Journeys towards rewards - Club sailing under instruction
Published 13:12 on 5 Dec 2019
Get the answer to the question right and glorious prizes await! First you need to know the question, of course but, even then, the answer is almost certainly not as simple as you initially thought. Before articulating your answer, have you thought of time, for instance? Have you thought about what else you should know? Are you sure that is all you need to be thinking about? And, for that matter, have you put your head out of the window yet? Because, and here's a heavy hint, the answer may well start with 'Well, it depends '.
Since joining the Club a couple of years ago, with a view to getting out on the river in dinghies, I unexpectedly find myself on the parallel off-shore path. Within a year of joining the club I had managed to get my Day Skipper certificate and, in the summer of 2018, took my family (wife and our three children, 10-5 years old) on a four-boat flotilla holiday on the Ionian Sea. A tremendous success of a family holiday it has confirmed to me that future family outings are a must and that mine and my children's enjoyment of these may well directly correlate to my own confidence and capability in running and handling a boat.
At the end of this summer LCSC advertised dates for a week's sailing in the Solent. It was an opportunity to get time on the water, miles in the logbook and to develop one's skills under the tuition. Our trip would be led by Mike Parr the club's Chief Instructor. For me it was the chance to make progress towards the RYA's Yachtmaster Coastal qualification by completing the Coastal Skipper practical course.
The sun had gone and the late year day was already black by the time Fernando, Dimitar and I found ourselves in Hamble's Mercury Marina on a Sunday afternoon in late November. After making our initial acquaintance with Quinta, our boat for the week and loading our bags and supplies, we were soon sitting in the Gaf Rigger for an early supper and chat with Mike.
A man with thirty years work in Her Majesty's Royal Navy under his belt and of contained manner, Mike told us of his yachting experience. This includes skippering Naval ships and yachts as well as working as a navigator on some interesting missions, before becoming an RYA qualified Off-Shore Instructor. He made clear his priorities for the week: our safety, our learning and our enjoyment.
It is important for any skipper to get an understanding of their crew's experience and gauge their abilities. Our experiences were different - one of us actually owned a boat! (Not me, I am sorry to confirm.) It turned out I was the only one not to have raced extensively. Did this put me at a disadvantage, I started to wonder. Over the course in the next five days I would find out.
(We all know how much racers like to talk about races, often to the exclusion of other experiences of boats with keels and large sails!)
Mike's been in his role with LCSC for a year and a bit, but this was the first time I had sailed with him. It proved to be an excellent week of personal development. Along with the clear practical focus required by the course, he ensured opportunities were found to delve a little deeper into elements of the theory. Some rainy mornings helped, allowing us to carry out in-depth run throughs of boat management (including the most detailed examination of an engine I had ever been given), analysing COLREGS, developing our metrological understanding and putting good time into passage planning. Mike talked us through these elements (and others) in the context good skippering being based on (i) solid seamanship, (ii) clear briefing of the crew in order that you had (iii) confidence in the crew knowing (understanding) the boat.
Over the week we covered 130 nautical miles, including 14 night hours. The weather was kind (in that it was warmer than I had expected for late November) but gale force winds limited our geographic reach. For a training week in the Solent this does not much matter given the variety of challenges posed along England's southern waterway. With storm winds blowing from South of Ireland the Isle of Wight provide good shelter and on Tuesday, a particularly aggressive wind forecast, Portsmouth Harbour gave more than enough room to play around on buoys, chase a bucket and fender in MOB drills and develop our power driving. It's all about practice to build confidence to allow calm decision making.
Each of us had more than one opportunity to lead night pilotages into harbour and at different moments were surprised at just how challenging the lit Hampshire coastline can make this. For my part I underestimated the deterioration in distance judgement in darkness and quickly learnt that as well as the pre-determined bearings and back-bearings it was clearing bearings, depth and thinking two lights ahead that was needed to maintain control and provide good direction to the crew.
Towards the end of our time we had the chance to break out of the Solent and head past Poole to Chapman's Pool. Yet again that dictator time took control and denied us the chance of navigating the races off St Alban's Head, forcing a decision by the then skipper to take the sensible, easy (safer option) of anchoring in Swanage Bay for supper before our return night journey.
As we waited for the chile con carne to heat in the oven, consideration was being given to the various means of support available to a boat in distress. As if on cue a three-man RNLI rib pulled alongside to check all was well. Our 'distress' having been called in by A Concerned of Swanage town who had mistaken our swaying anchor light to be that of a torch held by someone stuck on the cliffs of Ballard Point! Thank goodness the boys in orange had no cause concern and were soon on their way back to land.
There are few more pleasurable things one can do than mess around in boats. But to really enjoy the mess you've got to know how to make it and how to clear it up. Weeks and weekends run by Mike, Rat, Ruaraidh and other qualified and highly experienced sailors ensure you leave the boat a better sailor than when you arrived. In between get out with other club members and friends for self-organised trips to embed what you've learnt.
To answer the question and to find those glorious prizes, you need to have a clear understanding of what makes up the equation and then how much of weighting to put on each element (tide, time, boat, weather, crew etc). On this your answer will depend. Once confident of your answer all the jewels of our coasts are yours! The amber of autumn's estuary leaves, the gold and silver of the extended skies and the sapphires and diamonds dancing on our seas.
This is the value of instructed practical time off-shore with the Club.
by Giles Bancroft
Last updated 13:10 on 22 September 2021