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2024 June 1

Students share the sailing school experiences that have changed their lives and make them full-fledged sailors

Sailing schools have come a long way over the years. What started with classes to teach the basics has turned into formal courses designed for lifelong learning. Sailors continue taking courses not just to improve their skills to become a better sailor, but also because they enjoy the courses themselves. And schools have responded by finding new ways to make courses fun, engaging and, of course, educational.

But sailing courses offer much more than just eduction, as we found out from sailing school students. 

“I made lifelong friends and gained valuable resources that I can call on whenever I have a problem or question,” Robert Maynor said. 

These Offshore Sailing School students are all smiles while learning to sail. 
Students also pointed to the confidence they gained by taking sailing courses. Diddy Hitchins, who has expanded on her vast collection of sailing courses she has taken by joining a 58-foot Swan for the ARC rally on a leg from the BVIs to Newport, Rhode Island, via Bermuda. 

“I discovered that I was pretty good at night watches and surviving real storm conditions, and that one makes lifelong friendships when sharing such circumstances,” she said. 

Hitchins has gone on to participate in school-organized flotillas in Greece, Belize, Sicily, Sint Maarten and more.

Student Erica Sutehall found a love for racing and expedition sailing through her courses. 

“Doing challenging things together on a boat is my favorite pastime,” she said. “There’s no place I’d rather be and nothing I’d rather be doing than watching the wind fill our sails.”

Some students have enjoyed taking courses together, including Tim and Amanda Newton who enjoyed their courses so much they went on to buy a boat to sail more. 

Other students said schools they had attended customized a course for them, a much-appreciated service.

“I wanted to do the classes on my own boat and on my schedule, which is not always an option,” Maynor said. 

“My instructor was very accommodating and customized a program to fit my needs and schedule.”

It’s safe to say that sailing courses are much more than studying and tests, and the students we heard from proved that, and were eager to share their experiences. Following are their thoughts on how to make the most of a sailing course, how to find a great school, what they’ve taken from their courses and what to expect when you head back to sailing school.

Robert Maynor Hartland, Wisconsin

Age and occupation: 55, business owner

Sailing courses: ASA 101, 103, 104, 114, 118 at Sea Safaris Sailing School, additional captain courses at True North Maritime Academy

What would you advise a friend about how to choose a sailing school?

I think access to courses could be a limiting factor for most people. At the time I started my courses, there were only a couple of choices available in my area. I also wanted to do the classes on my own boat and schedule, which is not always an option. Luckily, my instructor was very accommodating and customized a program to fit my needs and schedule.

If I were to do it over, I would consider a destination like the BVIs or some other tropical location that offers a course and use it as a vacation and learning experience.


What’s your favorite kind of sailing and why?

I enjoy all types of sailing but if I had to pick one, I would go with destination sailing over longer distances and multiple days. It’s the challenges with navigating changing weather, sailing both night and day and seeing new places I enjoy the most. I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in several distance races in Lake Michigan including the Chicago Mackinac and Hook races, which always seem to deliver a lot of excitement. The last two years have been spent sailing on the East Coast, spending time in Annapolis, Maryland,  and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with occasional trips to the Bahamas and Florida Keys.


Have there been unexpected benefits to your sailing courses?

Lots of benefits come from the sailing courses. Certainly, the skills and confidence to handle a variety of conditions is the main purpose of taking courses but I also made some lifelong friends and gained valuable resources that I can call on whenever I have a problem or question. I still maintain regular contact with my instructor and try to take additional courses to further extend my knowledge and experience as opportunities come up. I recently spent the winter months working on my captain’s license, which I expect to complete this spring.

I am not sure about all the skills that translate from sailing to everyday life but I know problem solving and remaining calm under pressure are the big ones I tend to notice the most.

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