Navigating By the Stars


I’ve always wanted to continue my Yachtmaster education by learning celestial navigation. Lindsay and I got our RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certifications in 2009 together in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England. It was challenging and very fun to do together.

Yachtmaster training is complete, we passed!
Yachtmaster training is complete, we passed!

It landed us a job in Belize in the end, but that’s a story in the archives now. Anyway, after that I was just sure that we would quickly get certified as RYA OCEAN YACHTMASTERS.

The RYA Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate has three parts:

1) THEORY – The RYA Certificate of completion is given after 40 hours of theory and written exam. This can be done online nowadays!

yachtmaster ocean theory

2) PRACTICE – An 800 nm journey offshore in a specified manner, in control of the vessel, successfully using celestial navigation along the way. Maybe we can incorporate this on a TALLSHIP vacation. Maybe, I’m still researching this.

yachtmaster ocean practical

3) EXAM – The Yachtmaster Ocean exam is an oral and written test of the knowledge of ocean passage making including planning, navigation, worldwide meteorology, crew management, yacht preparation, maintenance and repairs. We will also be questioned on sights taken at sea during an ocean passage.

yachtmaster ocean examination

This part can be pretty tense. The examiner is under no obligation to certify anyone, just because they paid for it and went through the steps. The applicant must instill confidence in the examiner, enough so that they would trust you with their family’s lives. That a lot of trust!

I thought it would be a good idea to put significant pressure on myself and confidently ordered business cards with the RYA Ocean Yachtmaster certification already listed.  But running the dive shop became more important. Three years later we are still not certified. I’m feeling the pressure now!

2014-12-25 10.22.42

So in order to make this thing happen, three years ago I went ahead and ordered a beginners sextant, which is used to “make sightings” but I have no concept of what I am looking for. I needed to study first. That’s what books are supposed to teach us, right?

Tadd’s not sure how to use this sextant thingy.

Here is the book that RYA recommends to read before starting the five day course. I’ve tried to read this book more than five times, with serious intent. I don’t think it’s written in a way that I learn. I THINK I GET IT UNTIL I HAVE TO ACTUALLY SOLVE A PROBLEM. Then I realize I’m crap at it.

photo 2

So I stopped trying. It seems appropriate that most of it has molded and the pages are ruined now.

photo 1

So today, Christmas day, I’m giving myself the gift of renewed enthusiasm and signing up for the online course to getting started again.

Yo ho ho, sextant, azimuth, rhumb.

Off to become Dive Instructors now

While we were traveling around Guatemala, Tadd & I were reminded, by a random poster in a random backpackers hostel, that we had considered becoming PADI scuba instructors when we had finished our Divemaster in 2009…

So fate or whatever kicked in, and we found out that we had just enough time to whizz off to the island of Utila off the north coast of Honduras, and do just that.

We grabbed up our backpack and all our diver gear and jumped in the first collectivo headed the right direction…
I took this while we still had room to take pictures
After crossing the border to Honduras, without much formality, we avoided the enticement of the taxi drivers and packed onto another ex-school bus headed to Puerto Cortez
We jumped off that bus, ran across the road and onto the next bus for San Pedro Sula
And after yet another bus, we made it to La Ceiba… but sadly not it time for the 4pm ferry to Utila… so we had a night to enjoy the “delights” of this coastal town.
Utila’s a great island, just 18 miles north of La Ceiba… full of backpackers and divers
With some interesting buildings
We spent most of the next two weeks either in the classroom, pool or shallow open water learning the ins and outs of safely teaching people to dive… and then we were ready for the two days of evaluations…
By this stage we were almost done and all very confident that we were going to pass…. Yay!
Tadd with our instructor Matt Awty
And me with our other instructor Rich Astley
We graduated amidst a great bunch of people at BICD… all-in-all a great bunch of people and fabulous instructors!!
There was quite a celebration with all our new instructor colleagues!
But before we knew it, it was time to make the slog back to Guatemala… our first mode of transport of the day…
and Tadd’s first Tuc-Tuc ride
It’s amazing what comes aboard the ferry with you sometimes!
We thought we were pros on the overland travel thing… until we discovered that heavy rains had washed out one of the bridges just on the Guatemalan side of the border… so the resourceful locals had set up lancha trips for a small fee
All part of the adventure!!
So we made it safely back to Rio Dulce, Guatemala and to our boat… just in time to pack up and head north.

We Survived… Woo Hoo!

So, it wasn’t easy… I don’t think either of us really slept for the first few nights… but we got lucky and had some really nice guests on board, who we believe had a wonderful time with us during that week… and Geoff didn’t have much criticism of our first charter… so I think we did ok!! Yay!!

I can’t say I can actually remember that much of the week at all… Hmm… or maybe that’s just the wine!

Talk about trial by fire… and then when we got back to the dock and saw the guests off on the Saturday… we had to turn the boat around and do it all over again from 5pm with another group!! Our real, first live charter!

There’s no substitute for getting started

Lindsay and I returned to Belize from our training charter in Antigua on December 3, 2009. We made our way back to the Tradewinds base in Placencia during the afternoon. Our dinghy “Ayelet” gave us a bit of trouble for having been left sitting for so long, so we finished the last leg of our travels under tow by a kind neighbor named Steve because our dinghy’s motor kept stalling. Thankfully, all was well when we finally made it back aboard.

The next morning, Lindsay and I were wondering what we would do with the next two weeks before our vacation with her family up in Ambergris beside, as Lindsay put it, “drive each other crazy.”

We started by sleeping until the sun heated up the boat. We put up our tarp for shade and got around to eating breakfast about ten. By eleven, we were both firing up our laptops and about to hoist the wifi booster when we saw Peter Rea, the TradeWinds Sales Manager aboard “Tank Boy”, coming out to see us as we swung on our anchor in a gentle breeze. I smiled and gave a big wave to him as he approached. He didn’t wave back. He came alongside and shut off the engine. Then he said something that I couldn’t quite comprehend, but it contained the words walk, job, and quit. Of course I asked him to repeat what he’d said even though I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to hear it again.

“Jason and Lindsay just quit. They’ve walked off the boat and I have guests arriving for a charter this afternoon on their boat. Can you go to work today?” Or it was mostly like that. I felt the anxiety skip all warning levels by twisting my stomach into a knot. I responded with, “Wow. I’m disgusted to hear that!” Peter replied with “I know Mate, believe me, I’m disgusted as well. I need you guys to take this charter. Will you do it?” I looked directly at Lindsay and wondered if she could figure a way out of this one. She looked back at me wide eyed and shrugged (I was desperately trying to think if there was any acceptable way of saying no!! Lx).

Lindsay and I both started talking at the same time convincing each other that this just is one of those things we have to do and there’s no other way and all that stuff. If we want the work, it looks like we have to do it right now. We might as well start out proving ourselves willing to go the extra mile right off the bat. So much for taking the time to drive each other crazy! “Are you going to come with us?” I asked, knowing that I didn’t have enough navigational information or any time aboard “Stess”, a Priveledge 45 catamaran weighing 14 tons. “I won’t send you out there alone, guys. Don’t worry. How much time do you need, we’ve got to get Stess ready.”

We negotiated one hour to pack and be at the base to provision the boat and get some information about the guests. Needless to say, things were a bit hectic at the dock that afternoon. We had lots of others helping us prepare food, checking lists and asking us what else we needed done. “How should I know?” was my eventual response, with a huge crazy smile! “Do I have enough Diesel?” The water tanks hadn’t been filled, Lindsay was rummaging through the cabinets, trying to find some sense of order. She was lugging huge bins of frozen food and veggies aboard, stowing them in all sorts of compartments. The base crew was busy cleaning the boat and we were all in each other’s way. The guests were expecting to walk aboard a boat ready to go in three hours. Peter arranged for Geoff, another captain with TradeWinds, to accompany us for assistance in navigation and to manage the membership process. He was expecting to have a week off and wasn’t happy about having to come out with us, but everyone pulled together to make the best out of what was given to us. That’s the most important point, performance under pressure. So what if I introduced Lindsay to our very first guest by my ex wife’s name? Everyone thought I was joking around when she corrected me! Lucky me.

Off Around the Island

Antigua postcard 1
At the end of November they sent us off to Antigua for another training charter… by then we had really become the whirlwind travelers … Belize… Miami… US Virgins Islands… British Virgin Islands and then finally to the Island of Antigua.
Antigua Postcard 2
While our new friends Dax & Kristyn were headed out on their first live charter, we jumped aboard “Passion” with at British couple Nick & Vanda and 3 couples and went out to explore what Antigua had to offer.

Antigua was a very different experience from the trips we do down here in Belize – you are cruising the waters around the big island, checking out all the different, little bays. There’s lots more ashore, from little hikes up to all the old forts…
Postcard of Antigua 3

So we had a great time exploring with Nick & Vanda and seeing how they run their charters.

All in all it was a great week, and we made some great friends… Nick & Vanda will be joining us in Belize, and we hope to catch up with Derek & Christine in the UK or Ireland sometime soon!

Hanging in here

View from Tortola

After our first training charter back in November, we were sent off to the British Virgin Islands for some land-based TradeWinds training. We met up with 3 other couples who were all about to launch into their TradeWinds debuts like us… we had a great camaraderie among the group and have enjoyed hearing about how they’re doing during the weekly staff meetings!!

And we had some fun running around the island on our day off… our lives at the hands of a crazy South African driver!

And then it was all over and we all went off into the TradeWinds sunset!

Busy Busy Busy

“So… do you want a job?” Peter stuck out his hand to me and asked, having spent another hour blowing us over with all reasons we really should “Join the Club” and work for TradeWinds. I’m not sure we could have said no even if I’d wanted too… but of course we didn’t want to!

A few days later, on the Saturday of Halloween, we zipped around the point of Placencia, into the canal, and into the controlled, craziness of changeover day with TradeWinds.

At 5pm the guests were invited on board of Restless Spirit(Privelege 47’) and we headed out with Captain Geoff and 1st Mate Anna, along with John & Miriam, Harvey & Ann, and Bert & Kay to really find out what this TradeWinds Cruise Club was all about.

Over the next 6 days, while we were cruising some of the many tiny little Cays of the reef east and southeast of Placencia we tried
to absorb as much as we could about how to cook, clean, entertain and generally dazzle the guests into loving the crew, the boat, the experience and everything about the fab concept and reality that is TradeWinds.

I spent A LOT of time in the galley… inevitable really feeding 10 people on a yacht… or at least it did seem that way, but there was still lots of time for many snorkeling trips, games of spoons and pickled pigs, and taking the helm and sailing the boat through the rain – we had a fair amount of it, thanks to Hurricane Ida passing around us (though we had no idea about her at the time!).

Tadd busied himself helping Geoff out around the boat, picking up cocktails (I mean learning how to make them!) and wooing the guests, which was a particular success when he pulled out our emergency moustaches.

The guests were loads of fun, a great mix of ages, backgrounds and personalities and I think we all mingled pretty well… it can be hard when you’re thrust on a 47-foot boat with a bunch of strangers! So, by the time we arrived back on the dock in Placencia Friday afternoon, we were quite a merry bunch as we headed out to a local restaurant.

All in all it was a fun time, with a lot to learn… but the main thing is that it didn’t turn us off the idea of chartering with TradeWinds, so after a bit of a debrief and a couple of days relaxing we headed off for the next step in the training process.

We mustached the group!

The Good News and…

The really good news!! After all these stimulating days here in Placencia borrowing, pilfering and even (gasp!) paying (highly) for wireless internet… we have a job!! AND… we don’t have to miss out on Christmas is San Pedro, Ambergris with my crazy family… extended family… random weird and whacky friends… and anyone else that turns up.

Did this miraculous job come from all those many, many, many emails we sent to random charter companies, I hear you ask? Well, no… not exactly.
It was kind of a referral from a the TMM charter people in San Pedro (who wouldn’t hire us) and we kind of tried to get hold of the local people here in Placencia… and ended up emailing their head base in the British Virgin Islands … there was a meeting a few weeks ago… and another meeting last night to clear up some details and get more information… and it was sealed with a shake and a hug!

We will be working for TradeWinds Cruise Club, running one of their catamarans. This coming Saturday we will be tagging along on another charter run by another couple to start learning what’s expected (read: helping out, but getting to sail to some other cays and snorkel, dive and generally schmooze with the guests). Then, when we get back the following Saturday we’ll have some time to debrief with Peter and Melissa (who run the local TradeWinds base here in Placencia) and then we fly to Tortola in the BVI for more training, followed by a couple more weeks on some supervised charters before we finally find out where we will be based.


The current hope is that we’ll get to come back to Belize and work here… but we won’t find that out until the training is done. In any case… IT IS A JOB!! Wooohooo! We had our back-up plan (well, of course I did!), but we were still getting a little concerned.

This way we’ll work for 6 months and then have a month off. During the six months we’ll work two charters followed by a week with a few days off and the rest of the week as prep/maintenance for the following two weeks of charters.

Bring it on!!

Gleb gleb gleb

Elkhorn Coral

It was a little strange being in San Pedro without Dave and Corinne (happy travels!) but we found something to help fill the void.

Tadd and I had talked about continuing our PADI training in hopes of having some fun and also making ourselves even more employable, so having talked to a bunch of dive shops on the island, I set out to get my Rescue diver cert with Crazee Eddie.

Crazy Eddie

The whole thing only took a couple of days and Tadd was able to come along for a free dive one morning so not too shabby. Eddie was fun, but being slow season here, he didn’t have many students lined up, so we decided to go with Ecologic Divers (next door) for our Divemaster certifications as they had a steady stream of people through their doors.

It may not have been the cheapest place in the world to divemaster, but we were already here… with a free place to live.. and had begun to get to know the island a little and where to get cheap food and shopping. And as we were going to spend 3 weeks training we reckoned the number of dives we would get to do would outweigh a cheaper location that would just push us quickly through the course.

Ecologic Dock

So we began our life as, “lower than whale sperm,”  according to Steve Lee (one of our instructors at Ecologic).

The diving was great and we got lots of dives in! We spent just under 4 weeks hanging and training with Steve, Junior, Shelley, Juanita, Charlie, Marcos… and all the other quirky characters at the dive shop.

We got to go to lots of the different sites outside the reef with the long finger canyons of coral reef that reach out east from the Meso-American Mayan Reef (2nd biggest in the world) that stretches south from the Mexico to Belize and beyond) and dive with up to 14 nurse sharks at once, spotted eagle rays, turtles, moray eels, giant grouper and dozens of other multicolored species of fish, corals and sponges. We even got to go dive the wall at the Elbow of Turneffe Cay, as well as exploring the Hol Chan channel by night (Tadd’s first night dive!).

Ecologic tanks

But one of the most memorable dives was the day I spotted a poor yellow-tailed snapper with a hook in it’s mouth… I pointed it out to Tadd who gestured to indicate that it was done for… and so he grabbed the end of the fishing line dangling from the hook (hoping to trail the fish back to boat and for our dinner!) … but the snapper was having nothing to do with that plan and began to swim around like a crazy fish… Charlie the divemaster reckoned he could get the hook out and took over… at which point a big, black grouper came close by… and then out of nowhere the black grouper whizzed up from somewhere beneath us and inhaled the snapper, the hook, the fishing line and almost Charlie’s hand in one huge, and amazingly audible gulp… and it was all over!!

The challenges of underwater fishing I guess!