Sweat The Main
Although there was a mountain of information to absorb I felt the first few days of training was going well, it was nice to be moored up for a few days but as it happened that was just an introduction. It then stepped up a notch and by lunchtime on the third day we had slipped lines and were headed out into the Solent strait which is the body of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England, I found myself wondering ‘how did that happen’ but at the same time I was excited, we were going sailing! As is the norm we were leaving the marina under engine power and we had readied the main sail for hoisting as well as hanked on the two head sails which is standard procedure. In the event of engine failure the head sails particularly the stay sail (second from the front) will give you some steerage and hopefully help you to avoid running aground or hitting obstacles or worse other boats, not something a skipper ever wants to have happen especially on a training exercise!
So as we powered out of Gosport thoughts turned to hoisting sails and although we had practiced the drills and it all made sense in the marina, now the wind was up and the boat was moving it was a different kettle of fish. We had run through all the stages of hoisting sails and when the call came, like drunken penguins we all shuffled around the deck to find our predetermined positions, but with Quentin at the helm thankfully Kees and Oliver were on hand to oversee and direct us which was reassuring. Although we had gone through the motions a number of times in the marina we still had no real clue what was happening first time around! Once we entered the Solent proper the call came to actually hoist and with two people sweating (hoisting a sail by hand) the main sail, one tailing the halyard (rope connected to the head of the sail which pulls it up the mast) and then two more on the coffee grinder (main winch), once the sweaters could hoist no more the main sail was ground up the final few metres on the winch and with a bit of trimming by Quentin we were off, then without further ado we were instructed to hoist the head sails; Staysail first followed by the Yankee and with the engine cut we were off sailing up wind, it was a baptism of fire but it felt great and I thought to myself ‘I could actually get into this’. It was only then that it really dawned on me that there was every possibility that I wouldn’t like sailing, what if that was the case? I had signed up to do the race albeit 2 legs and with that came a massive commitment not least the fact that I had asked for a 4 month sabbatical from work! However none of this seemed to matter now because I was loving it and by day 4 we were tacking and jibing the boat with relative ease, I won’t say we were the most efficient crew but we were getting the job done and we were working as a team, it was a great feeling and one which brought me right back to the days when I played Gaelic Football for my home club Allenwood back in Ireland, I was part of a team again!
Lead An Evolution, Don’t you Mean Revolution?
By day 5 Quentin had us at a level where those who were confident enough could lead an evolution (performing a sail manoeuvre on deck i.e. tacking, jibing etc.) albeit supervised by one of the mates. I took this opportunity and it felt good to lead my first hoist, I did feel the pressure of directing the crew because those boats move and heal and nothing is static so you have to have your head on a swivel, you have to watch everything in case something goes wrong and believe me things can go wrong very quickly! Thankfully the crew worked well and my evolutions went smoothly but what really stood out in that first week was that anyone who wanted was given the opportunity to lead an evolution and for me especially this really helped to build my confidence and I think it also helped to bond the crew. We were strangers at the start of the week and as the week progressed we became a really tight unit who really looked out for each other, it’s a strange experience to bond so quickly but it happens on board when working, eating and sleeping in such a confined space.
Most nights we sailed back into Gosport marina however we spent one night in Cowes on the Isle of Wight where we had a few well deserved beers in the local and another night we dropped anchor in Freshwater Bay on the southwest side of the Isle of Wight. During this particular night and as part of the competent crew curriculum, with 8 trainees on board we each had to do a 1hr watch on deck which was an interesting experience. Quentin in his wisdom or mischievous nature had instructed the first watch person to perform a set of tasks to be passed on and completed on the hour at each watch change, essentially a Chinese whisper which included among other things: depth check, bearing and battery level check. I have no idea where the breakdown in communication started but by the time it came to my watch it was clear the instruction was well and truly confused. I was woken by my slightly confused Chilean crew mate Louis at 5.30am, he should have woke me at 4.45am which would give me 15mins to get myself dressed and on deck for 5am but he had either stayed on deck too long or had been woken late himself, I never found out. So I hurried myself on deck still half asleep and proceeded to take instruction from Louis who in his broken English struggled to explain what it was I was supposed to be checking, it was all quiet comical and by 5.45am I was still no closer to completing the tasks, at that stage the next person for watch duty had woken and had come on deck with Louis still trying to explain the tasks to me, so with that I passed the baton and the limited instructions which I had received onto Larry and took myself off to bed again. In the morning I was expecting questions from Quentin but I suspect he read between the lines when he saw the results in the morning and decided to save embarrassing whoever it was that had messed up the instruction, Chinese whispers at their best but it wasn’t an issue, we hadn’t dragged the anchor and had held our position throughout the night. The one highlight of the night though, was when I came on deck for my watch, about a mile away the STS Tenacious had dropped anchor during the night and was looking very majestic in the morning light.
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