Basic Cruising Course – Our Experiences

Steve and I took the Sail Canada Basic Cruising Standard keelboat course in 2010 (a few years before our plan to sail the world was hatched). At this point, we didn’t have a boat of our own and we had only taken dinghy sailing lessons. We signed up with Colin at Bewley Sailing on his 38′ Ohlson offshore cruiser/racer. The course was a 5-day liveaboard sail around the gulf islands. We were excited about taking the course, but unsure whether it would be like a glorified vacation or a tough slog getting through all the material.

We met Colin and his boat at the public dock in Coal Harbour. He was able to carry 4 crew for the course, and soon after we arrived we met the other two crew, Joey and Sue, who were Air Canada flight attendants. Sue had sailed before with her SO, but Joey had never sailed before. I recall him wearing a black pirate bandana. This was going to be interesting!

Joey being a goofball as usual!
Joey being a goofball as usual!

We covered a lot of basic skills, such as docking and undocking, anchoring, man overboard, basic handling of the boat and points of sail and all the commands. Colin was a stickler for us using the correct phrases to instruct and respond.

The command to tack is the helmsperson saying “Ready About!” The crew’s response is “Ready!” once they were prepared. Then the helmsperson says “Helm’s Alee!” and tack the boat through the wind.  We pretty much followed that same format with all instructions for maneuvering the boat. It was actually really good to have the consistency and spent a lot of time practicing getting the commands right. You have to be able to quickly and accurately communicate what you want your crew to do on the boat as soon as you give them the instruction. So saying something like, “Grab that thingy over there and pull it in” could put you and your crew in danger (though I’m pretty sure I’ve used those exact words on more than one occasion).

Everyone took turns at the helm and we practiced the basics, like bearing off and heading up. I feel like most of the week was just getting used to all the nomenclature. We would walk around the boat naming things like a boomvang, traveller, jib, halyard, spreader, head, tack, clew. There is a lot of terminology to learn, but everything has a specific purpose and you have to be clear on what you’re talking about.

Sunset in Wallace Island
Sunset in Wallace Island

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We had a lot of fun with the whole crew, and did a lot of hard work throughout the week. We had to write an exam at the end, so we spent a lot of the evening while anchored or at marinas studying. Joey and Sue made the trip a lot of fun and we had some great laughs! We all passed the course and got the stamp in our logbook, which was really exciting! Steve and I were both officially able to skipper a sloop-rigged keelboat!

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