An ambition fulfilled
Having grown up here on the south coast of England and then having spent the rest of my life elsewhere on the coast (Liverpool, St. Jean-de-Luz) bar 4 years (in Paris), I have always felt a natural affinity for water, the sea, etc. and love the freshness of a cool coastal breeze.
However, until last Saturday I had never had the opportunity to go out on a sail-powered vessel of any kind. My most memorable sea-going experiences had been in the small fishing boat that covers the 20 min. crossing from Tenby (S. Wales) to Caldey Island and its Cistercian monastery (see photo in previous article), being tossed every which way, covered in sea spray and loving every minute of it. And the fact that I adore rollercoasters (the more extreme the better - Oblivion at Alton Towers? Piece of cake!) has always made me think that I would be able to cope with the wave and wind-induced movements in a yacht. I'd simply been waiting for a kind benefactor to come along and offer me the chance to go out on the water in his or her vessel.
Well, that kind benefactor has materialised in the form of the elder brother of a good friend of mine in Liverpool. This friend, Adrian, is a parent of pupils in our Liverpool school, fitness fanatic and ex-rugby union player in his mid 60s who for the past 3 years regularly took me to the gym he shares with fellow Liverpudlian business men to help me get fit for 2 multi-day long-distance sponsored cycles and most recently my first triathlon last June. His elder brother, Joe, lives 90 min. drive from Southampton in the small town of Fleet and has a yacht in Gosport harbour (opposite Portsmouth). Adrian said Joe would be delighted to have me help crew his 32-foot yacht when he goes out in it.
So 10 days ago I phoned Joe up. He said that he could do with a 3rd pair of hands for an outing last Saturday - in actual fact a competitive race run by his sailing club. 12 yachts to race around a 2h30 min. course in the Solent. I was very excited by the idea and accepted immediately.
Gosport Marina where Joe's yacht, Slam, is moored.
That Saturday morning I drove to Gosport and met Joe and the other crew member Clive (himself an experienced sailor who had recently had a hip op). They gave me a brief initiation into the basics of setting up the sails before we left, then it was out onto the water. I was to be the winch operator (or "the muscle" if you like - don't laugh) for the gib sail (a "genoa"). I felt nervous and a rather out of my depth (excuse the pun), but Joe and Clive made me feel very welcome and did their best to pass on as much knowledge and understanding as possible in the course of our time on the water. Once we got under way in the race proper, having circled around with the other 11 yachts jostling for position behind the start line for about 15 min., I began to understand the exhilaration felt by competitive sailors (I was at that point hanging out over the starboard side of the boat stretching the gib sail out with my right arm to keep us edging towards the start line). It helped that the weather was glorious with clear blue skies and that there was decent wind. Perfect conditions.
The Spinnaker observation tower in Portsmouth harbour as we sailed out into the Solent.
Racing along with other yachts in our wake.
Joe + Clive eyeing up the opposition as we approach one of the buoys that acted as navigation waypoints during the race.
My intuition relating to rollercoasters seems to be a good one... I do apparently have good sea legs, although I think I will need to test myself in rougher seas to really be sure.
Once we'd crossed the finish line (finishing 4th out of 12 on race time, 5th on handicap - Joe had done very well in his previous race) Joe very kindly let me tiller (steer) the yacht back out into the Solent for a while before then guiding it part of the way in towards Gosport.
Once we were back moored to the pontoon in the harbour the sails needed tying up and there was a checklist of routines to follow, after which we headed for the clubhouse where we and the other participants held a BBQ during which the results were read out.
All in all, a wonderfully enjoyable day. From my point of view, at least I seemed to be more of a help than a hindrance to Joe and Clive. If I get the call from them to crew for another outing (which they suggested I may well do) I would jump at the chance!