Coastal Skipper

I remember the day we completed our first week of sailing in December last year. At the time a few fellow students got their Coastal Skipper certificate. This certificate shows your ability to skipper a sailing yacht on coastal passages by day and night. Whilst we were still dazzled by all the new sailing terms, a skipper was something we looked up to. Skippering the boat was of another level. And today, we are Coastal Skippers ourselves. How cool is that? 😎

It was pretty intense to get it. It all started some weeks ago with another six days of class room and evening homework. The theory is similar to the Day Skipper theory we did in January, however the exercises and exams were more complicated and intensified in volume within less time. It basically was a theory work out. 😅 All the sailing terms, lights, buoys, shapes, fog signals were crammed into our heads. Our training charts turned into a spider web of pencil lines and we had to calculate so many tidal heights and streams, we will never forget how to do it.

It was good though. Planning a passage is quite error-prone. It’s easy to overlook, mix up or forget any detail as long as you’re a human and not using the electronic means. The Coastal Skipper theory drill is a good way to develop your own systematic way of working to make it error-proof.

After a week of high intensity theory and a week of low intensity doing nothing we couldn’t wait to board the boat again. The week ahead was a week of skills and drills and circumnavigating Langkawi Island.

This skills and drills are a thingy and to much joy of the instructor. It’s all about manoeuvring the boat. Park at a pontoon, pick up a mooring buoy, a vendor or basically anything you like. Simple? There is a tiny little problem: there are no breaks on a boat and you can’t sail into the wind. So, getting to the right position is one thing, getting the boat to stop at that position is another. Sometimes you stop the boat, meters away from where you want to be. Sometimes you are where you want to be, but passing way too fast to pick up anything. Sometimes you get both right and sometimes you mess it up completely. Argh. Practice, practice, practice seems to be the recipe. Hope the moment will come soon that we will be cheered up when a skills and drill session is announced.

The rest of the week was like a holiday. We were not so much challenged yet on our Coastal Skippery skills and it is a nice voyage all around Langkawi. A beautiful area occupied by many little inhabited islands. We shared the boat with a pleasant crew. Nale from Scotland, who is living the expat life in Singapore. Sam from the UK, who is travelling by motorbike and whatever comes on his way to the point on the earth opposite from his home town. Pretty cool. Uliana from Russia, also going up for her Yacht master like us, Keith, our well-respected instructor and a bird.

The days passed by with good sailing, night sailing, sun sets, swimming and gorgeous anchoring spots. Yep, the good life. Again 😇. Oh, we love the sailing life. 💙 Lucky us!

The week after was more challenging: our Coastal Skipper practical exam. We were in turns – for the first-time – skipper and responsible for the overall management. Safety, happy crew, boat, route, navigation, water, diesel, food, passport stamps, etc. Our destination: Phuket, Thailand. The crew consisted of a mixture of experience. From ‘quite a bit’ to ‘have never been on a boat, ever’. It meant a different approach for each in terms of involving and explaining what you want. It’s fascinating how many links you can make between skippering a yacht and a corporate work life. Communication, team work, leadership, flexibility, making decisions and so on. It’s all there. 🙂

Skipper Wouter was responsible for the first 80 miles. He brought us in two days to Ko Muk. Fun and safe. 👍🏻 We tried to anchor at Ko Muk until the anchor decided to drift. The wind is coming from the West early this season and the waves were way too choppy. Wind and tide are forces a skipper can’t control and so every plan has a plan B, C, D, … In this part of the world that doesn’t matter as the island next door with better shelter is just another beautiful island. 😍

The next day it was my turn to skipper 80 miles. Where Wouter had to slalom between islands and underwater rocks aiming not to hit anything, I had to aim to hit my destination behind the horizon. In between: nothing but water and jellyfish. Hopefully the calculations are correct. 🤞🏻

All went well, until we reached “The Beach” of Leonarda Di Caprio. The beach is closed to recover from the heavy tourism footprint and can only be viewed from the bay. We had little chance to enjoy it. As the wind and waves were picking up, the boat was happily rolling around on a mooring buoy close to a steep rock. I was worried rolling around, wondering how to get out of this place. We all needed some food first and gladly Keith went rolling down below to produce a quick pasta meal. The rest of the crew was either busy not getting sea sick or watching the rocks to ensure they stay where they are.

We had a four to five hours night sail planned after sunset. If we would go, the first hours would be beating upwind without any sight of land or lights with quite heavy waves. The forecast promised though, the wind to veer to the North and to slow down. If we would not go we still had to sail for another hour or so to a sheltered anchorage plus we would not be able to sleep in tomorrow to recover from the past long days. It would be another early wake up to sail the last 20 miles to get stamped into Thailand in time. Aj aj aj. It’s a 50-50 one and a skipper’s decision… “Nadine, what do we do?”. “Well… we go for the challenge! We can do this.”. 👊🏻

We made it! …. 7 hours later 🙈. The forecast is not always true! The wind came straight from our destination all evening long and was too hard to motor straight into, making us to tack (zig zag) most of the evening. Was it the right decision? Maybe. Maybe not. It was for sure not the most enjoyable passage, but it certainly was an experience for all. And with that also Nadine completed an 80 miles passage as skipper.

The next day was all about chilling, getting stamped and skills and drills 🤨 until … we got aground! Haha. Neptune got us! The key learning: it doesn’t matter how experienced you are, Neptune will find you from time to time. It can happen to anyone. And still, between you and me, we were oh so relieved we were not on the helm (steering). 😅 Luckily it was a matter of waiting for high tide, taking a walk around the boat, cleaning the keel, guessing the time she will float, getting to our anchorage spot and having a nice dinner ashore with the crew of sailing yacht Kay Sira.

And with that, we are Coastal Skippers and ready for more weeks of sailing to get our mileage and experience up! 🙌🏻⛵️😎

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