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In the early 1980’s, while training as a commercial pilot, I earned my Canadian cruising-skipper certification on a Cal 20. Flying was time consuming and expensive (that's me on the left), so boating got left behind…for a while.

I went on to have a varied and rewarding career in the skies. But, whether flying members of the Japanese Imperial family to Greenland, tourists to the North Pole, or holiday-goers to the Hawaiian Islands, safety was always the number one focus and training never stopped—annual ground school to review aircraft engines and systems, twice-yearly simulator sessions to run through every emergency imaginable, and regularly flying with training captains to ensure that all crews were operating to the highest standard.

Always in the background was a team of colleagues responsible for maintenance, flight planning, weather briefing, fueling, catering, and passenger service. Transporting passengers, baggage, freight, (and once John Kennedy Jr. following an arctic trek) was a group effort. Yes, JFK Jr.’s Secret Service agent did keep an eye on me when I removed two golf clubs from an aircraft overhead bin – I had been working on my driving and putting while on a layover in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Leslie Vatton and husband Victor Hammill

Leslie Vatton and husband Victor Hammill

Thirty years later and now retired from my position as a Boeing 757 captain, based in my hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, my husband and I are preparing for life on the water. Having completed the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron’s basic boating, navigation and radio courses we headed to Bremerton, Washington, for TrawlerFest 2018 (part of my new team in the background) to learn everything else!

First up was the two-day diesel engine course. I was the only woman in the group (I’d love to see that change, ladies!) It was truly well and clearly presented. I probably won’t align a prop shaft any time soon, but I now know my way around an engine room, will always be sure to carry lots of spare filters, belts, and every imaginable size of impeller, and can change an oil filter.

And it’s truly amazing how excited a group of adults can get over a complimentary boxed lunch which the organizers provided.

Our VIP package included any of the remaining seminars we chose to attend as well as the Thursday evening dockside cocktail reception, and Friday night buffet dinner, with prize draw, at the Bremerton Maritime Museum. We attended both, picked up all kinds of boating tips and made, what I’m sure will be, lifelong friends.

The finding-a-surveyor-and-boat-buying class was invaluable! It helped us narrow our search down to a two-stateroom, twin diesel trawler (with bow and stern thrusters, two heads, autopilot, GPS, water-maker…) and thanks to the “Cruiser’s Round Table” we plan to begin our adventure by cruising The Great Loop–which we’d never heard of prior to TrawlerFest–not that we admitted that when our group was asked.

Our final morning was spent learning about “Safety at Sea.” We had no idea what to expect from the course, but now can’t imagine dropping our mooring lines without the lifesaving information imparted by our well qualified instructors. It is so true that you don’t know what you don’t know.

We’ll be heading to TrawlerFest in Baltimore for more seminars, more boxed lunches, and to reconnect with some of the fantastic instructors and friends that we met in Bremerton. If the course “How to Have Your Two Yorkies, One bunny, One Budgie, and Occasionally Your Two Kids Onboard” is offered you’ll be sure to find us there.


Seminars: Tuesday through Saturday, Sept. 25-29.
In-Water Boat Show: Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 27-29.
Open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (Seminar participants enter in-water boat show free on day of seminar.)

Questions? Contact Jennifer at or (954) 761-7073. Interested in being an Exhibitor or Sponsor? Contact Ryan Davidson (954) 328-7573 or


Every seminar except the diesel course, "Practical Marine Weather" and “Boat Handling on the Water” are part of our VIP package. Being a four- or five-day VIP gives attendees access to their choice of 24 other seminars. The cost is $449 for a four-day VIP pass and $549 for the five-day pass. Visit our ticketing site and do some math. You'll see how being a VIP maximizes your seminar buying power.