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May 26th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Skippering a cruise aboard a luxury yacht

on the bay is accessible even to couch potatoes

The archive images are so old and degraded, here is one from New Year’s morning 2013, as Jim and I were leaving Jost Van Dyk in the British Virgin Islands for our first encounter ever with a life-threatening emergency.  © SGE, Inc.

PASADENA, where I live, may not have any beach-front property, but it certainly is close enough to the Pacific Ocean for us to take advantage of the many athletic challenges she affords.
Arguably, the sport demanding the most physical and mental performance simultaneously is sailing.
Fortunately for many of us, the technology of handling a sailboat especially in the idyllic conditions found more than 300 days a year in Santa Monica Bay – has advanced so far the physical demands have been reduced to the level that even a couch potato could master.
As an infrequent exerciser and aging baby-boomer, I can attest to that. The combination of physical skill and mental acuity required to successfully and safely skipper a 36-foot, luxury yacht on a day-sail from Marina del Rey to, say, Malibu, is unrivaled for the relaxation, satisfaction and sheer hedonistic pleasure it provides.

IT’S BEEN MORE than a quarter-century since I first learned the meaning of “sea-legs” where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean near the southern tip of Africa.
My city editor at The Cape Times, now-famous author Wessel de Kock, who has been mentioned before on this blog, assigned his cub reporter – me – to spend seven days aboard a 60-foot schooner operated by the Simonstown Naval Academy.
Tough assignment, eh?
It was a sailing class for novices; at least 10 of us were aboard. I was a student, just like the rest.

At the helm is my favorite “position.” Here I am on the cruise of the French Rivera in 2002. This image was a gift from one of the crew members.  © SGE, Inc.

We sailed around the Cape of Good Hope – also known as the Cape of Storms – reputedly the second worst passage in the world after Cape Horn.
Alas, much of the time was spent becalmed, the irksome diesel engine providing the little forward motion we could attain.
The difference between the others and me was that, after we were done, I wrote a series of features detailing the experience for Cape Town’s only morning newspaper. (Not available online)
After a couple of years learning the basics of sailing at San Diego State University’s fantastic Mission Bay Acquatic Center in the 1970s, it took until 1997 for me to rediscover the delights of the sport during a luxurious charter on a 60-foot Beneteau in the British Virgin Islands.
Afterward, I made a commitment to myself: The next time I charter in the Caribbean, I will be formally qualified to skipper the yacht.

LESS THAN TWO YEARS later, I was well on the way to that goal.
After some online research during the dark, damp days of winter, it was not difficult to find the American Sailing Association in Marina del Rey, and the classes it offers leading to certification as a skipper.
ASA accreditation is accepted globally; it’s the definitive passport to sailboat chartering anywhere.
“The American Sailing Association sets standards for sailing schools, instructors and students. Since 1983, more than 150,000 sailors have been certified to ASA standards,” said the ASA web site at that time.
The ASA has adopted a seven-stage progressive certification process then called the Keelboat Sailing Certification Program for anyone wanting to learn to sail – or for an experienced sailor to obtain documentation of his or her skills.
Since I had some albeit long-unused sailing experience and accumulated knowledge, I considered myself not-incorrectly in the second category.
For the Basic Sailing certification, ASA 101, one must demonstrate the ability to sail a yacht about 20 feet long in light to moderate winds and sea conditions in familiar waters without supervision.
This is described as “a preparatory standard with no auxiliary power or navigation skills required.”
Next is Basic Coastal Cruising. For ASA 103, one must be able to “cruise safely in local and regional waters as both skipper and crew on an auxiliary powered sailboat of about 20 to 30 feet in length, in moderate winds and sea conditions.”
I reviewed the requirements for both levels and decided they’d be easily attainable.
Through the California Sailing Academy, I challenged the classes, passed the written and on-the-water tests, and became certified in June, 1999.
However, as the official ASA log book cautions: “Sailing is a performance-oriented activity. Each certification level should be augmented with at least 25 to 50 hours of practice.”
Through the facilities of Suzanne Raffetto and her husband, Chris, proprietors of what was then Seamist Skippers of Marina del Rey, I spent a month following this advice.

This grainy old image is from 1999, on one of our day sails off Santa Monica, when I was completing the required hours as skipper for my ASA certification. © SGE, Inc.

SEAMIST SKIPPERS, a since gone charter company in Marina Del Rey,  then had eight yachts in its fleet. It also offered ASA classes up to the Bareboat Sailing certification level.
This is the fourth level – the one I challenged before the end of that summer –described as “an advanced cruising standard for individuals with cruising experience. The individual can act as skipper or crew of a 30- to 50-foot boat sailing by day in coastal waters. The standard includes knowledge of boat systems and maintenance procedures.”
Of course, you don’t have to be limited in your search for that perfect sunset over the Pacific Ocean with the skyline of Los Angeles, Santa Monica or the million-dollar homes of Malibu as your backdrop.
Between Santa Barbara and Dana Point in southern Orange County, there are nine harbors each with a different ambiance and easily reachable exotic destinations.
Marina del Rey is the closest to Pasadena, but Redondo Beach and Long Beach are not much further, and Newport Beach and Ventura are certainly close enough to explore.
It didn’t take much to persuade me in mid-June 1999 to make my reservations early
A few weeks later three mates and I – a core crew that has sailed many times with me since – took our very first three-day cruise to Santa Catalina Island on a 36-foot Cal.
The rest, as they say, is history. My sailing resume. Stay tuned to this channel as more of it is revealed … or delved into the archives where you will already find some of it. There’s more here.

 

A version of this story was first published in the Sports section of the Glendale News-Press, August 4, 1999. Not available online.

 



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