Offshore Passages

Offshore Passages

Want to go sailing offshore?

While we are restricted to our Lake, our goal is to open the sailing world to our students. If you can sail a small boat you can sail a big boat, but not the other way around. Learning the basics on smaller boats is not only cost effective, but translates to sailing a bigger boat in any body of water.

So how can we help you graduate to offshore sailing without having to buy a big boat and move to the coast? Tibor has been a member of an organization called Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO) for several years. Most recently, (May 2021) he helped deliver a Swan 65 from St. Maarten to Newport, RI through their Swan Program. Wick and Mike, two of our instructors, also belong to OPO and have done many offshore trips through their program.

The Swan Program is a paid passage opportunity on a quality boat (The Swan brand is the strongest and best built production boats in the world build in Finland) with captains who have hundreds of thousands of miles each. While the fall passage south from Newport to the Caribbean is not an ideal first time offshore passage since they start in cold and windy conditions, the May return or one week options between NY and Bermuda in June each year are a good offshore 1st passage for those that have competed courses through ASA104. Since Mike and I have both sailed in the program we can highly recommend the program so feel free to ask us any questions.

But what if you are looking for free sailing opportunities?

The Swan Program run by OPO is really only a small part of what they offer. Their motto is “to seek, gather and create free offshore passage opportunities for their members”. Membership only costs $199 for the first year with Annual dues of $150. Because of our close relationship with OPO they offer a $50 discount for our students to join so you pay only $149. Once you join you get a membership kit mailed to you which explains in more detail how it works.

Basically any boat owner or delivery skipper that needs crew contacts OPO. If the passage opportunity sounds like a good one, then OPO send out a “crew request” via e-mail to members with the details and you email a sailing resume with your contact information and your interest in volunteering to go sail with the owner. The passages are free with all onboard expenses included, but usually you need to pay travel expenses to and from the boat. You can look at past “crew requests” sent to members on their web site at www.sailopo.com and click on the message board. If you think you would have been interested in any of the past crew options then it is a good indication to spend the $149 and sign up. In addition to the crew posting you receive a monthly “Notice to OPO Mariners” Newsletter that has new information about offshore sailing each month along with the next dates for the Swan Program. The Swan Program is so popular that it often fills up just from OPO members before the sailing public even gets a chance to sign up. 

Who can sign up?

But before you sign up we want to be perfectly clear. As you will see, about half of the sailing opportunities seek an experienced sailor that can stand a solo-night watch.  Here lies the catch -22. How do you get offshore sailing experience if no one will take you for the first time? Many of the passage opportunities are with pro skippers and very experienced boat owners who can sail the boat solo, but need bodies to keep an eye out while they sleep and to fulfill insurance requirements by having 3 bodies aboard. Plus since OPO members volunteer for free an owner or delivery skipper will take an extra 4 or 5th person for longer big boat passages so you will not always be relied upon to stand a solo watch. Some OPO members pay for a 1st passage opportunity in the Swan Program to put on their sailing resume which helps convince an owner that they are ready to sail with them.

Please ask Tibor if you think you want to pursue offshore sailing. This program is meant for sailors who already know how to sail, but are looking to expand their horizons with some offshore opportunities. At minimum, Tibor recommends that students have passed ASA104 and ASA105 before signing up with OPO. Again, if you have questions you can reach out to Tibor to see if you would be a good fit.

Hank Schmitt - Owner

Hank Schmitt, the owner and founder of OPO in 1993 says the best reason to join and stay active is “to keep the sailing dream alive for the price of a good winch handle”.

Unlike the free crew network sites that have popped up over the years, you can speak to Hank simply by calling 1-80040PASSAGe (800-724-7724) or e-mail him with questions at offshorepassage@sprintmail.com. If he is offshore in the spring and fall, his wife checks his e-mail and answering machine, but otherwise Hank tries to keep office hours.

The www.sailopo.com web site has been live since 1996 and had lots of information. The Swan Program section is not always up to date as the crew berths fill up pretty soon after OPO members get sent to schedule a few months in advance of the passage.