A Racing Teacher Now a Teaching Racer

By: Instructors, Schools

Outstanding Instructor Spotlight

Peter Branning got into sailing at a summer program in Coconut Grove, Florida in 1958 and has been an avid sailor ever since. He’s loved sailing the Biscayne Bay, the Gulfstream, Florida Keys and nearby Bahamas, saying that he feels more than lucky to call that area his local waters.

“I was blessed,” he said of growing up in the area. “It’s just about the best sailing anywhere.”

Branning has had a mixed career as a firefighter, a pilot, a Miami Beach lifeguard, a sailmaker and a lawyer while always racing competitively on the side. But more than just a solid club racer, Branning raced with Ed Baird who is one of the top names in the sailing world – an America’s Cup winning Helmsman in fact. He, along with Baird and Steve Calder pursued an Olympic bid on the Soling.

“It was a workout, though frankly, it became a 9-5 job after a while,” said Branning.

Once he retired from practicing law he aligned his world around sailing – less racing, more teaching and now is being recognized as one of ASA’s Outstanding Instructors.

“Although I’d spent much of my ‘instructor time’ over the years as a racing coach, my more recent focus has been introducing people to the joy of sailing and the challenges of seamanship,” Branning said. “ASA gave me a natural avenue for this interest.”

He became qualified to teach 101-5 in California and soon thereafter moved to the Virgin Islands where he teaches at the Virgin Island Sailing School.

“These days I commute singlehandedly from St. Croix to St. Thomas to pick up my charters around the BVIs while teaching the ASA 101-104 series,” Branning said of his busy schedule. “It is a lot of work, but very satisfying.”

As for the teaching itself the accomplished ex-racer has clearly defined methods that he employs so students get the most out of the lessons. He says he tries to give students a simple outline and overview that can be easily visualized and memorized, but beyond that, Branning says he teaches to the senses.

“I teach to all the senses,” he said. “Sight, kinesthetic and aural – but especially kinesthetic. Sailing is a sport played on a moving, undulating, oscillating field. It is not random however. It can be understood and brought under control.”

Asked to give one tip for sailing students Branning said: “Get at least an occasional small boat experience in a tender dinghy like a Laser, Sunfish, 420 or something like it. Sailing in cramped quarters – around a marina or anchorage with shifty winds, many obstacles and other traffic. It will keep you sharp and hone skills that are readily transferable to larger boats, wider areas and bigger, more expensive consequences.”