By Carlos Harrison
For those who’ve dreamed of sailing off into the sunset – and back – a “sail-cation” is the perfect way to build sea skills, and enjoy a relaxing cruise at the same time.
There's water, water everywhere. So why just let it lap at your feet?
There are two-, three- and five-day learn-to-sail getaways that give folks the pluses of a bareboat cruise, along with Coast Guard certified sailing instruction.
In short, for about what it costs for a three-star hotel, students get to sail from Coconut Grove down to the Keys and back again as they learn to sail both the bay and ocean waters. Singles or couples sleep aboard in comfortable cabins, and get plenty of time for sightseeing and dining (and drinking) stops.
“You don’t realize how beautiful Miami is until you see it from the outside,” says Jose Gras, owner of a construction services company.
Manny Barrera, an electrical contractor, came to the lessons with a long-term goal, and he brought his wife.
“What I want to do as I get farther along is to sail the islands with her,” he says.
The Barreras took a weekend class together, then she handed off to him. He’s working his way up through the levels – learning everything from which mooring line to let loose first and which anchor to use on which kind of sea-bottom, to navigating by dead-reckoning (just in case) and the maritime rules of the road.
The most fun, of course, is when they actually get to take the helm and guide the 36-foot Hunter sloop Sun Breeze through her paces.
“Stand by to come about!” Mike Phelps, a manager for an events company, commands. Barrera and Gras spring into action, each grabbing a winch and calling to each other to match pace as one releases and the other cranks in the lines controlling the mainsail.
“You outhaul and I’ll follow you,” Barrera says.
“Come about!” Phelps calls.
Originally from Connecticut, Phelps came to the sailing certification class for the inescapable reason that, living in Florida, it seemed wrong not to.
“Miami is a great place to learn how to sail. You can sail year-round. You don’t have this opportunity many other places,” he says. For him, “The ultimate end-goal is to be able to take a couple days trip to the Bahamas.”
Cutting across Biscayne Bay on a near-perfect day, with puffy clouds above and the sun sparkling on the water, it’s almost as if nature is trying to make his point.
“This is just awesome!” Barrera chimes in with a grin. “This is one of the great places to sail.
“You have this,” he continues, sweeping a hand out at the bay. “Then you go down to Card Sound and you have the Keys and you have the Ten Thousand Islands area. And if you want a longer sail, you’ve got Bimini.”
Their instructor and operator of the SailTime Miami franchise, Jim Brinckerhoff – “Capt. Jim” on his website and voice mail – started sailing as a kid. He went through the Merchant Marine Academy, and kept hoisting sails on the Great Lakes as he rose through the ranks at a construction materials manufacturer in Chicago.
Retired from that career, Brinckerhoff now is dedicated to showing others how to find the same joy he found on the water, pushed by the wind, and giving them the training they need to be able to charter a boat at any port in the world.
“Once you have these certifications, you can go anywhere,” he says.
The Barreras, he says, are typical of empty-nester couples who take his courses.
“The kids are out of the house and they want to pursue the dream of sailing.”
One of the attractions, of course, is that the students learn by doing – which means taking the helm, handling lines, cranking winches ... and having fun. The courses are a minimum of two days, with the option to spend the night aboard the comfortably appointed, and relatively roomy, vessel. It has a full galley with refrigerator, freezer, stove and microwave; an electric head (no pesky hand pumping) with shower; and air-conditioning.
Even the kids are welcome, for an additional fee.
The most advanced course spans three days and two nights, and includes anchoring out overnight off Key Largo. Folks can also turn one or more of the classes into a five-day, four-night class/cruise to the Keys and back, with the promise of at least one Happy Hour, and dinner if desired, at a tiki bar on shore.
Similar classes, with different destinations, are available in Tampa and St. Augustine.
The courses, however, should come with a warning. Sailing, Jose Gras says, can be addictive. On the days when he’s stuck on shore, he gets his seafaring fix studying sailing techniques and ogling boats on YouTube.
“I’ve got all the apps,” he says. “My Facebook page changed from cigars to boats.”
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