LIFE BELOW DECKS
One of the novelties on board was getting used to sleeping in a bunk, rows of which are located in what is affectionately known as the ghetto (sleeping quarters and sail storage) which is forward of the saloon and galley. Quite spacious with a thick foam base, the bunks are surprisingly comfortable and the neat thing about them is that they are supported along their length by two pivot brackets and at the front by a rope and pulley system. The idea is that when sailing and the boat is heeled over, the rope and pulley system is used to adjust the angle of the bunk so that you remain level (a bit like water finding its level in a tilted glass) as opposed to an angle and risk being flung onto the floor if the boat turns quickly. To further minimise the risk of being ejected from your bunk there is also a lee cloth, a sheet of canvas material extending out from under each bunk mattress which can be tied up and tensioned to form a low barrier along the full length of the bunk. This sheet also doubles as a bit of a privacy screen but I wouldn’t be relying on it, after all it doesn’t come up over the mattress very much and in any case, after a few days at sea privacy is the least of your worries! Unfortunately people don’t always get the hang of the whole lee cloth and pulley system and some do end up on the floor which can result in injury with some being quiet serious such as multiple broken ribs or even head injuries.
I quickly found that I preferred being above as opposed to below decks, I think it’s something to do with my dislike of warm, stuffy spaces, I much prefer a bit of movement in the air as I tend overheat quickly! One thing I did discover on board is that even when the boat is sailing in relatively calm conditions you have to keep adjusting your body position to avoid falling over and it pays to heed Quentin’s repeated warning over the course of the week, “one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself”, what he means by this is to always hold on with one hand because when below decks you never can tell when the boat is going to make a sudden movement and this can be quiet dangerous especially in rough seas, ironically most sailing accidents happen below decks where you think you are safe from the elements above!
During the week it became apparent that one of the hardest things I will have to deal with is sharing a very confined space with 22 crew during the actual race itself, of course not all 22 will be awake and below decks at the same time. The crew are split and work a 2 watch system whereby half are awake sailing, cooking, repairing sails, cleaning etc. and the other half are asleep until watch shift where the roles are reversed. A watch shift can last between 4 & 6 hours depending on the skipper, time of day, weather conditions etc. but even so this will be a challenge and I’m interested if not a little concerned by how I’ll cope. Essentially my day will be set by three activities; sailing, eating and sleeping and whilst this seems simple enough it’s no holiday, the boat never stops, and neither can we because at a moment’s notice we may need to be up and at it in the best and worst of conditions!
A REAL TEST OF CHARACTER
The first week of training was a steep learning curve and a real test of character but I learned a lot of valuable lessons which I hope will stand me in good stead. At one point towards the end of the week we had a team debrief and it was then that I realised what a tough challenge I had taken on. Having no prior experience I was learning everything completely from scratch and there was so much to take in not to mention learning to live with a group of complete strangers in such a confined space for a week. I haven’t been tested like this in a long time and although my first week was physically, mentally and emotionally draining this is exactly what I have signed up for, I’m a firm believer, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I’m just excited to progress now!
Throughout the week we were continuously tying knots under pressure, hanking, hoisting, trimming and reefing sails, grinding on, tacking, jibing and who knows how many other commands we performed, by the end of it I can honestly say my head was in a spin but we actually sailed that boat and reached speeds of over 10knots/11.5mph! Ok that’s nothing in terms of road speed and to some sailors it’s still nothing to write home about but for a complete novice it felt like something because at that speed the boat actually heels over by about 30° and to experience that for the first time is a pretty amazing experience, I had a silly grin on my face over the course of the week, many on board will attest to that!
It’s no wonder people sign up for challenges like this. It’s an exhilarating experience to say the least and throughout the week I increasingly felt like I may just be cut out for this but in saying that I’m under no illusion that there will be tough days too and I’ll have to take the rough with the smooth. On reflection there were lots of lessons to learn from the important safety concerns right down to the less important comfort concerns, some of which you might find pretty amusing but all of which can have a massive difference on making life on board that little bit more bearable:
So as our week of sailing training came to a close and we arrived into the marina on our last night, there was a sense of sadness that we would be returning to normality but not before the deep clean next morning in readiness for the boats next outing. The deep clean is possibly the most unenjoyable thing about sailing although it does put the whole thing into perspective and highlights the fact that these boats become your home and if you want to stay safe they need to be looked after cleaned and maintained. Essentially the deep clean involves the complete strip out of everything that is not attached to the boat which can be lifted out by hand. This includes such things as sails, ropes, fenders, bunk cushions, floor boards, left over food, wet weather gear etc. and once the boat is emptied out the crew then set about cleaning every surface inside and out as well as refuelling all gas, diesel and water tanks. Checks are performed on the engine and other equipment on board incl. mast and a rig check which is one of the more enjoyable jobs as someone gets to scale the 100ft mast helped by two of the crew hoisting them up, you get a great view from up there on a sunny day! The whole process takes approx. 4 hrs, 3hrs when you get good at it but the sun was shining so it could have been worse.
We had started at 8am as a few of the others wanted to get away early and as we neared completion one of the Clipper staff approached to see how we got on during the week, Della is part of the crew recruitment team and I had planned to speak to her when we had finished but we were nearly done anyway and she was happy to chat. We were just standing on the pontoon shooting the breeze or so I thought but after about 15mins there was no sign of any end to the conversation. Now I hate to admit it but I was starting to get a little antsy at this stage, the rest of the crew had by now finished cleaning and were making their way to the boat house for showers, lunch and a cold drink. As I had been looking forward to cold cider since 11am but it didn’t look like I was getting away, so we kept chatting and I just thought to myself a number of the questions were a little odd, with that Della then said “so as you can probably can tell this is your interview”, I nearly laughed but managed to hold a straight face, I had been yapping away with no idea what was happening but luckily that had gone in my favour, I suppose she just want to know that I wasn’t a complete looney and can in some way relate to a group of people! Of course once the cat was out of the bag I immediately started to try and give very calculated concise answers but at that stage what was the point and in any event the damage was done but thankfully it wasn’t a problem and Della’s parting word were something along the lines of “well you’ve passed the interview, so go any enjoy your lunch” which I did with a few glasses of cold cider to celebrate, it was now just a matter of filling out the paper work and that would be me all signed up!
The overarching experiences during my week of training:
- Mother watch providing hot drinks at regular intervals.
- Lots of Fresh fruit and sweet snacks.
- I found the bunk pouch great for organising head torch, glasses, wet notes, earplugs etc.
- Crew were awesome, some experienced sailors and some less so but on big boats it seems everyone is learning.
- Skipper was keen to start letting us lead evolution wherever possible.
- Came back into Gosport marina every evening.
- Very physically and emotionally draining.
- Found it difficult to get comfortable in my bunk due to having a mummy sleeping bag.
- Struggled with the knot tying due to lack of practise.
- Had difficulty remembering port and starboard, spot the rookie!
- People snoring at night.
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