Winter sailing in BC
“Man overboard!” The shout was loud and clear; another man overboard, the third one that day. Wind and swell were strong. We chose a spotter, hove to, sent out a mayday, started the engine and tracked back towards the victim.
It was only a drill. The victim was a buoy discreetly thrown out by our instructor. There was no actual mayday call, it was one of the many exercises two other students and I had to go through in our Royal Yachting Association (RYA) course in BC in early March. The weather was cold, the tides and currents were to be reckoned with: In some BC channels, tidal currents can exceed maximum boat speed. At Skookumchuck Narrows, the mouth of Sechelt Inlet in the northern part of the Straits of Georgia, tidal currents can reach 15 knots. We didn’t go there.
I chose the RYA because its certifications are recognised worldwide. The top level is Yachtmaster which can lead to careers in commercial yacht work. Lower down the scale, the RYA is permitted to issue the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) upon successful completion of the Dayskipper Practical course. Canadians and Americans are able to obtain an ICC via the RYA, because their countries are part of the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe, for historical reasons.
The ICC is compulsory for skippers in many European countries and well-recognized elsewhere. I intend to charter bareboats in Europe, therefore I needed to obtain an ICC. I chose that time of the year because I missed sailing, I’ll only be back on the water in May and that was too far away. I chose the Vancouver Island Maritime Academy because it’s the only RYA school in Canada able to operate year-round.
We spent the first week by the fireplace, in a pleasant floating classroom in Westbay Marine Village, near Victoria. The syllabus covered navigation and pilotage, position fixing, plotting a course to steer, tides, weather forecasting, collision regulations and emergency & safety procedures.
I’ve sailed for many years and I thought the theory course would be easy. It wasn’t, there was much material to cover in a week and I found it challenging, particularly the tidal calculations. I knew that True Virgins Make Dull Companions but did not know, or had forgotten, that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is Very Tasty. It’s been a while since I had to do school work late into the evening.
The theory course over, we went sailing on a well-equipped Bavaria 38. We set off on a grey morning and as soon as we came out of Victoria harbour, we encountered heavy swell and wind gusting to 30 knots. We went hurtling downwind on a furled headsail which looked the size of a large handkerchief. I was at the helm and loved every moment of it. Later, as we headed north towards the Straits of Georgia we became shielded from the swell by numerous islands and shoals. We had to deal with heavy commercial traffic and the tidal currents. Accurate, GPS-free pilotage was constantly put into practice, applying what we learnt in the classroom.
In our rare quiet moments, our instructor popped up flashcards, quizzing us on vessel lights, day shapes, buoyage and Colregs. We would also identify clouds and try predict the weather with the help of the barometer. We had daily safety checks, inspecting the vital parts of our boat: Water, oil, bilge, belts, and so on, following the check lists on board. We were often reminded that one of the keys to safe sailing is good organisation and procedures. I’ll try to remember that.
We went beyond applying classroom work. We had an extended period of night navigation and we did not get lost. Then we practised for an entire day docking and how to get to a mooring under sail, without fail, and in strong winds. That was thrilling.
I passed both exams and I’m now looking forward to going back to Victoria to climb the next rung of the RYA ladder.
It was an enlightening experience, it filled the many gaps I had in my sailing background and made me feel more confident. Perhaps rightly so, we shall see…
If you’re interested in taking the course, this is the link to follow: http://www.vimabc.ca/