In my role as a master instructor trainer for the United States Sailing Association (US Sailing), I have been all over the United States.


Published: July, 2017


In my role as a master instructor trainer for the United States Sailing Association (US Sailing), I have been all over the United States. The association has sent me from Maine to San Diego, from Seattle to San Croix. However, I was surprised when US Sailing asked me to conduct a Basic Keelboat Instructor Course in Minnesota.


Yeah, I know it’s the land of 10,000 lakes—that’s what it says on the license plate. I just didn’t think of it as sailing country. Fishing, tubing, canoeing, power boating, water skiing, yes, but not sailing. I was certainly wrong about that.


So, there I was at the Wayzata Community Sailing Center (WCSC) on the north shore of Lake Minnetonka, about 15 miles west-southwest of downtown Minneapolis. Don’t let the “minne” part fool you. The name comes from the Dakota language, in which the phrase minn-ni-tanka means “big water.” At almost 15,000 acres, it is the ninth largest lake in the state. It’s about 10 miles long east to west, perhaps four or five miles north to south, with many arms, bays and coves. The WCSC hosts a series of Thursday night races that can have 30 to 40 boats at the starting line—and on a summer afternoon there can be over 100 sailboats on the lake.


The course I’d gone there to conduct, the US Sailing Basic Keelboat Instructor Course, is an entry-level course. It is required of all those who wish to teach and certify sailing students at US Sailing facilities. The course is three days long and examines the instructor candidates (the ICs) in a variety of areas and in several ways.


One element of this evaluation is a written test that probes the ICs’ knowledge of the navigation rules, weather, seamanship, and learning theories. They also have to take the written test that their students will have to take. No IC has ever failed the student test, it’s just a very good idea that they see it before they are teaching courses.


There is, of course, a sailing test. Each IC must demonstrate that he or she possesses the skills necessary not only to teach sailing but to be able to return a boat safely to a dock without the assistance of students. It’s called the single-handed sailing test. The skills are fundamental—tacking, gybing, reefing, overboard rescues (simulated with some sort of float, of course; we don’t put real people in the water), sailing away from and back to a dock. The goal is for the ICs to do all of this with grace and confidence; they will be, after all, role models.


In addition, each IC is required to do two classroom presentations on pre-assigned topics. One of those topics will be some aspect of learning theory, such as “handling student fears,” “classroom distractions” or “instructor responsibilities.” The topic of the second presentation will be sailing related, such as “tacking,” “how a sail works,” or “overboard rescue.” Because time management is an important skill for an instructor, these presentations are timed and are typically about eight minutes each.


For these presentations, it is important for the ICs to focus on a particular area of these rather broad topics, in order to have a logical and complete presentation within the allotted time. This often proves difficult for those without teaching experience. Finally, all US Sailing Instructors are required to prove their ability to swim and must also be CPR and first-aid certified.


On top of all that, this particular course had significant weather issues. The forecast for the second day of the three-day course (when the single-handed sailing test was scheduled) was for continuous, heavy rain with the possibility of thunderstorms. Sailing in the rain is one thing, but being on an open, flat surface with a tall metal pole in thunderstorms is foolish to say the least.


Everyone agreed that a quick rearranging of the proposed schedule was appropriate in order to do the on-shore portions of the program on the day thunderstorms were predicted. As it turned out, that was a really good move. We never heard thunder, but it did rain hard all the next day (over an inch and a half) with temperatures in the low to mid-40s. Being in the classroom that day certainly seemed the better option.


Ray Wichmann is a US SAILING-certified Ocean Passagemaking Instructor, a US SAILING Master Instructor Trainer, and a member of US SAILING’s National Faculty.  He holds a 100-Ton Master’s License, was a charter skipper in Hawai’i for 15 years, and has sailed on both coasts of the United States, in Mexico, the Caribbean and Greece. He is presently employed as the Master Instructor at OCSC Sailing in the Berkeley Marina.