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The Stephen Gray Family recently won and completed a Live Aboard Cruising Course at Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina in Ft. Myers Beach, FL. Hear about their experience in this interview by Cruising World Editor-At-Large Elaine Lembo.

The Grays, who traveled all the way from the United Kingdom, won this course as recipients of Offshore Sailing School’s 50th anniversary prize.

1. How much sailing experience did your family have before you took the Offshore Sailing School course?

Not much! Living by the Norfolk Broads in the UK I had crewed a support boat for some races on a 28′ twin keel yacht but that was enough to spark an interest, despite the need for constant tacking on the rivers!

2. Which course did you start with at Offshore Sailing School? Where did you learn to sail? Did you stay aboard overnight or at the resort?

We started with the Offshore Sailing School 5 Day Learn to Sail course on Fort Myers Beach, FL staying at the Pink Shell Beach Resort with classes in the morning at the resort and sailing in the afternoon.

3. UK has great sailing schools — why did you decide to come to the U.S. and learn from Offshore Sailing School instead of say, take an RYA course closer to home?

So we had a few things at play here.

The starting point was deciding on a summer holiday (sorry, vacation) with a good dose of warmth and sunshine, however sitting on the beach all day every day is not our thing.

family on live aboard cruising vacationWe are a close family and have always enjoyed going away together but lately had found our teenage children getting more and more immersed in their ‘tech’ (a word they hate me using but it’s easier than saying ipad, ipod, phone etc etc!), usually the first question asked when we were out somewhere is ‘what’s the wi-fi password?’, that’s of course if they don’t have their phones! So we needed something totally new and a challenge – we had been thinking about sailing for awhile as a new interest as we live close to an inland waterway and something we could all do.

Also, as the children continue to grow we have always strived to open their eyes to new experiences but as they get older it becomes more difficult to find things that engage longer term so we decided to do a family sailing course – but where? As you say the UK is not short of great sailing schools but we didn’t really find anything that suited as a family course that we could all do together.

Hours of searching and investigating brought us to Offshore Sailing School on Fort Myers Beach with what seemed like the perfect mix of learning, doing and downtime.

Actually, up to the first day of the course we had been very vague with the children about the classroom part and it was only when we were actually walking to the classroom I let slip we had 3 hour lessons each day with a test at the end – ‘you are kidding’ was I recall the first thing that was said, fair enough after our eldest had only a few days previous completed her GCSE exams. We made it through the first classroom session thanks to a great instructor although it wasn’t until we actually pulled away from the mooring and got underway that, almost instantly, they were hooked. We haven’t looked back since.

The Pink Shell Beach Resort is comprised of condominiums which was perfect; great for downtime without being on top of each other and great to explore the local area.

4. Did you buy a boat after taking the course — were you ready for boat ownership at that point? Is that why you entered the 50th anniversary contest?

Nearly – having decided sailing was worth a look we went searching for a boat about the same time as finding a course, thinking it would be a good idea to at least have some knowledge of how to sail if we were going to move forward.

In fact the purchase of the boat completed just as we finished the course so it was a good thing we passed! As for the contest, well we had such a great time coming away refreshed and with renewed ‘mojo’ it was a good opportunity to say thanks and share what a difference learning to sail with Offshore Sailing School had made. Also, throwing ourselves into sailing on our boat we had already started looking at the next set of courses to maintain the momentum – little did we suspect we would actually win one of the prizes!

Here again is another example of why we really value Offshore Sailing School – the actual prize was for a live aboard skippered cruise along the Florida Gulf coast, including a chef, a fantastic opportunity but for us with the children it is the “doing” that is the challenge and motivation. Steve and Doris Colgate were fantastic, they totally understood this and offered to convert the prize into the live aboard course – exactly what we were looking for.

5. Tell me in your own words what the live aboard course taught you and your family that you didn’t know before you took the course.

live aboard cruising graduatesWe learned that we could all sail a 44′ boat and pass the test! It doesn’t actually matter how big the boat is, the principles are the same – it’s things like getting the bow into the wind to ease pressure on the sails to raise them, preventing accidental jibes (sorry about that one Joelle!!!), giving the crew time if things don’t go as planned, using prop walk, springing off a mooring, and controlled man overboard rescue from full sail at a good speed.

Gaining a sense of achievement with something that seemed out of reach – the look of sheer pride when the girls plotted a course while under sail and we reached the right marker in the right place at the predicted time, priceless! Let’s not forget reversing through the marina countless times. A lot is of course down to our excellent Offshore Sailing School instructor Joelle, the right mix of professionalism, patience and fun to engage us all. We worked hard to complete the course, had fun along the way and now all have our IPC’s – as the children go through college and university interviews it’s always surprising just how many of the interviewers either sail or are really interested to know more.

The sheer pleasure in cooking steaks on the marina grill after a long day sailing, discussing the day’s adventures and planning the next day.

Oh, and that I don’t get many opportunities to be skipper, although to be fair I knew this from the Learn to Sail course.

It’s also the knowledge that each sail will be different from the last – never a dull moment, particularly with the British weather but it’s all great experience, the more wind the better…within reason.

6. Last, share your perspective on how sailing influences and directs lives.

live-aboard-cruising-certificateFor a start you don’t have to own a boat to get involved, although of course you can do more when you have one – we have enjoyed the challenge of upgrading the boat and making modifications as well as meeting and making many new friends.

It’s for all ages and nothing is impossible.

It is a life changer – in both a mental and physical way – I was actually going to say it totally immerses you although that’s not really the idea…it’s such an energising activity that you really can do as little or as much with as you like. It would be fair to say it is like joining a diverse community where everyone is still learning and enjoying the journey.

Life throws us many challenges, if you can just find the opportunity get out on the water and sail – it might not necessarily solve anything directly but it will give your energy, enthusiasm and outlook a boost – refreshing the mojo.

Interested in your own sailing adventure? Tell us what you’re looking for and someone from Offshore Sailing School will help you plan the perfect sailing experience.

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