Learn to Sail…with the Vaughans!

As Brian and I are not what one would call seasoned sailors – I don’t think a 7 day course and a bunch of sails over the summer count as a substantial amount of sailing experience – we decided that it would be best for us to hire a captain to give us some training once we got aboard.  Our boat broker Tommy from Sail Away Catamarans referred us to Bruce MacBain, a delivery captain and sailing instructor based here in Ft. Lauderdale.   We thought that he’d come by each day, take us out for a while, then go home at night, but when he called the night before he was due to get started, he said we were going to sail down to Biscayne Bay for the 4 days and work there.  I went into a panic – we have no provisions!  I don’t have a bunk made!  The heads smell!  We’re LEAVING THE DOCK HOLY CRAP!

More importantly, we were a little afraid that this would be an intense 4 days – while we knew that’s what we needed, we were feeling a little intimidated by the thought.  So we dug out the spare sheets, tried to get as straightened up as we could, and turned in early.

Day 1:

Bruce showed up at 9 AM the next morning, and sat down with us to get a bit more insight into our experience and the boat.  He then walked us through his pre-departure checklist, and all of a sudden it was noon.  He said it was a 4-6 hour sail down to Biscayne Bay, so as the hours ticked away, all I could think about was, will we leave in time to have daylight when anchoring?  OMG WILL WE HAVE TO ANCHOR IN THE DARK HOW WILL WE DO THAT HOLY CRAP!?

After a trip to Blue Water Books for charts and such, and a run through Publix, we finally got back to the boat around 2:30, and after a few more checks we were just about ready.  Brian piloted us off the dock as I tried to pretend I knew how to cast off lines, but Bruce was great, he was patient and told us exactly what to do.  We raced for the Las Olas and 17th Street Bridge openings, and miraculously made both.  We were out through the inlet and…sails up!

Out in the ocean we had some of the more choppy seas that we’d experienced, even though admittedly they were nothing.  I’m watching the clock, and worrying internally about making it down before dark, but Bruce is cool calm and collected:  “So, it’ll be dusk when we anchor…”  “Well it might be closer to dark, but there are lots of lights from the city down there…”


Meanwhile, the kitties are FREAKING OUT – looked for any hidey hole they could find.  “MAKE THE BOAT STOP MOVING MOMMY!!”  We made a bunch of trips down below to give them scratches and reassurances, and they gave us F-You looks right back.

We get down to our anchorage around 9:30, Brian navigating us through the entrance channel like a pro, drop the hook, and bust out the beer.  Ah….

Day 2:  Raise sails, tack, jibe, tack, jibe, heave to, tack, jibe, tack, jibe, anchor, and grill up a sweet Easter feast of steak on the grill.

Easter Dinner

Easter Dinner

Lucie finally comes out on deck to see what’s going on.  She’s very well behaved and doesn’t venture far!

Lucie the explorer

Lucie the explorer

Day 3:  This is where things got interesting.  The day started out clear and warm, and after a few lessons on chart navigation, we pulled up the hook and set out into the bay, the plan being to pull out the genniker and do some main sail reefing.

Lucie has decided to be our navigatrix

Lucie has decided to be our navigatrix

We flew the genniker, and had calm light winds for it…until the storm clouds started gathering.  I started obsessively looking at the radar on the Garmin and my weather channel app on the phone, seeing lots of green/yellow/orange/red, and getting more apprehensive.  We started looking around at the other boats in the bay, and I noticed that all of them had their sails down.  I asked Bruce, “hey, shouldn’t we do the same?” and he replied, “eh, winds are still light, we’re ok for a bit longer”.

calm before storm

calm before storm

Then, the squall hit.  WIND!  RAIN!  THUNDER!  LIGHTNING!  The genniker is whipping around feverishly and I’m just watching the anemometer start flashing HIGH WIND WARNING OH YOU ARE IN DEEP YOU SUCKER!!!  Brian and Bruce are up trying to get the genniker down and I’m white knuckling trying to get us turned into the wind.  SNAP!  A line on the genniker snaps.  The guys finally get it down, and Bruce comes back to send Brian and I in for dry clothes.  As I’m changing, Brian says, “give me a hug” and I say “once we’re through this at a mooring”.  He tells me that I can go snuggle with the kitties for a while and I respond no, as when it’s just the two of us, we won’t have that option.  He seems suitably pleased 😉

We motor through the driving rain towards Dinner Key Marina, and as we enter the channel, I start feeling a little freaked so Bruce takes over the helm to pilot us in.  We have a few more struggles getting hooked up to a mooring as the rain drives down (hey, where’d that shackle go?) but we finally, FINALLY get set and we can crack open the beer.  And…SHOWERS AT THE MARINA OMG HOW AWESOME!!!

It was scary and challenging and I was thisclose to bursting into tears, but we made it through, and were thankful to have had a crazy stressed experience with a seasoned pro on board.  This way, next time, we’ll be able to handle it on our own.

Day 4:  Fuel dock!  Rebecca DOCKED THE BOAT!!  WOO!!!  Tack, jibe, reef, and sail on home.

Passing through Stiltsville on the way home

Passing through Stiltsville on the way home

In the end, we had a really great experience and learned so much.  Bruce told us we did really well, and while we know we have a lot more work to do, there was never any point, even through the squall, where either of us questioned our decision to embark on this adventure.

Bruce will be back in a week to make a run up the outside to St. Augustine with us to get some experience at night watches and blue water sailing.  We’re really looking forward to the experience, even though I think we’ll be a bit sad to leave Ft. Lauderdale.  While our plans are more or less written in sand, we still anticipate we’ll be back on Nantucket by mid-June, after a long motor up the ICW, and a few prolonged stops in St. Augustine and Annapolis.

  1. Again … Jeez … The squall would have sent me over the edge – of the world which we KNOW is flat! … Creepy … I know you are getting experience, BUT … Jeez mageez, just the thought of not showering till port is enough to prevent me from packing my bags and joining you …
    I will come on in ACK for a drink – as long as the waters are CALM!!!!
    Wishing you calm seas on your way to st. Augustine’s!! …might have you buy me a shirt when you are motoring by southport (st. James plantation) …just kidding!

  2. We have a saying on our boat: “If you have to ask – should we reef (or drop sails)… it’s already too late”. You should trust your instincts. Sounds like you nailed it!

  3. Great job, both of you! You’re learning so much, and you still love it even after some scary/wet/cold experiences. :-) I like to say that our cat, Zoe, has a “f*** you face.” She typically puts it on when we are underway, too. You will love St. Augustine – we are here now and there is a lot to see and do. We are at the City Marina, and like to walk across the street to JP Henley’s for one of their 70 beers on tap. :-)

  4. Pingback: Summertime Rolls | Leibster Award for Sailing Blogs: Time to start blogging again!

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