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Old 14-02-2009, 10:28   #1
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Commercial Fisherman - Learning to Sail

Hello I have a question that Iím sure has been asked many times, but my background might make the answer(s) a little different. I have been looking at buying an Able 34í (that I want to single hand), but I have no sailing experience. My initial plan was to take a couple of basic sailing lessons and do some day trips for practice, is this viable? My final plan is a circumnavigation, but Iím in no rush.
Now to my background that might help people on the forum with their answers. For the last 12 years I have worked in the commercial fishing industry. I have worked as a deck hand on boats ranging from 45í to 140í in a wide range of environments. 7 years of my fishing career were in Alaska ranging from working on inlet waters in SE Alaska to crabbing and long lining in the Bering Sea. I also worked in the waters from Northern California to Washington. In addition to this I have helped with a number of boat deliveries.
I know there are a lot of things that can be learned by trial and error. I also know that some things are better learned from training or watching others. I guess what I want to know is. What is the least amount of actual training I could get by with and still be safe? What classes would other recommend? Please feel free to give alternative plans for learning to sail if mine isnít reasonable.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.
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Old 14-02-2009, 12:35   #2
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Hi Mike,

Welcome. If you've been making your living on fishing boats in the Bering Sea and the NW coast for 12 years you already know more than most people about the conditions that can be encountered in open water, the need to choose a sound vessel, and the importance of engine and gear maintenance.

So I'll assume you need to know how to make a sailboat go from point A to Point B.
Sailing lessons in my opinion are the way to go. ASA, and US Sailing schools do a good job and can take you through the different levels. Unless you have a friend with a sailboat who happens to be a good instructor, I'd take lessons.
Crewing on racing boats is fun, but often as a novice you're just asked to be rail meat, or assigned to a focused task.

Beyond the knowing how to make the boat move, sailboat systems are a bit different and power consumption and energy conservation becomes more critical.
Storm tactics can vary.

Navigation is the same..it just takes us longer to get there.....how much you picked up as a deckhand and delivering boats on that topic will determine your learning curve. Being able to read and interpret weather maps and long range communications will be helpful things to learn, after you learn to sail.

The more you learn the more you'll know what needs to be learned...and then at some point you'll say...I'm Ready to go!...

I'm guessing that you are a boat purchase, maybe some addtional gear, and a several good lessons away from getting underway.

I'm sure you'll get some good tips here.
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Old 14-02-2009, 15:29   #3
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Time on the water all counts for something. Nothing you have ever learned is to be wasted. You may need to learn to look at it from a different perspective under sail than under power. This may come quickly or not at all. The key to more experience is first good training. It just gets you pointed right, saves time, money, and breakage. Trail and error has only one problem - error! From that base you can begin sailing with more earnest. Refinement of the training now has a place to perfect skill much further. Unlearning bad habits is often cruel.

I would not under estimate the book learning part. There needs to be a great deal of information absorbed and understood. Just about everything you know can be handy provided you know it and can recognize it.

The least amount of training combines all you know with formal training and enough time to learn to apply it properly. It also requires much of it to be automatic and second nature. Practice of good traits follows training. You can then reach the level where you know what you don't know. If you can recognize it clearly then you are ready to start to work within limits you should know by then.

There is a lot of crap that goes around about believing in yourself. Knowing is better than believing. You can be prepared if that is the real goal. The only other lesson is almost impossible to train - "being in a hurry". It kills more sailors than almost everything else. Being in a hurry indicates poor preparation and arrogance. Reckless is no way to begin a trip. You are in far too deep to get out and dumb luck is all you have left.
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Old 14-02-2009, 18:39   #4
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Thank you for the quick responses. I have read a couple of books about sailing and done a lot of reading online over the last 6 months. Iím hoping that sailing is one of those things that seams difficult when you read about it, but starts to make sense once Iím able to actually do it.

Tempest Ė Iím glad you brought up reasons why crewing might not be the best direction to learn sailing. That was one of the ways I had originally planned to learn sailing, but I decided it might not be the best route for a couple of reason.

After I made my original post I thought of something else that I wanted to know. It seems like there are a lot of variations and designs when it comes to sailboats. So my question is, if I go to a sailing school do I have to be concerned that Iím learning on a boat that has a far different design than the one Iím intending to purchase?
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Old 14-02-2009, 21:24   #5
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Hi Mike,

The basic keelboat lessons usually take place on boats around 26 feet. The boats will probably be tiller boats. The principles of sailing are the same; this size vessel gives you a good feel for the wind and the boat, it's very responsive.

After the basic class they may progress to a larger vessel and the lessons expand to include things like navigation, tides and currents, boat systems, storm tactics, weather. etc

I wouldn't exclude racing if you have the opportunity to do both..by all means do both! Racing will help you learn how to squeeze every bit of speed out of your boat.
It will teach you all the little adjustments to sail trim that may not get covered completely in basic sailing classes.

The lessons will give you a good foundation; they will help you to recognize many of the things that are happening on a racing boats. Racing can be exhilerating!
Do both if you can!

It's all good!

Have Fun!
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