The Debate on Sail Training at the Maritime Academies

This comment was posted on LinkedIn today by a 2003 graduate from the US Naval Academy in response to the USNI article we posted about 10 months ago about sail training at the Academies:

I was on the Varsity Offshore Sailing Team as well as trained Plebes, and 2nd class Mids in the CSNTS program. I made three trips to Bermuda, two to Newport, RI, and one to New London. I circumnavigated the Delmarva Penninisula five times. What training could replace the self reliance trained by putting Mids in charge of a vessel and tasking them with inspecting, provisioning, navigating, communicating, mooring, and sailing the vessel in open seas. The best sailboat handlers start in dinghies before moving up to larger boats because of the increased response the boat provides as a result of minor movements/adjustments.

I did a month on an amphib out of San Diego along with 60+ other Mids. We only got underway one day. During that one day underway, I went from being an aspiring SWO to an aviator because it highlighted to me that SWO’s by and large are not capable mariners (I remember that was supposed to be part of USNA’s mission). The way that ship and many others are operated is unseamanlike largely due to the fact that people are qualified without having any practical sailing experience.

The CO scheduled the ship to return to San Diego Harbor on a Wednesday evening (a time that sailboat regattas are always scheduled.) Upon return to port, the harbor was filled with literally hundreds of sailboats in multiple regattas. The CO didn’t understand why the boats were not moving out of his way after he blocked their wind with his massive Marine Corps school bus so he did what any competent sailor would do… Lay on horn, announce that the sailboats were violating the law by being within 100 yards of a US Navy Warship, then Lowered RHIBS with mounted 50 cals to physically push the immobilized sailboats out of his way. That day, I hoped a senator happened to be aboard one of those boats, but regardless, I was forever embarrassed by the way the US Navy was represented.

If you listen to the VHF while sailing on the Chesapeake, you will hear the airwaves constantly polluted with “US Navy Warship…get out of my way” announcements. Why is it that civilian merchant ships professionally hail any vessels that have a potential for collision to coordinate safe passage, but the Navy does so in an unseamanlike manner?

The Mids need to be underway on small boats overnight or they will never understand the environment that they will be operating in.

How many of the nay-sayers have been aboard sail training craft for a CSNTS training cruise?

Rob, you have pulled the cover off a big problem with today’s navy. Apparently we don’t want “sailors” manning our warships, just specialists who push buttons and have little regard for anyone else on the water. I learned to sail when I was 8 and agree about the valuable skills you learn inherent to the profession of operating a seagoing vessel whether it’s a warship or commercial vessel. Great post!