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This is the outline for the offshore sailing course, January 2016.


Offshore Sailing Shore School


You know that MIT has a fabulous river sailing program, but did you also know that MIT also has an offshore sailing program, where you can sail MIT's 43-foot boat, X-Dimension, in Boston Harbor, to P-town, along the Maine coast, and even to Halifax, Nova Scotia?

The purpose of this IAP course is to show you that sailing a 43-foot boat differs from dinghy sailing only in degree: the boat and sails are bigger, you can stay out longer (days!), and you don’t have to come back to the dock at night. We are offering 8 sessions that will cover the fundamental and practical aspects of large boat sailing, with the goal of making everyone feel equipped with the knowledge to feel comfortable sailing along the coast. The classes will cover keelboats, weather, navigation (including celestial navigation), safety at sea, racing, and chartering a boat in the Caribbean.

No prior knowledge of keelboats or sailing is required (though the latter is very helpful); just an interest in learning about sailing in the salt water.

Times: Tues/Thurs 6:30-8:30


Tue Jan 5th: Introduction to Keelboats - Eric Brown

Whether you're out for a day sail or crossing the ocean, you'll need to understand the various onboard systems. This session provides basic knowledge of the typical coastal cruising sailboat -- structure, rigging, electrical, engine, navigation, etc. Attendees will learn the nautical terms for things (the galley, not the kitchen), feel comfortable finding their way around a boat, and get a sense for life aboard at sea.

Thurs Jan 7th: Navigation #1 - Ted Young

Where are you? How will you get to your destination safely? In this course we will cover the basics of coastal navigation, including how to read nautical charts, identification of navigation aids, proper compass use and the rules for safe navigation.

Tue Jan 12th: Navigation # 2 - Ted Young

In part two of this introduction to coastal navigation, we will further discuss skills for safe navigation, including understanding of tides and currents, as well as techniques for using electronic devices such as depth sounders, GPS, and RADAR.

Thurs Jan 14th: Weather - Eric Brown and Scott Dynes

You’ve probably heard ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning’, but did you ever wonder why that is so? In this session we will cover many aspects of weather as it related to sailing, including:

  • Weather basics: high and low pressure, warm and cold fronts, and what it all means for the sailor.
  • Observational weather - what can you tell about future weather based on what you are seeing now?
  • NOAA weather forecasts - there’s a lot of information, and we will make sense of it.
  • How to get weather information at sea, when there is no 6 o’clock news.

Tue Jan 19th: Safety at Sea - Scott Dynes

This session covers what you need to know to be safe sailing bigger boats offshore. Topics covered will include:

  • Personal responsibility and managing risk
  • What to wear
  • On the boat and boat handling
  • Communication
  • Things to keep you safe (e.g. harnesses and tethers)
  • Things to keep others safe (e.g. man overboard procedures)
  • Sailing in different kinds of weather

To the extent possible we will demonstrate equipment and procedures.

Thurs Jan 21st: Racing - Adam Traina

Racing is a very fun and very effective way to learn how to sail well; you are on a boat with expert sailors who are helping you to correctly trim, drive, navigate and in general sail the boat. In this session we will introduce sailboat racing and cover a broad range of topics that will enable you to have fun while racing keelboats. Topics we will cover include:

  • what does it even mean to race boat that are really different?
  • different types of races: courses, regular vs. chase races.
  • the basic racing rules of sailing
  • starts (very different from auto race starts!)
  • sail trim
  • racing and sailing tactics

Tue Jan 26th: Chartering a boat - Tim Hall

If you have some experience sailing, there's a good chance you can charter a boat in the Caribbean and elsewhere. This session discusses the practical aspects of arranging for and sailing a charter in the Caribbean. Topics we will talk about include:

  • Choosing crew
  • Checking out the boat (what to look for)
  • Provisioning the boat
  • Cooking on board and planning meals
  • What to bring and how to dress
  • Clearing customs and sailing among the islands of different countries
  • Seasickness

Chartering is much easier than you imagine - and the water really is bluer in the Caribbean!

Thurs Jan 28th: Celestial Navigation - Adam Traina

Before there was GPS, there were the stars. Ocean voyagers have used the stars to generally navigate for millennia, and precisely navigate since the invention of the marine chronometer. In this session we will go through the theory and practice of celestial navigation; we hope to have enough sextants to allow for hands-on activities. While you will not walk away from this class knowing how to navigate by the stars, you will know why and how it works, and what to do next if you want to learn celestial navigation in detail.


Boat Maintenance

Offshore Sailing - Bill Seifert

Sail and Rig Tuning - Ivar Dedekam


The Annapolis Book of Seamanship - John Rousmaniere

Celestial Navigation - Tom Cunliffe


NOAA National Maps:

NOAA Marine Forecast by Zone (Coastal):

Boston Harbor Marine Forecast:

Passage Weather:

North Atlantic Weather Fax Charts:

Gulf Stream and Offshore Weather:


The Boat Who Wouldn't Float - Farley Mowat

40,000 Miles in a Canoe - Voss

The Perfect Storm - Sebastian Junger