Thursday, January 25, 2007

Captain's School Part Three & The Test

The final weekend of Captain's School is all about what's called 'Deck General'. It's about lines and knots, deck hardware, fire fighting, survival, and some other stuff. I have something of an advantage because most of the things taught at this level are the very same things the Navy made a fairly serious attempt to teach me.

For the OUPV, it's a pretty light brush with some fairly serious subjects, not the least of which how to maintain command of your vessel. Since I'm typically a crew of one, it's not too hard, but if you have passengers, it could be like herding cats.

But compared to the first two weekends, it was fun and games - with video's and discussions and so forth. Of course, the practice plotting and questions.

Other than lunch at O D's in Nyack, there was no excitement to the three days.

Last night, Jan 29th, was the test. It started at 6:00pm and you could work until 10:00pm if you needed to. It consisted of four sections - three multiple guess, and one plotting.

The three multiple choice sections were nav general (like buoyage and chart information), deck general (like basic environmental issues, firefighting, line handling, knots, and anchoring), and finally Rules of the Road (right of way, collision avoidance, lighting and dayshapes). These tests are created from a subset of the Coast Guard's 16,000 or so questions.

The Mariner's School makes their tests from a random selection from 200 or so questions per section. If you can answer all the questions in the back of their books, you are guaranteed to pass (actually, get 100%). I could, and did except for one question that I changed my answer to the wrong one. (Test taking tip: Never change your answer on a multiple guess.)

Finally, the 10 plotting questions contained two of each of these: 3 bearing fixes, speed & course made good, Estimated Time of Arrival, and Drift & Set. There were also two multiple guess questions about the chart itself.

Fortunately, the test was on Long Island Sound, so I didn't have to do a lot of searching for lights mentioned in the problems, like Horton Point, Duck Island Roads west, Bartlett Reef, and so on.

I worked quickly and turned in all my tests in two and a half hours. More than that, I passed with flying colors - after I finish all the damn paperwork, I'll be a Captain. For real!

In March, I'll be taking the Master's course, with towing and sailing endorsements because the sea time requirements are the same so it doesn't make sense to do it twice.

Well, it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey (and that's not a sexual reference) here so no sailing.

I visited my friend, Gene's Whitby 42 to see what they're all about last Saturday. They seemed like an interesting boat. I think I'll have to see one in better condition to make a final judgement on the boat.

More on that later, of course!

I hope it warms up soon! I want to see y'all on the water!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Captain's School Part One & Two

I'm sure there are a million (or ten, anyway) books that tell you what you have to do to get your Captain's license. From my perspective, the course and test are just the beginning of the flurry of paperwork necessary to actually get the piece of paper in your grubby little hands.

But for the past two weekends I've been attending the Mariners School course led at the Nyack Boat Club, who has graciously allowed us to take over the clubhouse for three weekends.

Captain Keith is our instructor, and if nothing else, I'd like to approach his level of competence, grace, and good sense.

The first weekend which was denoted by spring-like weather (72 degrees and sunny), was devoted entirely to navigation. This includes buoyage, lights, and marks. A great proportion of that weekend was devoted to plotting - 3 point fixes, speed made good, set and drift, and so forth. Also, because all the problems' answers are given in true course (the outside ring of the compass rose), there are at least one conversion from ships compass course to true.

I've known since Boy Scouts that this conversion is necessary but have heard or read several different means of doing it. My reaction has been to just use the magnetic compass rose on the chart and assume my compass is spot on (which I know it isn't). Then I had LORAN, and then GPS, so I've had even less inclination to use this information. But here I am getting an OUPV license and needing to use it.

So for all of you who are dying to know, here it is: True Virgins Make Dull Company, Add Whiskey. Or, TV Makes Dull Children. This is what it means:

W+ E-True CourseEver wonder why there's a 'true' ring on the compass rose?

VariationThe difference between True North and Magnetic North

Magnetic CourseA corrected magnetic course

DeviationThe difference between what the compass reads and what it should read
W- E+Compass CourseWhat you read on the compass

What this all means is that you add west, subtract east down and add east, subtract west going up. Easy, huh? More to the point, it's useful information to know.

But wait, there's more. Three bearing sights, estimated time of arrival, set and drift, little known facts about how channels are marked. Lots of information that apparently no small number of boaters don't know or understand.

I found it fun and interesting. Although I knew how to plot courses and so forth, I exclusively used the magnetic compass courses. Converting to true is easy, and more precise.

The second weekend, however, was not as much fun. Rules of the road, lights and sounds. I can guarantee most boaters have no idea what the rules actually are. They do one of two things: ignore them or misinterpret them. Sailboats do not always have the right of way, for instance.

Although the rules are well defined, you could use this rule of thumb, called 'The Rule Of Tonnage'. The bigger boat has the right of way. Just go with that.

The rules have some logic involved - it's easy to figure out who had rights over whom. Lighting, however, and shapes have no such logic. It's pure memorization. There doesn't seem to be anything to link them together. Oh, and Inland rules differ ever so slightly from International rules.

The Mariners School site has practice tests - thankfully the Coast Guard uses the multiple guess form of testing, so for the most part you can figure out the answer. We'll see when I take the test on January 29. In the meantime, I take their random question tests at least twice a day.

Other than the fact it's a lot like work, I really enjoy the school though. It's been over 30 years since I learned anything in a group setting. Although I can go much faster by myself the social part of the learning can't be overlooked. A good instructor is absolutely essential, and we have that in spades.

There are four general categories resulting in four tests - Rules of the Road, Navigation, Deck General, and Plotting.

Plotting is the most time consuming and a pencil width can change your answer enough to get it wrong. As easy as it is to perform on a large table in a brightly lit room in a yacht club, you could imagine how it would be plotting on a small, poorly lit surface at some moving angle other than horizontal. You can really appreciate electronics give that scenario! However, if there's anything Captain Keith has beaten into our collective brains, it's that even with electronics, you'd better keep track on your chart of where you are, especially if the weather is deteriorating.

It seems like common sense. However, as Voltaire said, "Common sense isn't so common." But that's a whole other post.

This weekend coming up is the final class - Besides plotting, we'll be going through Deck General, which contains safety, fire fighting, and survival basics.

It's cold now, so I'm not on the water, but I will be soon! Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Welcome to 2007!

It's a new year, one filled with hope and dreams and a craving for sailing, chocolate, Yukon Jack, and fun. Not necessarily in that order.

As the winter wears on, in the eastern United States it's been relatively warm - seldom below 40 degrees, with some stunningly beautiful days. December 31st was one of them. My friend Jack and I went for a sail, short as it was.

December winds are like June winds, except colder. There's usually a good morning breeze and a fair one late in the afternoon, but between noon and three or four, nothing. There is a symmetry between November and May, December and June, January and August, and so forth.

Sadly, Inertia is empty of all the little toys and comforts that normally exist on her due to the sale. So no coffee on the water (no pot or cups) and all the systems are winterized.

But a sail is a sail.

Normally, January first is the day I go out with friends, but it was cold and rainy. So not this year.

For the next three weekends I'll be occupied with the OUPV Captain's License course given at the Nyack Boat Club. It should be interesting, and I'll keep everyone posted on how that goes. It's being given by the Mariner's School. It should be fun, informative, and if I can manage to remember everything and get all the necessary paperwork done, I'll be set.

That, incidentally, is the reason many people don't get their license - after passing the test, there's the physical, the eye exam, the proof of time on the water and a slew of other things.

Also, since I'm on the hunt for a new boat, there will be more on that front. As it is, I've decided that there's nothing about a Gulfstar that could possibly interest me.

I've found a new boat to consider - a Whitby 42. So I'll be looking into them, too. There are several on the market. We'll see.

But the days are getting longer, and warmer, and sunnier!

I hope to see you out there!