We went with Fair Winds. I researched the heck out of it, which I tend to do to everything. To excess. Fair Winds was reasonable, and at the time we finally called them for schedule they had a lot of open weeks in November and December. We went with the early December, thinking most people would be otherwise engaged that soon after Thanksgiving and ramping up into the Christmas marketing
We sailed, sailed, and sailed some more. By the time we got to the end of the day and were practicing picking up mooring balls, we were ready for Rum
thirty. And we didn't just sail in and grab a mooring ball. We would get close enough to tap one with the boat hook, and then our instructor would point at another one fifty yards away and tell us "Good job. NOW go set up for that one." One day there at Little Jost van Dyke we went all the way through anchoring
. Then we pulled the anchor
and motored down to the next spot and picked up a mooring. So you see, there were plenty moorings to pick from.
Now, one of the reasons we went with Fair Winds was because they were willing to let us reserve the whole boat. It was just the two of us ( yeah, "The Admiral" and me) and the instructor on a Leopard
42. We paid some extra for this, of course, but we had already decided that we wanted to know what it was to run a boat short handed with just the two of us. Impossible of course, as we had the instructor there too. But he laughed when we finally let him take the wheel
, which I think was on Thursday. We didn't want six other students on board. Despite the best of intentions, you cannot find out what it's like to run the boat just the two of you if there are six other willing pairs of hands all around you. Besides, they need THEIR time at the wheel
, boathook, winches, dinghy
etc. this was not going to be our cruising experience, we are limited to four hands and a little dog that would like to be helpful if he but only had opposable thumbs......or so he says.
So we got soaked in it. The first day coming out of Red Hook headed for Maho we tacked 36 times. By the end of day one I knew a whole lot about not letting the sheet run through your fingers. And I mean that. Not just in the abstract:
IF we had a bunch of other students on the boat, what would have happened now? Well, what would have happened is that I would have spent the rest of the week doing something else that didn't involve handling lines or anything that touched burnt fingertips. But it being just the two of us, what actually happened is that I had to keep working the winches, hoisting the main, hauling up the dinghy, hurt fingers and all. Gosh. Just like for real. Nobody to spell me. Do you think I learned THAT lesson? Oh yeah. I didn't do it again, I tell ya.
Another advantage of the December timing was that we got the "Christmas Winds", and learned to sail in 20-30 kts, every day. Doing 11 kts in that 42 footer became our normal day. One reef or two? It's not abstract to us now. It's how we learned.
We were able to jaunt off the beaten path when we wanted. For example, on one windy day we circumnavigated Jost for the heck of it. Way out into the Atlantic, in some attention getting seas, and on the other side there was not a sailboat in sight. Cats handle funny
in a large, following sea on a broad reach. Its one thing to read it, another to spend a day in it in the open Atlantic.
So, we feel we got the best experience and learning environment
that we could arrange. We had the instructor to ourselves the entire week. We learned, as closely as we could, what it would be like with just the two of us on board for every task from cooking
to clearing immigration. yeah, it cost a few extra bucks to have the boat to ourselves, but since the whole purpose of this was to learn how us two old fogeys would do sailing a catamaran without a crew...we felt it was worth every penny.
Only three people on board a boat with two heads means no waiting. SOMEbody's gonna be at the helm