Sailing School

A few months ago my boss Marc had to round up a crew for a sailing trip. It only took a few incentives to get my friend Will and me on board, and with Marc’s brother in law we had the crew of four that we needed for a private ASA certification course. We sailed the waters of Southern Florida for a week with Captain Joe of the Blue Water Sailing School Ft Lauderdale to get our bareboat chartering certification. Everyone had a great time, and the only word that can be used to describe the trip is “perfect”. Read on for the daily sailing log.

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Day 1, Saturday, June 20,
Overnight on the boat in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

The sailing crew met with Captain Joe Logan, three time ASA “Outstanding Instructor” recipient, at the docks in the afternoon. Joe gave us the tour of our vessel, the 51-foot Dufour sailing sloop Gitana. The temperature and humidity were miserable, and the people returning from last week’s courses were complaining about the complete lack of wind. I was a little worried about how our class would go, and I was disappointed because we spent the night on the boat at the dock without any sailing Saturday. Marc didn’t care though, because he had already decided the trip was going to be perfect no matter what happened. Fortunately Marc was right.

Leaving port

Day 2, Sunday, June 21,
Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Biscayne Bay

I woke up Sunday covered in a thick layer of sweat that can only be obtained after a summer night in Southern Florida on a boat with no air conditioning. Luckily, after we made our way out to the ocean there was a nice sea breeze to cool us down. The wind also gave us our first opportunity to do some sailing. We learned how to raise the main sail with the head to wind, and then we raised the Jib in a close-hauled course. Barely a half-hour after the sails were raised, we hit a thunderstorm with gale force winds. We furled the jib with no problems, but then the wind picked up, rain started pouring, lighting crashed everywhere around us, and I thought that perhaps I might die on our first day at sea. When we tried to take down our brand new main sail (that had just been raised for the first time not but 30 minutes ago), Will dumped the main sheet instead of the halyard, and all of a sudden the boom was swinging around wildly as the wind shifted every 20 seconds. At this point my glasses were covered with rain and I could barely see anything. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but we managed to get our main down without any more incidents. After the sails were down, Captain Joe motored us through the Miami Harbor in a dense fog with only one stop to retrieve Alan’s hat after it got blown into the water. If I was in command I would have said forget the hat, but Captain Joe steered us right up to the edge of the harbor and we retrieved the hat with a boat hook. The storm passed after we got through the harbor, and we practiced our anchoring in Biscayne Bay outside of Key Biscayne’s Hurricane Harbor. After an exciting first day and an incredible dinner of tilapia and some sort of pilaf thing, the crew turned in for the night.

Leaving port

Day 3, Monday, June 22
Biscayne Channel, Hawk Channel, Elliott Key
Skipper of the Day: Marc

Day three started with student lectures and our ASA 101 test. It was a beautiful day for sailing with 15 to 20 knot winds and not a thunderstorm in sight. Circle drills in Biscayne Bay got us familiar with all the points of sail. After that I took the helm to sail through Biscayne Channel on a wing-on-wing run and then a broad reach. The three feet or less of sand on each side made for some nerve racking sailing even though we were only doing four knots. The wind died a little after we cleared the channel so we motor sailed down Hawk Channel to Bache Shoal for a little snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and the reef was very healthy, but there weren’t many fish. After snorkeling we were refreshed and ready for more circle drills before setting anchor off of Elliott Key just north of Caesar Creek Bank. That night we ate steak, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, and after dinner we watched an incredible lightning storm a few miles west that went on for hours. I had never seen anything like that storm, and sitting there on anchor watching lightning streak across the sky was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. That night I slept out on the deck enjoying a cool breeze and the thunderstorm that went on all night.

Day 4, Tuesday, June 23
Hawk Channel, Biscayne Channel, Dinner Key Marina
Skipper of the Day: Alan

After breakfast the wind shifted, and the thunderstorm that was so beautiful the night before headed in our direction. We took the ASA 102 test below deck while sideways rain pounded outside and the storm tossed the boat around. I was happy that we weren’t sailing through the storm and I was grateful for the cool wind. Tuesday was navigation day, and Marc and I got to be the first navigators. It was confusing at first, but after an hour of trying to figure out what we were doing we managed to chart a course back up Hawk Channel. We had to make a few course corrections along the way, but somehow we eventually made it up to the Biscayne Channel. Will was at the helm as we sailed through the Biscayne Channel on an amazing close haul right at the edge of the wind. Half of us thought we wouldn’t make it through under sail, but we sailed close hauled all the way to the red 16 daymark. At red 16 Will did an awesome tack south across the narrow channel and then brought us about one last time for a glorious exit. The last leg of our journey was a straight course across the bay to Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove. Unfortunately that course brought us right into another big thunderstorm, but this time we were ready. In an amazing feat of teamwork, we furled the jib and lowered the main in only a few minutes. Will dumped the correct main halyard line and I pulled the mainsail down. We finished just before the rain started, and standing protected and dry under the Bimini Top as the Florida rain poured down was the perfect reward for a job well done. The storm blew past us as Marc steered through Dinner Key Channel, and by the time we were docked the rain had stopped. The clear evening was perfect for enjoying half-price Mojito night in Coconut Grove.

Leaving port

Day 5, Wednesday, June 24
Dinner Key Marina, Biscayne Bay
Skipper of the Day: Will

Docking a 51-foot sailboat is downright frightening, as we found out during docking practice Wednesday morning. Basically you aim right at the dock as if you are going to hit it, and then turn away at the very last second. And then there are these annoying little things called wind and current that do everything they can to make it even more difficult. Docking practice finished successfully without any new holes in the boat, and then it was back out to Biscayne Bay for man overboard drills. Everyone got a chance to practice the figure eight method and the much better quick stop method, and we finished early enough to sail a short race course. Joe gave us our waypoints and then Alan and Will charted us a course while Marc and I steered. On our last leg of the course, Joe taught us how to chicken jibe in front of green 1 to keep us off of the 4 foot deep sand bar. That night we anchored by Hurricane Harbor again, and then we rafted with the Third Wish, another Blue Water ship. The night was full of excitement because the Third Wish had blown their jib, a different sailboat had run aground on the sand bar next to us, and it was Mexican night. So our crew blasted Latin music (I don’t think it was Mexican), ate giant burritos and drank a lot of rum while we watched the Third Wish crew cut down the remains of their jib and we watched the boat that had run aground heel like crazy while turning away a few different sea tow boats. We did have a little excitement on our boat when the captain’s kayak came untied (he used a clove hitch, not a round turn and two half hitches!) and Will had to dive in and swim it back. Needless to say this was the best night of the trip and we all had a blast.

Day 6, Thursday, June 25
Biscayne Bay, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale
Skipper of the Day: Luke

Our last day of sailing was cool because at that point we were all confident with our newfound sailing abilities, and it was my turn to be skipper of the day. Captain Joe pretty much stayed out of our way and made us do things on our own. I took the helm as we retrieved our anchor without any directions from the captain, and Marc and Will plotted us a course to the Miami Harbor. I steered us through the harbor without any incidents, and when we got back out on the ocean the wind picked up enough for us to sail most of the way back. We took down the sails outside of Ft. Lauderdale, and motored in to the refueling dock. Midway through our refueling Joe made us stop to watch a power boat as it drove by blasting rap music with a bare naked woman on the bow dancing like a stripper. After the distraction we finished fueling and I motored us away from the fuel dock back to our homeport. To celebrate our successful voyage we toasted a few rounds of rum and tonic at Kim’s Alley Bar.

Day 7, Friday, June 26
Ft. Lauderdale, Denver, Los Angeles, San Jose

We woke up early Friday to get some studying in before our final ASA 104 test. Everyone passed without a problem, and we are now certified by the ASA for bare boat chartering! We finished just in time to run over to the airport for the excruciatingly long and boring 9-hour flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Denver to Los Angeles to San Jose.

Leaving port


We really did have a perfect trip. The wind was perfect, the temperature was cool at sea, the weather was great except for three storms, no one fell overboard, and we were never in irons, didn’t blow any sails or run aground or hit anything or sink the ship. I could go on but I don’t want to make you any more jealous than you already are right now.

And while we didn’t die at sea this time, a lot of other people did die on land while we were gone, including Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, and Farrah Fawcett; may they rest in peace.


Charts of waters we sailed:
Miami, Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne, Biscayne Channel
Hawk Channel, Elliott Key

If you are unfamiliar with some of the terms used:

People who died in 2009:

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