Sunday, March 11, 2012

ASA Catamaran Certification

I signed up for the TradeWinds Catamaran sailing class last month. I had thought about learning how to sail Catamarans for a good long time, but the impetus to do so finally came when I finally organized a second BVI trip (upcoming), and could only find Catamarans to charter.

Normally, the class would take 2 days and be run for 4 certification candidates. However, this time, nobody signed up. Normally, Tradewinds would just cancel the class and ask students to come for the next month, but given that my BVI trip was upcoming at the end of the month, Matt at Tradewinds accomodated my need for certification by concentrating the 2-day class into a 1-day intensive training session. Since my crew needed training as well, Matt was happy to let Larry, Cindy, and Arturo tag along for the training so they too could learn the joy of sailing a Catamaran.

Catamarans sail, dock, and undock very differently from monohulls. In many circumstances, "different" usually means "worse", but I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that in this case, "different" means "better." Docking and undocking, for instance, is made a lot easier by having twin engines and twin propellers that essentially allow the boat to turn on a dime. The fact that the vessels are so long and wide means that you aren't likely to be able to dock in a slip, but because of the nature of the twin screws, docking and undocking become essentially a skipper/helms-driven affair, with the crew helping by essentially releasing or setting up lines as appropriate. There's no dashing about or coming off the beam of the boat to set lines forward and aft while the boat is in motion. As skipper, you have to nail the stern of the boat so crew can step off, but once that's done you can pivot the boat one way or another to get the boat aligned with the dock. If this sounds more demanding on the skipper's ability to stay calm and assess the wind and current correctly, you're right. But in many ways, it's also liberating as you no longer have to worry about crew jumping and landing wrong, slipping into the water, or other such antics. We spent plenty of time practicing in order to get this nailed down.

Once the boat is underway, sailing a Catamaran almost doesn't feel like "real" sailing, as you're missing the heeling sensation you get on a monhull. This is great: there's less scrambling, more relaxation, and appreciation of the views, and the prospect of taking a family with children out on the water suddenly seems doable. In particular, Dan Siefers' catamaran, "Caprice" has a self-setting jib, which meant that the crew could essentially watch as the skipper says, "Ready about", and "Hard a' Lee". That took a bit of getting used to. Jibing is surprisingly similar to a monohull.

And then there's the speed. We effortlessly sailed past monohulls carrying big sails without really even trying (I was being distracted trying to learn the material for the written exam).

Finally, when we got to the docks, I realized something: I wasn't fatigued! I had originally intended to spend the night at Tradewinds and then challenging the written test the next day, but decided that I had enough brain power left to challenge the written test right away, so I did that and emerged a certified 114 Catamaran sailor by the end of the day.

I would like to give a shout-out thanks to my crew, Larry, Cindy, and Arturo. Furthermore, Matt's willingness to help accomodate my need to get a catamaran certification by my trip deadline is commendable, and Dan was an excellent and patient instructor. Recommended. I should have gotten myself catamaran certified ages ago. (One thing I did learn today was that in the Mediterranean, the charter companies require that 2 members of the party have sailing certificates, not just one --- so if you've been thinking you could piggy back on my certification at some point, I'm afraid you're going to have to get one yourself as well or a Greek sail would be out of the question)
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