchoring, docking and medical issues. Then there’s navigation and all the methods of finding your position at sea (not just staring at your chart plotter). Head scratching often occurs when variation and deviation are explained and worrying glances are sometimes exchanged when tides and currents are mentioned. Engine trouble-shooting may get peoples’ knickers in a twist!

The thing is that all the facets of sailing and cruising are crammed into a single week. Students pay a boatload of money to come away with a certificate saying that they are now sailors. But what if they fail – there are several tests, both practical and written. Charlie knows full well what happens if they fail … It’s the bloody instructor’s fault!

The Rule of Twelfths is a way of measuring what the height of tide is between the high and low given in the tide tables. It’s fairly easy really but sometimes seems daunting to new students. A lesson given in the cockpit of the school yacht, anchored off a pretty beach, may go like this:

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Charlie: “So, after one hour the tide is a twelfth of the total range.”

Student: “Oh look, that villa has an Oriental style roof.”

Charlie: “After two hours the rule says two twelfths but you must add …”

Student: “Oh my, are those animals on the beach actually goats?”

Charlie: “So there you are; just remember it’s a cumulative process.”

Student: “I love the color of the water, it’s so clear.”

Charlie: “Any questions?”

Student: “Can we go over tides? I don’t get that part.”

Charlie: You stupid, useless, scatter-brained lump of human worthlessness, he thinks – but doesn’t say it, of course.  Instead, he smiles sweetly and excuses himself to go below in case the steam coming out of his ears becomes visible.

No-one expects novice sailors to be an expert after one week. And the courses are only designed to satisfy bareboat rental requirements. If students pick up the basics of sailing, can get from A to B safely and anchor or moor securely, then an instructor has done his job. Charlie also includes time for swimming and snorkeling and at least a couple of beach bars. After all – a Caribbean sailing course is about learning the West Indian experience as well. Charlie is proud of the fact that he has very few failures … BTW; hangover cures are not in the curriculum.


Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.

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