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Old 03-09-2016, 10:34   #1
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Sanity Check

Hi everyone,

Was just over a year ago that I got serious about sailing. Had been an outdoor adventure facilitator and then was attempting to be a raft guide in California before encountering a friend in the SF Bay area last summer, who hospitably put me up on his Cape George 36 for a few weeks and showed me the joys of sailing and of being a sailing instructor at OCSC. I had done a 3 week coastal sailing trip before then through NOLS on Drascombe Longboats, In Baja. I also spent a few weeks assistant instructing in Maryland on Hobie cats. However, this time in SF was my first real exposure to the cruising and big boat sailing life.

Following my passion this year, in March, I went over to Gibraltar for 15 weeks and did a fast track Yachtmaster Offshore program that didn't turn out how I wanted it to. I did the program through Allabroad Sailing Academy, which had the best reviews of the few reviews I could find online.

Learned a lot while I was over there and ultimately achieved my Yachtmaster Offshore certification. However, due to some dubious activity and regulations on the part of Allabroad and the MCA, I discovered in my 14th week that I was going to have a medical restriction that limits me to 60 miles offshore and that prevents me from being master of a vessel. What was infuriating was that I had my medical exam on the 3rd week, was constantly told I wouldn't have any issues, and went through all the STCW stuff to get commercially endorsed. The medical restriction dashed my dreams of being an instructor, which was mainly what I wanted to do, and for which being able to be master of a vessel is essential.

The medical issue is a bipolar diagnosis, and even though I have not had issues with it for the better part of 13 years, the fact that I have it is enough for them to shut me down. The only way to lift the restriction is to be off meds for 5 years without incident. I was seriously considering doing so, in order to pursue my passion and to become a sailing instructor, but even though I do fine off medication generally, I like to have prescriptions for things I can take just in case.

I currently believe that the USCG does not have the same blanket restriction that the MCA does, and so I am taking my 90 days of sea time from Gibraltar and attempting to continue to gain more time until I reach the 360 days required for a 6-pack license. I asked in an email to the Maritime Center if I was going to be screwed from the start because of my diagnosis. According to them, if a doctor says I'm okay and have a valid treatment I can get a waiver and can be master of a vessel.

IF ANYBODY CAN CONFIRM THIS PLEASE DO SO!!!

I'm intending to spend the next several years of my life racking up sea time, buying a boat, and trying to get my USCG OUPV 6-Pack. If anybody knows to the contrary of what I've heard: That I can be master of a vessel, can instruct sailing, and am not automatically disqualified because of bi-polar disorder. Please tell me soon, so I can go do something else with my life.

My plan is now to buy a boat and sail it around. Currently I have a friend on Lake Champlain that has a 27ft 1968 Pearson Renegade in so-so shape. I'm considering buying it this year and fixing it up next year, in May. Then, during the summer, sailing it up through the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes. Currently, I'm thinking of doing it singlehanded, but am open to having people come along. I have not singlehanded before, but would probably spend a few weeks practicing doing so in Lake Champlain before setting out for greater adventures.

So, in summary these are the questions I'm hoping to get answers to:

1. Can I get a USCG 6-pack license with Bi-polar and stable on medication with no negative side effects? And, can I be master of a vessel so that I can instruct?

2. Is a 27ft Pearson Renegade without Radar, AIS, Chartplotters or Autopilot a boat worthy of taking up through the Great Lakes? Will probably get either a tiller pilot or windvane.

3. Anybody want to come with me?

4. What were my other questions?

Thanks to anyone who can be of help.
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Old 03-09-2016, 13:07   #2
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Re: Sanity Check

No specific experience with your issue, but the USCG says:
Quote:
The Top 5 reasons for denial include:
1. Implantable cardiac defibrillators; cardiomyopathy.
2. Medications: chronic use of narcotics/amphetamines/benzodiazepines.
3. Uncontrolled diabetes.
4. Mental health: psychotic disorders or uncontrolled bipolar disorder.
5. Uncontrolled sleep disorders.
I'd try and contact a medical officer at the USCG licensing and see if you can get a little mopre comfortable with them passing you without unreasonable restrictions.
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Old 03-09-2016, 13:24   #3
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Re: Sanity Check

Not so sure I would want a bi-polar captain where my life was involved. Must be a good reason that restriction is there.

Think about how a bi-polar condition would affect your decision making...especially under pressure.

Good luck





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Old 03-09-2016, 13:26   #4
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Re: Sanity Check

Thanks Paul,

I emailed the USCG again hoping for a more specific response. Really hope I can get my 6-pack l. Guess if I can't I'll just singlehand around the world and write a book about it.
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Old 03-09-2016, 14:42   #5
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Re: Sanity Check

Quote:
Originally Posted by tuffr2 View Post
Not so sure I would want a bi-polar captain where my life was involved. Must be a good reason that restriction is there.

Think about how a bi-polar condition would affect your decision making...especially under pressure.

Good luck
Winston Churchill had bipolar and was still capable of leading Britain to victory over the nazis. There are also plenty of people with undiagnosed mental health issues so you should maybe rethink that position. I could name plenty of other famous and accomplished prople with bipolar too. It's an illness with a lot of stigma and misinformation around it.

Consider what suggesting someone should think about decision making skills under pressure feels like to someone who's illness requires them to do that regularly and has stated it's not been a problem for him over many years.
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Old 03-09-2016, 14:59   #6
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Re: Sanity Check

Tuffr2,

Even I would not want a captain in the middle of a full blown manic or depressive episode. But for that matter I wouldn't want a captain with a heart attack, or liver failure, or a seizure, in diabetic shock, or who can't see without glasses. But none of those other cases are disqualifying conditions for a person to be master of a vessel through the MCA. If treated, those people are acceptable captains. And what is most ridiculous is the way around that restriction as stated by the MCA medical guidelines is that you have to be off medications for 5 years, which does nothing but encourage people like me to give up a treatment, even if it works perfectly with no side effects. And say for instance someone who is undiagnosed starts having issues, then with a policy like that of the MCA it encourages people to do nothing more than keep quiet and not seek any kind of treatment, or lose certification and likely their job.

Bipolar has a bad rap in the world of film and media. Yes, it can effect your judgement, and if someone's first experience with it is in the middle of the ocean there would be great reason for concern. However, I've lived with it for 13 years, or at least known about it that long. And because of it, I believe myself better than most in judging whether I'm thinking straight or not.

I'm a careful, safety oriented person who looks after the people I take out in a risky activity be it rock climbing, rafting, backpacking, sailing, or road tripping across the country. Bipolar doesn't just activate and do away with that. I don't suddenly forget the COLREGs and wildly chase off after mermaids and white whales. I won't forget when to put in a reef, or how to use my VHF, or how to come alongside, or to rig a preventer for long runs downwind.

I'm hoping the USCG at least gives me a chance because I really do love sailing. I am a careful and caring person, and I have already dedicated (and wish to continue dedicating) a lot of time to the idea of getting my license and then teaching other people how to sail. And to me being denied that opportunity feels about like denying someone else on the principle that they stand on two feet and thus might slip and fall off the boat.

I will admit that I am angry. The information I seek is so hard to find that I managed to spend about $20000 and 15 weeks on an education that I was only informed was useless at the end of the ordeal.
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Old 03-09-2016, 15:09   #7
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Re: Sanity Check

Howdy Zoibles. Welcome aboard CF.

As to your questions, I don't have an answer.

But, I appreciate your honesty about your situation, shared similar goals in the past, and hope that you find a good solution and can continue to follow your dreams.

You mentioned above that you just got serious about sailing about a year ago, and started your Yachtmaster Offshore schooling in March of this year, for a 15 week course. So, your experience in the training is very recent, which is good for the purpose of providing current information to some questions I hope you will answer, to benefit others in the future.

I am curious and would appreciate if you would answer a few questions based on your experience in that course. Why? Because I recently provided some answers to another new member who asked about training, and I related what I had read in the past, but not having gone to one of those schools myself, I could not speak from personal experience.

1. The course is 15 weeks. How much does that cost? Did you find it worth the fee? (Or did it seem higher priced than what you felt you got from it?)

2. Does the fee cover ALL expenses (room and board and boats classes etc.)? Put another way, if a student was to go there with the goal of getting the YMO certification, what should they budget in total for all costs?

3. How much "sea time" does that give you (90 days at sea or less because some days are in port)? What did that entail? Was it sailing around the Med? Or day sailing from a home port?

4. How did that program compare to your expectations. I remember reading there are several YM Ocean schools around Europe, so I am curious about what your recent experience was like. IF you would prefer to keep your answers more private, feel free to send me a Private Message via the forum, rather than posting publicly.

5. I vaguely recall looking over the YM Ocean requirements, but can't recall the need for "sea time" in days. How many days of sea time is required to get the Ocean certification?

6. I have not been around someone with BiPolar Disorder. People are often reluctant to speak openly about anything related to mental issues, so your candor is appreciated. Would you please describe how it affects you and what the authorities said in response as to why it would prevent you from being a captain. What are their stated concerns (if they stated any)? Is it the medication, or the behaviors when not on meds?
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Old 03-09-2016, 16:01   #8
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Re: Sanity Check

Thanks for the reply Steady Hand,


I will answer your questions as best as I can



1. The course is 15 weeks. How much does that cost? Did you find it worth the fee? (Or did it seem higher priced than what you felt you got from it?)

The course was 15 weeks through Allabroad Sailing Academy. Started March 6th and passed my exam on June 18th. The program was about $15000, plus flight expenses, plus buying my own offshore gear. During time off and in port I spent a fair amount on drinks, restaurants, etc. I also took one week and another weekend and rented a car and drove around Spain while I was there. Total cost for me was about $20000. Was it worth it? The instructors were mostly great except for one guy I really didn't like. I was under the impression that we would do a month of practical and classroom training around Gibraltar, then the rest of the time doing longer passages. However, while we did a number of mile-building trips to get us the requisite 2500 miles and 5 passages over 60 rhumb line miles, it was frustrating getting it done. A lot was just grinding away the miles on the motor when the winds died down, and more a test of endurance rather than an educational experience. That said, I think if I had gotten out with a commercially valid license, then yes it would've been worth it. However, I don't know if I would suggest Allabroad, and might suggest actually doing it in the UK so you would get more experience sailing in serious tides.


2. Does the fee cover ALL expenses (room and board and boats classes etc.)? Put another way, if a student was to go there with the goal of getting the YMO certification, what should they budget in total for all costs?

Fee covered most expenses. we got $60 back per week each which we pooled together with other shipmates to victual the boat with food and we all took turns cooking. I was the best at cooking underway, and often was the only one to cook because most other people couldn't do any more than slap a sandwich together when the seas got rough.

3. How much "sea time" does that give you (90 days at sea or less because some days are in port)? What did that entail? Was it sailing around the Med? Or day sailing from a home port?

I got about 60 days of sea time from the course. Was hoping for more, and am still somewhat in the dark about whether the USCG will even accept the time. I filled out a small vessel sea service form and got the owner of the program and boats to sign off on it. But won't really know if the time is accepted until I've gotten my full 360 days for the USCG 6-pack. Again, that's why I thought it was a good program and think it can be a good value for other people. You can get a full commercial license that is valid most places in the world in just 15 weeks vs the 360 days needed by the USCG. Would I trust myself being the skipper of a $3 million Oyster on a Transatlantic delivery? Heck no! I started the program with a ASA Bareboat certification and learned a lot more than I went in with and got a lot of experience, but not everything. And i wish there had been more focus on the boat repair and maintenance side of things. I've said it before, I want to instruct. I want to island hop, go from anchorage to anchorage, teaching people how to sail, and getting paid a small sum for it. I think the level of experience the Yachtmaster course got me to puts me not far off from being reasonably able to reach that goal.

4. How did that program compare to your expectations. I remember reading there are several YM Ocean schools around Europe, so I am curious about what your recent experience was like. IF you would prefer to keep your answers more private, feel free to send me a Private Message via the forum, rather than posting publicly.

Cannot speak from experience on the level of the YM Ocean program as I only did the Offshore. From what I understand, though, the primary difference is the Ocean entails a longer passage and celestial navigation is both taught and examined.

5. I vaguely recall looking over the YM Ocean requirements, but can't recall the need for "sea time" in days. How many days of sea time is required to get the Ocean certification? For Offshore I needed 5 passages over 60 miles, 2 of which I was acting as skipper. I needed 2500 miles total and 50 days. I think I also needed 60 hours of night sailing. One other issue I had was it was sort of all or nothing. We did not advance through the lower level certifications which would have been Competent Crew, Day Skipper, and then Coastal Yachtmaster. So there was a lot of pressure to get all the requirements and pass the final exam or to leave with nothing other than sea time.

6. I have not been around someone with BiPolar Disorder. People are often reluctant to speak openly about anything related to mental issues, so your candor is appreciated. Would you please describe how it affects you and what the authorities said in response as to why it would prevent you from being a captain. What are their stated concerns (if they stated any)? Is it the medication, or the behaviors when not on meds?

When manic, I have trouble sleeping, my thoughts might race and I'll think about a million things and might have trouble focusing. When depressed, It's hard to find enjoyment out of things, even if I normally do and know I enjoy doing such a thing, which can be very frustrating. As I mentioned in another post, a person experiencing either for the first time out at sea would be a difficult situation, primarily on the manic side of things. However, I don't believe either side necessarily overrides a survival instinct or a concern for personal or other's safety. I do fine generally either on or off medication. However, if I am off medication and drink a lot or start going 36+ hours without sleep then I know I could be at risk of starting to become manic. So, I take a medication once a day as a preventative. I have another medication that's a little more potent and is meant to knock me and sort of reset me, if I become manic. I can see the conflict with being a captain in this case. If I am the sole person responsible for the boat and crew, how can I take a pill and knock myself out? I don't have a definitive answer, but I think my solution would be as follows: In a near-shore situation, I would take the medication and inform the crew that I was doing so in case some incident required a functioning skipper during the night. In an offshore situation, hopefully there would be someone who could act as a relief skipper for a few hours.

I hope I've answered your questions. Am happy to further clarify or answer any more questions if you have any.
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