Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Education - 22 January, 2016
Some people who come to this site (you know who you are) are students of mine. During the summer, I teach at the Maryland
School of Sailing, out of Rock Hall, MD, something I have been doing for more than five years now. I do have to admit that, until
last year, my teaching was spotty - I had to work it around my "real" job, getting ready to go cruising, keeping up the boat,
doing all of the other things people do in their lives, etc. So, I have gotten significantly more practice teaching sailing in the
past year than I have in the past six.
However, in addition to teaching sailing, I have also taught a GMAT prep course for William and Mary, other test prep for the
Princeton Review and OUPV classes for the Mariners' School, out of Princeton, NJ. These were part of the "etc." mentioned
above. In all, I have been doing classroom teaching as a sideline for more than twenty years (it stunned me the night I realized
that fact, while teaching a class on math skills to my GMAT students at W&M - it brought me to a dead stop in the middle of a
So, even though I don't have as much time teaching sailing as I would like, I do have a significant background in adult
education. So, my comments below are based on that background. Take it for what it is worth.
Point 1: I once had the dean of students at a Community College for which I was teaching a computer programming class say
that higher education is the only thing that people want to pay for and get less of in America. I cannot say that I have found this
to be universally true, but it does seem to be the case with many people. Particularly in classroom instruction, I have found -
both as an instructor and a student - people want to "get done early," rather than suck all of the knowledge they can out of the
Oddly, this was especially true of the classes I took to become an EMT. By the time the evening was three/quarters over,
people were looking at their watches and gaging the possibility of "getting out early." One would have thought that the idea
that getting this information wrong "in the field" might get someone killed would be a spur to in-depth education, but no....
Related to this is the realization that the more interesting the subject is to the student, the more willing they are to stay for the
whole class. If the point of the class is to get some sort of "up-check" in life (a license, a certification, a grade), the student
tends only to want to get that final object. On the other hand, if their goal is to actually get knowledge for their personal use,
they tend to want to stay to the end - and beyond.
One would think that people taking a sailing class would be in the second group, but I have found a significant number of
people in the first group in my classes. They don't feel they need the "information," they simply want the ASA certification.
Point 2: Instructors are evaluated most frequently by their students. Unfortunately, this means that instructors directly affect
the profitability - and the viability - of the schools for which they teach. Except in the area of higher education, where "tenure"
can come into play, instructors are at the mercy of the school, which is at the mercy of the student. If the student doesn't like
the instructor - for whatever reason - the student can negatively affect both the instructor and the school.
I don't want this to come across as whining on the part of a bad instructor. Far from it. It is merely an understanding on my
part - and many other instructors that I have worked with - that the "best" instruction available is useless if the student doesn't
want it. When I taught SAT prep, I often had students in my class who were there because they had done poorly in high
school, their parents had plans for them to attend a certain level of college and they needed to get a very good SAT score in
order to offset mediocre grades. However, the students had no more desire to be in my class than they had to be in their
regular classes - in fact, they often had less desire to spend time with me. These students often would disappear during
breaks and reappear at the end of the evening, in time to be picked up by their parents for the ride home. A realistic appraisal
of their performance would have clearly indicated that they were wasting their time and mine.
This was NOT their fault. They were unable to avoid the class - due to circumstances beyond their control. But that didn't
matter. They had to be marked off on the class role, I had to pretend to call on them and the students who did want to be there
would be forced to wait while we did our little dance of pretending the others were getting what their parents had paid for.
Point 3: The student knows what they want. One of the advantages of teaching for Maryland School is that the school has a
certain reputation. The school's motto is " a serious school for serious students." The school has taught more of the ocean
training classes than any other school in the ASA, I have been told. The school is not convenient to other sailing locations, nor
is it inexpensive. In short, almost all of the students that I have taught truly wanted to be in THAT class at THAT time. They
have invested time, treasure and energy in getting to the class and they have done their homework in preparation. Because of
this, we generally get students who want to get all of the instruction that they can - which makes me try to be a better
instructor. If the students are willing to stay out an extra hour, we can do that. If they want to practice things a different way, I
am willing to try. We do what we can to get as much instruction in.
Conclusion: If you are looking for education - particularly sailing education - evaluate yourself first. Figure out what you want -
and how you can best get it. Then start looking at sailing schools. Talk to the school and see what their philosophy is. Are
they teaching "racing" or "cruising"? Are they teaching in little day sailors or ocean going yachts? Do they take two days,
three days or four days to cover the material? Are they focused on getting people into the sport, or on developing mature
sailors? None of these are "bad" things - but all of them can effect how you will learn. Find a school that matches your style.
Don't be the student who wants "less."
Dinghy Thoughts, Number 1 - 23 January, 2016
Since we have started cruising, I have found that some of the information that I got before I started was...well...wrong. Maybe I
misinterpreted what I was told, maybe people said things to be humorous, I don't know. Whatever the reason, I approached
things from one point of view, and have since discovered that I should have used a different one. For example, one of the
"inherited bits of wisdom" that I received was that "your dinghy is like your family car." Not so much.
Now, I will admit that we have not gone cruising in the South Pacific. We are not crossing oceans or world traveling. But we
have lived for almost two years now, spending large amounts of time away from docks. When you are away from the dock, you
have to have some way to get to the dirt. I get that.
However, equating the dinghy with the "family car" does a great disservice to the dinghy. I would never treat my dinghy the way
I treat my car, and vice versa.
First off, if something happens to your dinghy, you are screwed. Not so with your car. If your car is in an accident, you take it to
the shop and you rent another one until it is fixed. Maybe, you work on your car yourself, maybe a friend helps you, but for the
most part, you work around it until you get it fixed. You use your alternative travel options.
With a dinghy, there is no "rental place." Enterprise will NOT pick you up and rent you a brand-new Caribe while you are waiting
for someone to fix your Zodiac. Unless someone in the mooring field happens to have a spare dinghy they are willing to lend
you, or the local marina has a water taxi, you are not going anywhere until you get it fixed - or replaced.
Secondly, the size of your dinghy and the weight of its motor are vital pieces of information. When you are a dirt dweller, the
choice between a Hummer and a VW Bug is pretty much dependant on how much you would like to pay to own and operate it.
Not so with a dinghy. The dinghy has to be large enough to carry you and your crew safely back and forth, but small enough to
fit on your big boat somewhere. The engine has to be big enough to power the attached dinghy through a strong wind and
head-on waves, while still being light enough for you to get off the dinghy and onto your rail.
These are not easy decisions. Since we have lived aboard, we have gone through three dinghies and are on our fourth. We
have been through half a dozen outboards. We finally have a dinghy that we feel is the appropriate size, and are shopping for
a new outboard. We are not replacing the current outboard as much as augmenting it.
Finally (for this rant, anyway), and on that same point - the dinghy and the motor are two separate decisions. When you buy a
car, you pretty much accept the engine that comes in it. Not so with a dinghy. The dinghy usually comes with no engine, just a
set of (pretty much useless) oars. The manufacturer will tell you the largest size engine recommended for your dinghy, but I
have seen people successfully exceed that number without getting killed. It's not a good idea, in my humble opinion, but I am
not them and they are not me.
You choose the motor that works for you - but that doesn't mean you are done. If anything happens to that motor, you are
stuck aboard or ashore until it is fixed (I have had both happen). So, get yourself a second motor. I won't say they are cheap -
but they are relatively cheap insurance.
I'd love to say this is the end of my dinghy rant, but I have a feeling this is a subject I will be returning to again. As I said, your
dinghy is not like your family car - it is way more important than that!
Windy Days - 24 January, 2016
Yesterday was a very windy day here in Vero Beach. Wind is one of the "good/bad" things about sailing. Obviously, there is
no sailing without wind, but there often seems to be either too much wind or not enough - and that is leaving aside the issue
By the way, sailing is to cruising as racing is to driving. A NASCAR driver may get a lot of pleasure out of racing around the
track, but he will spend far more time driving down the interstate at a sedate 70 mph. So it is with sailing and cruising. Most
of us live on sailboats, we maintain all of the winches, sails and lines and we spend a lot of time learning how to make the
boat go in the direction we want to with the sails. But most of us still spend most of our time at anchor, in a mooring field,
docked or motoring - especially if you live on the East Coast of the US and use the ICW. This is particularly true if you live
onboard. Look at your home right now and ask yourself what you would have to stow away in order to take it out for a day
sail. That's what our home looks like, too. If we are going to move, it takes us a day to get ready. If we are going off shore,
it takes three days.
Getting back to the wind in Vero Beach, we knew the wind was coming. In fact, the weather pornographers on the local news
had promised us far more than we actually got. (A weather pornographer is someone who comes on the television with dire
predictions about the news and warns you to "stay tuned for all the details," before going to a commercial break for three
local car companies and a local slip-and-fall attorney. They are like most pornographers - promising far more than they
could ever deliver). The prediction for the area was for "up to 50 mile per hour winds."
Well, we saw 30 knot gusts, but most of what we got was in the 20 to 25 knot range. Not fun, but certainly not a problem for
the boats out here. The biggest issue was that the boat was dancing around too much to go ashore. Trying to get into and
out of the squishy boat (that's what the dogs call the dinghy - we know - we have heard them do it) with the primary boat
dancing around is a recipe for disaster. Last year, I fell out of the dinghy while Suzanne and I were returning to the boat from
shore in Cocoa Beach and the wind was about half of what we have here.
So, we were able to spend the day on the boat without feeling like we needed to go ashore. Sometimes, you need to give
yourself that permission. There is almost always a "reason" to go ashore - you "need" to do laundry or run to the store for
something, the dogs "need" to go to the park, you "need" to take a shower (well, sometimes, that is a -need- ). For reasons
buried deep in my psyche, I tend to feel like I should go ashore each day.
Being forced to stay on board, to get little projects done, read, play games and just spend time with the one person who I
would rather spend time with - that is the heaven of cruising for me. To get away from the rest of the world and just be part
of our own little microcosm - an aquarium with two people fish and two dog fishes - is really what I want out of life. The rest is
Of course, the outside world does intrude. We watch the evening news and our smart phones, iPad and even the laptop
connect us instantly to the entire universe. But, we can put them away when we want and be together, That is the beauty of
People sometimes ask us how Suzanne and I can spend so much time together (well, technically, they ask Suzanne. No one
asks me why I spend time with her - that is pretty much obvious to everyone). Her answer is that she can't imagine NOT
spending time with the person she loves. Loving the person you are cruising with is a recipe for good cruising.