Albert Einstein once quipped that an education is what remains after you forget everything you learned in the classroom. At QBE (Qualified By Experience), we try to keep sailing instruction to a minimum and let crew members learn the ropes by themselves. That includes navigation. We teach participants how to do it, but then it’s up to them to chart their courses. Given a number of choices based on tides, wind, and weather, crew members decide where they want to go and how to get there. Sometimes, things go pear-shaped. For example, once in the Mediterranean, a crew set out for St.-Tropez, in France, and wound up instead in Sanremo, in Italy. Mistakes happen. But everybody learned something about nautical navigation that day.
We use the boats we use because they are small enough for neophytes to sail without a lot of hands-on supervision. Of course, an instructor/skipper is always on hand to make sure the boat and crew are never in danger—and to answer questions—but our crew members are largely on their own after a few days of orientation. In fact, one of the biggest challenges we face is getting our skippers to shut up, stand back, and avoid the temptation to “over-teach.” When people learn by experience, they tend not to forget the lessons they learn.