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Left: The three-day course covers all the bases, including boat electronics. Right: Brian Pemberton looks on as the author practices docking.

front of them, but also be looking over their shoulder before moving port or starboard,” Pemberton explains. “The lookout serves as an additional set of eyes that are constantly scanning around the boat. Be sure to call out any boats or objects that appear, especially if they’re in the skipper’s blind spot.” A Saturday morning sailing race was underway, and Downs had us looking for bright orange race markers. “This boat here is most likely a judge, see how its bow swung to starboard? They are giving us a good indication of what they plan to do and we have plenty of time to maneuver around them.” Downs gave us the rules of the road (or water) lesson. “Generally, you should clearly indicate which direction you intend to go by turning and holding that heading. If there is any confusion about what an oncoming


Ch a n n els The Puget Sound area has many opportunities for those looking to improve their boating skills, whether it be power boating or sailing: San Juan Yachting offers multiday powerboating courses and guided flotillas. They can be reached at Seattle Boat Share provide multi-hour classes covering individual topics. They can be reached at Those looking to improve their sailing skills can checkout the beginner to advanced classes offered by Sail Sand Point at The Seattle Sailing Club provides courses certified by the American Sailing Association (ASA) and can be found at San Juan Sailing offers multiday sailing courses and guided flotillas. They can be found at


vessel intends to do, hailing them over the radio is an option.” As we passed Lummi Island, we took out the paper charts and got a lesson in plotting a course and reading the topography of a map. “See how one side of Lummi Island is flat, and the other is elevated? That’s reflected in the topography lines on the charts,” Downs says. “Now, you can see something similar in the water. The depth is marked in a similar way. Anything the boat might collide with, like rocks, reefs, or shoals, are also marked.” The day’s journey was my first experience of being at the helm for an extended period. Before today, I had never needed to pay attention to blobs on radar screens, charts, or how many knots we were making. My attention this day was pulled between watching the horizon, chart plotter, and the indistinct voices coming in over the VHF radio. Pemberton asked for opinions on where we would anchor for the night, listing a handful of possible locations. We settled on Prevost Harbor on Sinclair Island, and Pemberton asked me to change course slightly. After the decision was made, the sense of freedom and spontaneity that must come over everyone the first time they’re at the helm visited me, and I began to imagine how easy it would be to swing the bow north and head to Haida Gwaii or Alaska. It was the same thrill that teenagers feel when they get behind the wheel of their first car. Before, being on the water had all been about having fun on deck and taking in the sights, but with the added responsibility came another level of enjoyment.

Learning the Ropes We arrived in Prevost Harbor and decided it was the right time for a lesson in laying anchor. Pemberton displayed some hand signs meant to relay instructions to the cabin on how much chain to release. The bottom of the harbor was a dark mud that was perfect for anchoring, and Pemberton explained the technique of getting an anchor to dig in and the scope necessary for a secure set. “For a lighter anchor like the one we have, a scope of 1:5 is necessary, meaning if we were in 10 feet of water, we

would need to lay 50 feet of chain. The scope can go all the way up to 1:10 if we really wanted to be confident that we weren’t going anywhere.” We practiced launching the dinghy and took it for a cruise while Pemberton got dinner ready. The next morning docking practice began, with George, Annette, and me each taking turns at the wheel. Improvements came quickly with the guidance of Downs and Pemberton, and by mid-day, we were exponentially better than we had been that morning. Crew overboard drills followed the docking practice; a life ring was tossed in the water and the docking hooks came out. The three of us formed a communication chain with one on the flydeck, one with the hook, and the third calling instructions in between. I’m proud to say I only backed into our poor drifting crewman once. Thea pulled out of Prevost Harbor and headed toward Orcas Island. I was feeling pretty good about the successful docking practice and the clear weather we were lucky to have in early May. The night before during a course-plotting lesson, Annette worked with Pemberton to chart a course free of rocks and shoals.

Top to Bottom: Turn Point Lighthouse on Stuart Island; Docking practice in Prevost Harbor.

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