This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

For those approaching sailing for the first time, the first natural step is to have a look at the programmes of the sailing courses offered by the myriad of more or less renowned schools scattered throughout the whole Italian peninsula. The range of the courses, with exceptions, has changed over the years, as schools have had to meet the requirements of their trainees-customers. The growing tendency is to combine a technical knowledge with a touristic offer, the latter often in a dominant position as compared to didactics. This is unavoidable if associations, businesses or professionals must have the chance to make a profit from their sailing schools. Of course, as it is the customers who pay, their needs have to be met, so they don’t only learn some notions but they also spends a week or more sailing in relax.

This transformation has necessarily implied deep consequences, such as the increasing difficulty of teaching how to sail a boat in autonomy, even by the most renowned schools. And this because some key issues of sailing are not even mentioned in the still extensive programmes proposed by the thousands of sailing courses in the four corners of the Mediterranean Sea.

In practice there are many important notions about sailing that a school (or a skipper) may teach e.g. as for sail trimming, but there is a different knowledge – closely tied with practice – almost totally neglected for lack of time or deliberate choice. And these neglected aspects paradoxically concern the very first difficulties a future ship owner (or charter customer) will have to face once his boat has set sails on its maiden voyage. Mooring is usually one of these, a sore point of the programme of many courses. Only few schools offer an extensive training in this basic manoeuvre, which will always require special attention when leaving and entering into port.

In the best of cases the trainee, on board a small cabin yacht, will try the manoeuvre of entering into port in smooth sea, to perform which only superficial information are required. However, a deeper preparation is offered by specific ship handling courses, which are becoming increasingly popular (almost always held during the low season, the same as for engine maintenance courses) to fill the gaps of those who are tired of turning sideways every time they enter into port, or of seeking assistance from the dock personnel.

Mooring is one of those manoeuvres that can be fully and correctly explained in a specific course, but that can be hardly learnt to master in just a couple of days. Besides the fact that weather and sea conditions, sea state and winds at port are never the same, another important element has to be taken into account: the fact that every boat has its own peculiarities, starting from the propeller evolutionary effect. In short, thousands of variables can be explained in a weekend’s course, but then, they all have to be put into practice dozens and dozens of times to be properly grasped and mastered.

Another point which is often ignored during sailing courses is communication, which is extremely important even if you are just going to spend some hours or a night in a port or marina that is new for you. If you enter a mooring area which is not your usual one, pay the utmost attention as you don’t have the reference points and information that make your life easier. If you have set sail for your first cruise and decide to spend the night in a specific port, first of all make sure there is a berth available. Of course when asking for a mooring place you must tell the marina staff the precise dimensions of the hull as well as other information such as LOA (overall length measurement), main beam and, above all, draught. If you are sailing your own boat, no problem, but if you have hired a boat from a charter company, you’d better make sure to have the information when requested to avoid unpleasant situations.

On the contrary, it is not unusual to see boats, even of a remarkable tonnage, entering a mooring area without informing the port, as if it were a hotel, and then wandering in the mooring field making the day miserable to all boats that are manoeuvring in the same area. You must – and it’s not just a matter of politeness – give the marina staff a call and ask if a berth is available, ask for confirmation that your VHF radio is operative as you may need it i.e. for communications e.g. when you are getting near the lights, etc. Most of the marinas are provided with ropes attached to a mooring post, however, if they aren’t, an anchorage is necessary, followed by manoeuvring in reverse up to the dock. This information is important and must be asked when checking berth availability as, in case, everything must be ready for an anchorage (crew included). Another often neglected detail – not so insignificant from what we all see around – is to make sure all equipment is ready before entering a port. This would avoid those frequent and embarrassing situations when the crew realizes – just two metres from the dock – that the ropes are still stowed in the peaks and so a frantic and confused search of the rope lost starts!

Besides, many sailing courses don’t deal enough about hulls and their technical/practical management. In other words: most of the devices and equipment that give a lot of troubles and put your holiday at risk lay below deck, not on deck. Sea-cocks, toilet pumps, fresh water pumps, batteries, logs are not mysterious objects but components essential for a safe and comfortable navigation. It would be useful to be fully trained on them before and not after casting off the moorings!

Being able to perfectly trim a mainsail to take advantage of every puff of wind is interesting and really fascinating, however if nobody teaches you that it is good practice to have a look at the batteries every now and then to check if they are working properly or are turning into a fryer, you risk of spoiling your holiday, or even worse!

Osculati Srl
Latest posts by Osculati Srl (see all)