Gaining awareness on my best sailing day yet in Antigua

Personalized sailing instruction in Antigua. Fantastic. This is the subject of today’s blog entry.

I had this sort of instruction today, following my RYA Competent Crew course. Today, my instructor was Kishawn Harrigan, Lead Skipper of Ondeck Sailing, and he was assisted by Ondeck crew members, Concorde and Rex. So, the teacher to student ratio was better than one-to-one.

I successfully completed the RYA Competent Crew course last week. But, I have areas I want to work on. Throughout the day, it became clear to me I need to work on awareness – wind, direction of travel, speed, distance, fatigue, and hazards like swimmers, and rocks.

Today’s crew was eclectic. There was me, learning to sail and typically Canadian, apologizing for every screw up. Kishawn, skippering the boat and showing the patience of a saint, Concorde who was gaining experience to complete his RYA Day Skipper course, and Rex, who had dreadlocks, an enormous sea shell necklace and was lying prone in one of the berths when I arrived. He sang intermittently.

The areas I wanted to work on included: helming the boat and staying on course, mooring the boat, and using a dinghy with a motor. We managed to complete these objectives today.

First, I helmed a round trip from Falmouth Harbour to Nelson’s Dockyard. It took me two hours, heading out over big Atlantic waves. The crew was really encouraging. Even Rex assumed a more vertical position when we were about to tack. He said I was sailing better than he did on his first day.

Kishawn suggested that I tack using the feel of the boat rather than a firm 120 degree angle. His approach to sailing is a bit like flying a kite – his point was that you could fly a kite with precise, mathematical instruction but why would you want to?

I haven’t been drinking coffee and was very tired and hungry by the time we got to Nelson’s Dockyard. My thoughts drifted to this blog, and how much work there was to do before we move at the end of June. I struggled to remain focused. I hadn’t eaten for more than six hours so Kishawn took the helm for a few minutes while I scarfed down a bag of peanuts.

We returned to Falmouth Harbour, and after lunch, the focus was on mooring a boat. I could helm the boat into the docking area with some instruction, but couldn’t reverse the boat to save my life, and struggled to determine distance to the dock.

At times, it felt like I was about to plough into the dock with reckless abandon. I was steering all over and Kishawn reminded me to stay aware of my surroundings: multi-million dollar surroundings. As a general rule – and this common sense rule doesn’t just apply to new sailors like me – Kishawn said to never dock near a super yacht.

We ended the day with me driving the dinghy. Motorized dinghy driving is quite easy but awareness is key. I kept my speed low and watched for swimmers, the shallows and chains set out to anchor. Kishawn said that France and French colonies such as Guadeloupe require a license to operate a vessel like a dinghy. So, I have another course to add to my bucket list.

I plan to complete my VHF exam on Monday morning. And, I have two more days of personalized instruction with Ondeck before I go home to Canada. I could pinch myself the instruction is that helpful.

I’ve been sailing for six days straight. Tonight, I’m staying at the Pineapple House and looking forward to the awareness I will gain with a good night’s sleep and a morning coffee.

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