Learning to Sail in the BVIs

A Student’s Story…

People couldn’t understand why I described it as “the best week of my life”. People couldn’t quite understand why Lynne would even consider going. But, after the fact, we would all say it was a wonderfully fun and thrilling experience.

Not Just a Sailing Course

It was a seven day CYA combined Basic and Intermediate sailing course in the BVI’s, aboard a C&C 41 foot yacht. Harbourside, based in Toronto, along with Advantage Boating had booked five strangers and an instructor from Ottawa (Captain Ron Schute) for a week of…well, we were all uncertain of what the week would be like.

Over a welcome drink in Nanny Cay, Tortola, we discovered we had varying degrees of experience, from Lynne who had never really sailed before, to Jean Francois who had bought his first boat last summer, to me who had intermittently raced. Our backgrounds were diverse: from hotel owner, nurse, Assistant Deputy Minister, computer guru to product manager. Our ages ranged from 30 to 60 something. Even our motivation to be on the course varied: from an escape from hectic Toronto to dreams of sailing around the world someday. So while we would all learn something about sailing over the next seven days, what kind of experience would we really have?

Well the sailing was FANTASTIC and the weather was glorious! The winds were as the BVI’s generally promise; steady and northeast at 15 knots, although we were treated with 25-30 knot winds on occasion. The sun warmed our winter chilled bones. The turquoise water sparkled. The glorious 30C temperatures kept us warm, even through our encounter with brief rain showers.

Technically, we learned and practised key boat manoeuvres, safety procedures, navigation and boat maintenance. The snorkelling, local sights and islands were delightful and inviting.

But the real treat was the magic of our team. For seven days this group of six strangers not only shared the responsibility of running the boat, but we did everything as a team: study, cook, eat, drink, dance, sleep, snore, shower on deck, laugh and play, all on the same 41′ boat. This could have been a week of misery. But on board Northern Dancer we became more than just boat mates. More than just friends. We were a team.

Upfront Captain Ron had gently (he was always so patient) but seriously assigned us rotating roles and responsibilities for each day. We clearly learned what each job entailed. But then it was up to us to deliver. And deliver we did…fairly, ungrudgingly and never without several helping hands. And the teamwork never stopped. At a picture swap party a month after the trip, the team was still working together. Everyone thoughtfully prepared and brought something that conjured up laughs and memories of our trip. Everyone pitched in with food preparation and clean up because they were part of our team…our family. It was as if we were back in the BVI’s.

I hadn’t been seeking new friends, ones which I would be happy to sail with again and again, but I got it…along with a sun tan and my Intermediate Sailing Certificate.

– Catherine Stedman, Toronto