Did you think it was just the ability to sail?
What it takes to become a Keelboat Instructor!
Did you think it was just the ability to sail?
Five of us and Ed from Noss Marine Academy have been finding out.
We're refilling our pool of instructors to make sure Dart Sailability is always ready to teach members, new and established, the nuances of sailing. We need Keelboat instructors because we use the Sonar racing 7 metre keelboat, and the Hansa 303 boats that look very like tiny dinghies, but are miniature keelboats. We also have the Hawk 20, a boat that has a heavy metal centreplate and behaves far more like a keelboat than a dinghy.
Bob, our Chief Sailing Instructor for the past several years, has asked Anna, Ian H, Julie, Keith C and Tim to put themselves into the field of fire, and we've been joined by Ed to make us a round half dozen. Secretly we're trying to recruit Ed as a volunteer, too, but its a secret, Don't tell him!
Each of us has a different set of sailing experiences, a different background and a different level of boat competence. We range from a couple who tried out for their home nation's respective olympic sailing teams far more years ago that either cares to recall (neither were selected!), experienced offshore racers, club racers, hairy, scary dinghy sailors (the dinghies, not the sailors... Hmmm, actually I'm not so sure about that with a certain moustache....). We have a lapsed senior dinghy instructor, an existing and experienced dinghy instructor, a lapsed dinghy instructor, a fireball sailor, perhaps two, a cruising yachtsman who's never been on a sailing dinghy in anger, at least one powerboat instructor, people who've helmed and crewed on trapeze balanced dinghies, someone who's capsized an International 10 Square Metre Canoe a lot in the middle of Lake Windermere, a Finn sailor, a Flying Dutchman sailor, a Tornado sailor, so quite a skills portfolio. If you count carefully you will see more than six. Yes, some have done more than one thing!
There are two hurdles to leap before being allowed to take the course. Hurdle one is the RYA's safeguarding course. It's online, and common sense, but it's also multiple choice, and you only get two goes. Luckily Dart Sailability gives us a good concept already on safeguarding, so it's just a case of extending it to include those under 18 as a very special case. It's as much about protecting ourselves and Dart Sailability as it is about safeguarding young people and vulnerable adults. The RYA's Disability Awareness course we all take covers some of the same ground, but in a different manner.
Hurdle two is the pre-assessment. This is a day with a very grown up RYA person who decides whether the candidate is actually as competent as the centre putting them forward thinks they are. All six of us had to prove, or not, our competence at the core tasks we will be trained to teach. Not passing that gives rise to a discussion about whether the candidate should go forward to the course proper.
For this it's essential to be able to demonstrate manoeuvres simple and complex.
Simple is the correct RYA method of tacking, gybing, understanding the five essentials:
• Sail Set – do we have it right for the wind direction?
• Trim – fore and aft, are we too bow or too stern heavy? Why does it matter?
• Balance – is the boat being sailed as flat as possible for the conditions? Do we use it to control steering?
• Centreboard – we don't have one except on the Hawk, so can we explain the theory?
• Course Made Good – do we sail the best and shortest distance from where we are to where we want to be?
Complex are manoeuvres to come back alongside, to pick up a mooring, to know how to slow the boat down, and to pick up a crew member (we use a weighted buoy, not a real crew member) who has fallen overboard.
So we need to know how to sail almost instinctively before we're taught how to pass those skills on to novices.
And that has given even the most experienced of us pause for thought! So we've been practicing on our Sonars to do our best to refine our skills and those of our colleagues so we can pass the pre-assessment. Well, all except Keith C, that is. He had a prior engagement trying to swim round the island of Crete. And not on Monday 16th October, when we were hit by the remains of Hurricane Ophelia. We could have sailed in the wind, heavily reefed, and it would have been great experience, but pointless in the global scheme of things. Besides, it was too close to the course itself to risk gear failures.
Tim was watching the developing weather over the weekend and kept the gang informed with the probability of cancelling top of his mind. He even went up river to check the moorings of all the Dart Sailability boats, Sonars, Farries Flyer, and all the vessels moored on the Noss Marina pontoons for the winter during the Sunday morning. He waited until the late afternoon and checked weather sources:
Then he emailed the gang to cancel Monday's practice. Make no mistake, every one of the candidates is capable of sailing in challenging conditions. Instructors and instructors-to-be need to be able to handle a boat in any conditions that arise when they are sailing. You expect that when you book a course with an RYA centre. But you also expect them not to plan to go out when the forecast suggests that lamp posts will start to bend and fly past while they're afloat!
Michael Green's The Art of Coarse Sailing, ISBN-13 978-1861050021, has some very suitable suggestions for the behaviour of Coarse Sailors (you have to read the book to find out what one of those is, and how closely you resemble one!) in various wind conditions:
Generally we Dart Sailability folk limit our sailing to just before the point when elderly customers have difficulty in leaving the pub! Or, to put it another way, we stop when it stops being fun.
We lost Saturday 21st October to a storm called Brian. That was to be our final practice day before the pre-assessment on the 22nd. That left all the more time to read the huge pile of RYA publications we all had to understand before the course itself.
Brian still had a sting in its tail as we arrived at Noss Marina on the morning of the 22nd. We met Simon M, a softly spoken calming influence. It's hard not to think of an assessment is a major pass/fail hurdle. Simon told us that his aim was that we all passed, because he would coach any small shortfalls to help us leave the day with a smile of a job done as well as we could.
Sadly Keith C had just returned from his Cretan swimming adventure with man flu, and had to drop out. We're very grateful indeed to Tom H who gave up his Sunday morning despite loads going on at home to come and help us out. Tom's aiming to be a keelboat instructor as soon as possible, but he's limited by being under 16, the RYA's formal age for being able to become one.
The wind was... interesting. With two reefs in each Sonar we still had a few gusts that required intestinal fortitude and a clear head to ride out. Good. You expect your instructor to be able to cope with whatever the weather throws at you.
We showed that our practice was worth it. We coped with everything Simon had up his sleeve plus the fickle and gusty wind. We didn't all get every exercise right first time, but that wasn't entirely the point. Instead we showed how we could work out a different solution if our first plan required us to use our escape route.
As Simon said when he debriefed us, the day was one where adherence to a recommended method might require variation because of the conditions. Our job was to put the boat where it was required by using all relevant means. He expressed it far neater than that! I have been known to waffle!
All of us passed the pre-assessment. One of us had not been sure whether they would or not. They achieved it because they had taken the time to go afloat and practice. And no, I'm not naming them nor giving you a clue about whether they are a boy or a girl! Since Keith was unwell it looked as if only four of us and our course colleague and new friend Ed would go forward onto the course proper.
And so it proved.
Five of us arrived on day one to meet Tim C, our tutor for the first four days. And he put us through our paces very thoroughly. When we showed successfully the way not to perform an exercise he was kind and thoughtful with his comments, and brought us back on track. When we thought we had it perfect he was able to extend us into giving more, into growing as embryo instructors. When we overcomplicated things he stopped us before we dug too deep a hole for ourselves, but was wise enough to allow us to dig long enough to realise we were in the hole in the first place.
He gave us continual coaching all the way through. Because of our breadth and depth of expertise it was inevitable that we would have experts in some topics already. He used that expertise the help us draw our course colleagues out, and showed us how to use the expertise of others to enhance the overall experience.
We gave short, shore based tutorials, and set pithy, and sometimes not so pithy, water based exercises to each other. We learned by doing and by observing. It's a truism that one sometimes learns more by watching co-trainees than by doing it one's self. It didn't matter whether that person was struggling or flying high. Each was valuable, and not just to them. We fed back on our own performance rather than criticising the performance of the others.
And that brought us to the final day, on Sunday, with the luxury of an extra hour in bed because of the clock change. Forty hours into the course in the first four days it was a welcome hour! There's a lot of determination required to take this course, especially as passing it is not guaranteed.
Simon was back for the Sunday session. It wasn't a test so much as the chance to show him what Tim C had taught. It's part of the RYA's quality Assurance Programme and assesses the quality of tuition received as much as our expertise. Simon also used the time to give us additional coaching points about our own performance. We all deserved the extra input and gained from it.
The upshot of the course is that every one of us has achieved the qualification. Every one of us from the most to the least skilled initially has reached the standard required by the RYA and by Dart Sailability to have care of tuition on the water.
We're looking forward to offering our first coaching sessions to the expert sailors, and to teaching novices from scratch up to a high standard.
This is part of what our volunteers do for us all.