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Gone Sailing

Starting a new hobby is a whole lot of fun and while you are eagerly snaffling information all over, trying to get on top of the basics, sometimes it is good to resort to professionals to put you on the right track right from the start. This approach was proven very useful for example on my entry to alpine climbing few years back, when hiring a UIAGM certified guide to show me, literally, the ropes provided a sound foundation despite having climbed rock and ice before in non-alpine environment. As sailing involves quite a lot of knowledge about sails and sailboat mechanics and physics, and related to the surrounding natural environment, I felt it would be smart to use a similar approach and kick it off with an instructor. Sailing courses typically start running around May and booking early is advised. I chose the earliest possible slot, and completed the Competent Crew course (Purjehtijakurssi) last week, with Kesäpurje.

Kesäpurje, having its home base in Helsinki, at the HSK Yacht Club in Lauttasaari, is the largest sailing school in Finland, offering courses at all levels, both in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean, as well as in UK, including navigation and specialty courses. They also help to create and follow through personal learning paths, and since 2011 are offering the full curriculum (PDF) also in English, to better serve the growing international sailing community in Finland. I see this very useful also for the Finnish speaking students, myself included, as one could as well take some of the courses, if not the whole curriculum, in English. Knowing the terms and procedures in English could be helpful when for example renting a boat some day in the Mediterranean.

Purjehtijakurssi, or the Competent Crew course, is targeted both for people without prior experience with boating or sailboats, and for anyone who wants to freshen up their skills before continuing on the learning path, for example towards the Day Skipper and Coastal Skipper qualifications (Perämiestutkinto and Päällikkötutkinto in Finnish, which however from 2016 onwards will be called Saaristopäällikkötutkinto and Rannikkopäällikkötutkinto, as proposed by the Association of Sailing Instructors in Finland (PORY ry) this spring. The minimum requirement for the course duration is 32 hours, typically done over 4-5 days. With Kesäpurje, 8 hours of theory is separate from the practical part, which in this case was split over two evenings and a full weekend. This worked very well, and being a complete rookie it was easier to digest the information in small doses.

The course content is standardized, and covers the topics on the guide book included in the course fee (Purjehduksen Opas), including but not limited to docking procedures, rigging and trimming of sails, navigation and anchoring. There was plenty to cover in four days, but with constant rotation with 3 other participants, everything was covered in sufficient depth, everyone getting their fair share at the helm and in the ropes. Although course does not cover navigation in detail, we did some basic route planning and worked with the charts, as well got some hints on some mobile apps that today complement the paper charts and boat electronics nicely. For example for IOS there are quite a few marine applications, some of which I’ve already installed to my iPhone for a trial. Take a look at for example Navionics Boating, iSailor and Fleetmon.

I was the only person in our group with no previous experience with sailboats, but as confirmed also within the other group (all women group by the way, another Kesäpurje specialty), everyone felt the course was on the money and benefited also those with days or weeks of sailing under their belt. This was coming from a fact that unless your skipper has been explaining for example the mechanics (and purpose) of certain maneuvers and adjustments, you really do not learn a whole lot but just follow instructions. Not knowing much at all from the start, I did ask a lot of questions and our skipper (and instructor, also the man behind the English curriculum) Mikko was patiently answering all of them, while I tried to internalize it as quickly as possible. While we all made mistakes here and there, even on the last day, while gradually gaining more confidence and perhaps even some muscle memory through repetition, we passed the course without incidents. Weather varied between the days and we had both bluebird and overcast, got soaked in rain and slit through the waves and swell. With wind ranging from just a few knots to up to around 28, we switched between full sail and reefed main and genoa as conditions required.

Finishing the course last Sunday it was evident the hands on experience I had long awaited had not put out the spark, but quite the opposite, and for me the idea of sailing paled in comparison to actual sailing. Based on this particular course I can warmly recommend Kesäpurje if you wish to get a good start for a new hobby, whether you own a boat or not (or like myself, want to find out if you like only the idea of sailing, or the real thing). I am certain I will be using Kesäpurje also when progressing on my learning path, and as a natural next step have already pre-booked a seat on the navigation course that will take place later this summer. Before that I am focused on gaining as much nautical miles as possible, on sailboats needing crew, building on the solid foundation obtained from the course. For theoretical reference, I will start with a book I found from a local antiquarian bookstore, The Complete Sailing Manual by Steve Sleight, translated in Finnish. A 2012 edition, it is a comprehensive guide to everything and anything about sailboats and sailing, generally considered as a good buy for a rookie like me. The original book, in 3rd Edition, can be found online for example from Amazon.