Following the Fast Track Yachtmasters
There are two main routes taken by those who would like to achieve the status of RYA Yachtmaster Offshore. One route is leisurely and the other is more intensive and hardcore. In what could be regarded as the more traditional route the candidate works their way through the progression of skipper exams (Day Skipper theory, Day Skipper practical, Coastal Skipper/ Yachtmaster Offshore theory, Coastal Skipper practical) one by one before finally sitting their Yachtmaster Offshore practical assessment. It is not uncommon for the student to take the different courses at different sailing schools in different locations. It is virtually always the case that it takes the student many years between taking their Day Skipper and their Yachtmaster exams. In my case it took more than half my lifetime! This route tends to suit leisure sailors fine. They have no urgent requirement for the qualifications and there are other commitments in their lives that vie for their attention. What though of the would-be professional skipper where the Yachtmaster ticket is essential to their career? This is where Yachtmaster fast track courses come in. They offer a "zero to hero" service. Generally those that embark on such courses have a reasonable amount of sailing under their belt and are certain that a career in yachting is for them; certain enough to part with many thousands of pounds and devote three months of their lives to the training.
The Scottish National Watersports Centre on the island of Cumbrae near Glasgow ran their first Professional Yachtmaster Training course this Autumn. I had the pleasure of joining them for several days in the classroom and five days out on the water about half way through their course. The four students taking part in the course were of mixed ages and formed a very nice (and humorous) bunch of people to hang out with.
The PYT course covers the RYA theory and practical qualifications that you would expect (Competent Crew, Dayskipper, Coastal Skipper, Yachtmaster Offshore) and the necessary shorter courses (first aid, VHF and sea survival). In my view this course stands out because of the additional courses that are included. Powerboat Level 2, ISAF Offshore Safety, Small Craft Radar, Diesel Engine Maintenance, Dinghy Start Sailing, Start Windsurfing and Watch Leader and all part of the package. As if this were not enough students also spend time with maintenance professionals who train them in the basics of rope work, sail repair, marine electronics, winch servicing, outboard maintenance and gel coat and fibreglass repair. Students also hoist a boat out to experience the wonders of antifouling and servicing anodes, sea cocks and pumps. The students sail on a range of production yachts (Moody 376, Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 40, Elan 36, Jeanneau Sun Fast 37) as well as the Spirit of Fairbridge (a victorian pilot schooner) and Alba Endeavour (an immensely seaworthy ex-BT global Challenge 72 and currently my favourite yacht) to provide them with a wide range of experience. Course participants are also showered with various freebies ranging from Gill Atlantic foul weather gear, sail repair kit, voltage tester and umpteen books. The final plus point for the Cumbrae offering is that all accommodation and meals are included (there is even a gym). Having accommodation provided is bound to be a huge selling point for the course because I know that in other parts of the UK candidates find it both tricky and expensive arranging their own short-term accommodation. The yachts are always fully victualled and when the students are taking part in their self sails they are provided with a victualling budget.
As someone who does the majority of his leisure sailing on the Clyde I know it well. The easy access to such beautiful waters makes it a very special place to sail. The Clyde and beyond is a very good place to gain a good depth of sailing experience. There are many sheltered areas to learn the basics in before moving into the Irish Sea and the rest of the Scottish west coast where students can experience strong winds (they had force 11 gusts when I was out with them), low visibility, tricky pilotage, traffic separation schemes and some of the strongest tides in the world. This not only sets them up well for their exam but also gives them the invaluable practical experience for their skippering career.
During our time at sea I had a good chance to quiz the students about their views of the course so far. They had chosen Cumbrae because it was cheaper, had accommodation included, was more varied and in a prettier location than other schools. When asked about the competency of the staff they immediately replied "fantastic" and "pretty awesome". If only I could say the same about my high school teachers! The candidates found the staff teaching the course to be "very approachable and knowledgeable". I would have to say that this is also my view. Both the staff leading the courses I sat in on were Yachtmaster examiners, yet remained very personable. No course of this scale is ever going to be perfect, especially in its first year. Despite this, when asked if the course had any bad points, the students were hard pressed to come up with anything of great significance. Pasta is served too often and the beds in the chalets are a bit saggy. They added that these are minor points indeed and that the centre was aware of these and was making changes to both.
Given the sheer amount of content in the course it is no surprise that when it came to the two days of practical assessment for their Yachtmaster tickets all four of the candidates passed (many congratulations to them). Add to that the relatively low price of the package and I think that it would be surprising if the places in the March and August 2009 courses are not snapped up very quickly.