i’ve been asked by a few folks how to go sailing. When i was asking these questions m’self, i seldom found th’sort of answers i was yearnin’ for. So, here is a spot of advice, from both myself and others i’ve met.
Going sailing is both simpler and more difficult than it seems. The hard part is making up your mind to actually go to sea. The simple part is doing it. However, there’s a few things a body can do to improve yer chances at a decent berth.
B’fore y’get too far along, let it be said that a little knowlege goes a long way. Do some reading, and ask around. Find a sailor and pick their brain. Get to understand what kind of sailin’ yer most wantin’ to get inter. Understand what sorts of certifications might help ye along in th’beginning, or that you might want t’get fer yerself somewhere along th’way.
The types of reading i might recommend: WoodenBoat is a great resource. Even if y’don’t have a burnin’ interest in traditional craft, this magazine carries with it a certain spirit totally lacking in the other glossies, such as Sail or Cruising World. WoodenBoat seems to tell the reader that the cost of admission is whatever labour you’ve got to put into it, not just the heft of yer wallet. Try out at least one shoe-string story of circumnavigation, like Dove by Robin Lee Graham, or Trekka: Round the World by John Guzwell. Even if it’s a stretch, try to get through a book on classic yacht design; Sensible Cruising Designs by L. Francis Herreshoff is my favourite, but anything by/about Starling Burgess, Bill Luders, Fife, etc., will serve. Traditional knowledge will serve you well, even if y’end up on plastic tubs, so equip yerself with a copy of The Marlinspike Sailor by Hervey Garrett Smith. Lastly, the simplest, most straight-for’ard primer out there is Jan Adkin’s excellent The Craft of Sail.
Don’t be too worried if you think yer knowledge is sparse; nobody expects a green hand to know a cathead from a dogbone, or a scupper from a screecher. At any rate, most masters would rather train a lubber after their own fashion, from the deck up, so t’speak.
Now, if y’think y’might want to make a career of sail, it’s worth getting some degree o’certification. Even if you go into it not knowing how far you’ll go, if there is any promise of good “sea-time” in the offing, go ahead and properly document it. In Canada, head down to the nearest Transport Canada office, slap down yer $21, passport photo, and ID to get yerself a Seafarer number and discharge book. In the USA, you’ll want to get a Merchant Mariner’s Card, or “Z-Card” from MARAD, which is a greater pain in th’ass, an’ more expensive t’boot. There’s other forms of certification and logging, through the ASA, CYA, ISPA, RYC, etc, but the above commercial cards provide more serious clout. Training from those associations is valuable (i’ve both taken and taught courses), but don’t get bogged down payin’ fer some course at a yacht club when y’could really go to sea. The exception to this is getting an STCW-95 rating. This is an international standard (Safety Training and Certification for Watchkeepers) which is oft required for work on passenger-carrying vessels. Even when not strictly required, it’s fast, easy training (a week of study) that could save your life or the lives of others. B’sides, it might give you th’edge when applying for some entry-level berth.