Captain Confidence: Turning Closing Day Jitters into Seamanship Success

You went to a boat show, just to look, but then something crazy happened—you ended up buying a boat! For those of you who threw caution to the wind, congratulations!


My husband and I ordered a Leopard 42 catamaran at the Annapolis Sailboat Show in October 2021. Then we waited while our boat was being built by Robertson & Caine in South Africa. Finally closing day arrived in February 2023, but a strange phenomenon occurred. We felt nervous and anxious rather than excited. What happened? And what could we do about it?


Handover day comes and the reality of catamaran ownership sets in

There are so many things to do, to buy and to learn! Perhaps you’re making after-market changes—adding a custom marine canvas enclosure; installing solar panels, a water-maker, lithium-ion batteries, the list can be long. Your boat will be crawling with people working hard to tear it up and put it back together again. 


You also realize that there are many things to learn about how to safely operate this huge chunk of machinery in unknown territory! You may have chartered sailboats for one- or two-week vacations in the islands as Kevin and I have done. We thought we were a smooth-operating machine with clearly identified roles and mastered tasks. We were skilled at anchoring off islands and catching mooring balls.


But how in the world do you maneuver this big, heavy beast in busy, bustling channels—of Ft. Lauderdale, for example—when there are currents and winds that could push you into a dock, a bridge, a sea wall, or other boats? How do you dock in a tight space in a raging current? How do you remove yourself from a dock when there’s a boat docked only feet from your bow (front) and stern (rear)? We never docked in the islands. How do you hold a big boat steady while waiting for a bridge to open? The islands don’t have bridges.


The struggle is real, folks, and we felt the weight of it only after closing on our boat. We needed a little help to allay our fears!


Enter Captain Calvyn McEvoy. 


After three days of training, our worries turned into confidence.



Day 1 with Captain Calvyn

Calling in my first bridge opening: “17th Street Bridge, this is northbound sailing catamaran Tonic requesting opening.” 

17th Street Bridge: “Sailing catamaran Tonic, please stand by....”


My cynical thoughts: Ok, I mean, we’re only a 42-foot catamaran, I can stand by in this channel with wind pushing and current pulling and all the traffic of booze cruises and private motorboats and yachts and kayakers and container ships and cruise ships and jet skis … totally no problem … take your time.


Until I managed to do just that, with the help of Captain Calvyn, of course. Like a smooth tango dancer, I moved our Leopard back and forth ever so gently swaying in the current, like a leopard in the winds of the wild waiting to pounce on prey! But the prey was the opening of the bridge ahead of me and it was time to pounce! But slowly … without wake!


Moments later, I realized we were one of those masts that pass through the open bridge, stopping traffic on both sides, and I smiled. Then I realized there were probably hundreds of people cursing at us right about now—I could only think, thank you…so sorry!


But there was no time for niceties because it was Spring Break weekend and St. Patrick’s Day, and it was gusty, and I was focused on boat traffic and contemplating whether others ever completed the “US BOATING SAFETY COURSES” because some of those maneuvers out there didn’t look legit! But then I shrugged and thought with guilty consolation, “Well, we’re bigger,” as I moved Tonic forward … slowly. 


After passing under 17th Street Bridge: “This is sailing catamaran Tonic. Thank you for opening.” 

17th Street Bridge: “Sailing catamaran Tonic, you’re very welcome, Cap!” (Squeal, someone just called me Cap!) 


We also practiced going into canals, pivoting the boat around 180 degrees and anchoring. We enjoyed making sandwiches and living that relaxed lifestyle … for about 30 minutes … then it was time to head back through the crazy busy channels, and the adrenaline kicked in again. I let my husband Kevin take the helm, so he could experience the thrill of opening bridges and being called “cap!”


My biggest takeaway from Day 1 besides—Holy cow, I can maneuver this thing?!—was that sailing is a sport! We threw lines, squatted, pulled lines, maneuvered, tied fenders, anchored and practiced docking multiple times in narrow spaces with all kinds of traffic. Kevin and I were mentally and physically exhausted, but we were slowly gaining confidence.



Day 2 Training with Captain Calvyn

The biggest lesson of today: with the correct angle, you can harness the power of currents (and/or wind) to maneuver your vessel in tight spaces. You can even parallel park! Who knew?!


Kevin put this into practice when he managed (with Calvyn’s calm guidance) to seamlessly dock up to the Tiki Tiki restaurant on a busy canal in a strong current right by the Dania Beach Bridge while the entire restaurant watched … no pressure! Without direction from our captain, we would never have attempted such a tricky maneuver, but Captain Calvyn allowed Kevin to control the gears while he instructed. And voilà! We were docked like we knew what we were doing!


After lunch, we each practiced heading down a canal and pivoting the boat around, performing a 180-degree pirouette, like Dances with Leopards, then approaching and pivoting off docks and holding Tonic in place, while the other threw lines around pilings and cleated them off quickly. We did this until we were both 100% confident!


At the end of the day, the wind picked up as we entered our dock and, it wasn’t pretty, but we managed to bring Tonic home without any scratches, holes or dents! I call that a success, with learning curves!



Day 3 with Captain Calvyn McEvoy—our final and favorite day!

We raised the main, unfurled the jib, turned off both engines and sailed Tonic across the ocean at 7.6 knots! We saw dolphins that jumped straight toward the starboard (right) side of our boat and then swam along with us! 


Out in the elements with the wind in your face and dolphins at your bow, magic happens! You become one with the forces of nature and, for a moment, you are master of a large, wild, white horse with a gray mane galloping across a deep blue field! You feel the force of the wind in your sails and the power of the ocean waves surging underneath you and the strength of your boat as she lifts and drops and tilts and soars over it all! It feels … majestic! 


Sailing seems daunting and scary and wild and unpredictable, and you respect that it’s exactly all of these things, and perhaps that’s why you feel so alive when you brave the seas, and perhaps that’s why it’s so addicting!


After heading back into the channels, we practiced maneuvering towards and pivoting off docks again, just to make sure we mastered the most valuable of lessons! When the wind started to gust, we decided it was a good time to bring Tonic home, but she had conspired against us with her friend, Wind, and they weren’t about to be told what to do, nor go quietly, so the GAME was ON! 


Calvyn, Kevin and I were armed with a plan and ready for battle with our fenders in place and our lines ready! Kevin was at the helm and approached our dock slowly. Calvyn and I were on the forward deck and threw our “lassos” around the head of the piling, then put a few wraps around two cleats on the bow to keep Tonic’s nose in place!


This made Tonic and Wind mad, and they fought like wild horses who didn’t want to be caught! Wind swirled around us angrily, pulling my long hair and encouraging Tonic to wreak havoc. Calvyn and I kept our lines tight but released the pressure and took up the slack when necessary while Kevin managed to control Tonic’s gears and pivot her rear. She tried to break free several times, but after a while, she resigned to our control, and finally, the beast was back in her cage!


Tonic and Wind put up a fierce fight, but we emerged victorious! Exhausted and laughing at the battle we just won, we decided to calm our revved nerves and rush of adrenaline by practicing tying all the most-used knots. Then we sat down to talk about the adventure of the past 3 days and all that we learned. 



Reflecting on the days behind us

Without these intense training sessions, taught by our patient and calm captain, Kevin and I would never have been confident enough to sail and dock our boat up the east coast of Florida to Georgia for an entire week in all kinds of weather conditions—rainstorm, winds, strong current, you name it. There was no fear. The only thought that survived was, “We’ve got this … thanks to Captain Calvyn!


So, if you have closed on your dream boat but are feeling anxious rather than excited, I highly recommend hiring a captain for three days of training! It’ll turn your fears and worries into confidence and happiness! You’ve got this!


This is Sailing Catamaran Tonic…Over and Out!

Topics: Boat Buying Process, Owner Stories

Nicole O'Donohue

Nicole is a Swiss-American who loves being a mom, owning her own business, writing, and sailing her Leopard 42, Tonic. She looks forward to sharing tales of sailing adventures with fellow cruisers.


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