My ASA Certified Sailing Instructor

Many of our fellow rum race crew mates are currently or have been American Sailing Association instructors. However, I was surprised when Mary announced to me that she had decided to sign up for the instructor course to begin teaching ASA 101, Basic Keelboat Sailing. Thus began a very intense four weeks of studying and sailing.

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While Mary had passed the ASA 101 class three years ago, it’s not like we sit around discussing the parts of the boat or the center of effort. I mean, half the time when we’re about to tack I yell something like “tally-ho” because I can’t remember what you’re actually supposed to say.

Her books arrived and she spent every waking hour for at least two weeks memorizing names of lines, parts of the boat, rules of the road, and the meanings of all those strange flags with different amounts of dots.

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Many, many years ago at Scout Camp I taught Small Boat Sailing merit badge, but it was nothing close to the intensity of the ASA test. In fact, we had several friends who said, “You’ll probably think you failed it, but it’s made to crush your ego, so make sure you come back the next day.”

Then came the practical. She had to sail solo (which she’d never done before) on small boats with tillers (which she’d never used before) and start and run an outboard (which she’d never tried before). There was a lot to learn, so we spent two days laying down tracks that looked like this.

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It was a rough start. For the first hour, things did not look good, and my coaching and commentary was not too appreciated. Then, suddenly, it clicked! After that it was just tack after tack, jibe after jibe, setting and naming every point of sail. Then came figure eights for the man overboard drills. She was on fire!

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When the weekend of her course arrived, she scored a 96% on the written test and passed her practical and her teaching exam with flying colors. She walked out with a written recommendation from the instructor for every sailing school in the area.

To say that I’m proud would be an understatement. In the past year she’s gone from having anxiety attacks when the boat heels to crewing in rum races, making offshore passages, and now instructing classes.

Way to go, Mary! I love you.

Flying, connections, weather, and the total breakdown of all customer service

Maybe I’m spoiled from the years of business travel, but I prefer direct flights. If I’m going to fly, I want to get there fast.

Mary, on the other hand, prefers cheap flights. She doesn’t care how many connections we have to make as long as it is cheap.

For our trip to Port St. Joe, we found cheap flights on American Airlines from Houston to Tallahassee via Dallas. I’ll admit, they were a bargain. Stress free mass transportation without the hassle of driving, right?

Not exactly.

We had to leave the house at 5 a.m. for the hour-long drive to the airport to make our flight at 8 a.m. Mary had booked us seats together, but when we checked in, we were in different rows. However, American Airlines offered to move Mary back into her original seat beside me for only $28.50. Then they charged her another $25 to check a bag.

We made it to Dallas by 9:30 a.m. Our flights were being handled by American Eagle, a regional carrier, and I think Oscar the Grouch might have been their hospitality trainer, but at least we were on time, and we still had high spirits in Dallas while we sat around all morning waiting for our connection.

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We finally made it into Tallahassee by 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rental car for the two-hour drive to Port St. Joe. We pulled into the rental house, just after 6:30 p.m.

At this point our total Thursday travel time was 13.5 hours. We had also paid $150 each for the flights there and the rental car was going to be $200 for the weekend plus gas.

Total drive time from Houston to Port St. Joe is 10 hours, and it would have cost us about $75 in gas.

I kept trying to convince myself that we had avoided all the traffic jams, road construction and crazy drivers, but by the end of the day I was thinking that maybe those cheap tickets weren’t such a good deal.

Then it came time to fly home on Sunday. The weather in Florida was great. The weather in Houston was great. Unfortunately, the weather in Dallas was terrible. They were having thunderstorms and tornadoes all afternoon.

After making the two-hour drive from Port St. Joe to Tallahassee we arrived at the airport by 1:30 p.m. for our 4:15 p.m. flight and attempted to check-in. Due to flight delays the automated kiosks wouldn’t issue boarding passes. We got in line. While still standing in line to check-in at 2 p.m., it was announced that all flights to Dallas were canceled. While still standing in line to change our ticket at 2:30 p.m. an announcement was made to call the American Airlines 1-800 number to change our tickets over the phone. Upon calling this number we were greeted by an automated message that said, “We are currently experiencing high call volume, please try your call again later,” which was followed by a click as it hung up on us. We continued calling periodically as we waited in line for the next hour and never got through. When we finally hit the ticket counter at 3:30 p.m., American Airlines had nothing to offer us and no way to get us home before Tuesday at midnight.

Needless to say, we decided to just have them issue a refund for the return flights and headed back to the car rental desk.

Since we had just turned in a car with Budget, we decided to rent from Budget again. We told the lady at the desk we’d be driving the car back to Houston Hobby Airport. She said that she could give us the Mother’s Day Special on an economy car, and it would only be $89. That sounded expensive for a small car but great for the distance to Houston, so we carried our suitcases down to a VW Jetta and headed out.

The Jetta left a lot to be desired. For one thing, the brakes felt kind of funny. The pedal would nearly hit the floor before the car started stopping. Then we found the cigarette lighters were dead, so we couldn’t charge our phones. However, at this point it was already past 4 p.m., and we just wanted to get home. Going back to the airport to complain wasn’t an option.

Mary drove us through Florida, Alabama and Mississippi before we finally crossed into Louisiana and stopped for gas and food.

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Then I did the second stretch across Louisiana and back to Houston. We finally rolled into bed about 3 a.m.

Monday Mary went to work, and I had planned to take the morning off and recharge, but by 7:45 the phone was ringing with office issues. I got up and dealt with those, then headed to Hobby Airport to return the rental car.

When Budget scanned the car’s tag, a receipt printed out for $305. Yes, $305 was quite different from the $89 we’d been quoted in Florida. As I mentioned before when we rented through Priceline, the experience was great. Renting straight through Budget, not so much. They’ve definitely lost our business after that bait and switch deal. It’s not like the rental agent wasn’t aware that Houston was more than 200 miles from Tallahassee, but there was no mention whatsoever of a mileage charge if we went more than 200 miles.

Running on zero sleep, I only had the energy to briefly argue the situation, and it was clear the Budget rep was not going to budge. I finally shrugged it off since American Airlines would be refunding us $300 for the canceled flights, and I took the shuttle to the parking garage to pick up my car.

About the time the shuttle pulled into the terminal I had the horrible realization that I hadn’t actually brought my car keys. They were still in my suitcase.

There was nothing to be done.

I walked into baggage claim, had a seat on a bench and called Mary. I didn’t move from that spot again until my lovely wife showed up to rescue me two hours later.

She’d had to leave work, drive home to the north side of Houston to retrieve the key, then drive all the way to the south side of Houston to drop it off, then drive back to work.

By the time I was finally on the road, it was 2 p.m., so I just gave up on life, used another vacation day and headed home for a nap.

A week later, American Airlines has issued the refund for Mary’s ticket, but they have not yet refunded my ticket. Budget refused to listen to any complaints regarding the $89 Mother’s Day special rental rate and says we should have read the contract.

I’m done with cheap flights with connections. From now on if the trip is less than 12 hours, we’re either spending the money for direct flights or we’re driving because the cost of cheap flights is too damn high.