What a month !
It started with an incredible full week of offshore sail training, a real education of what it takes to be an offshore skipper, it’s tough, both physically and mentally but I loved every minute of it.
The shift pattern of 3 hours on and 3 hours off, sounded horrendous but I have never slept so well, probably due to mental and physical exhaustion.
Sharing a boat with 6 others and an ocean yachtmaster instructor sounded cramped, claustrophobic and would test Mother Teresa for patience, it turned out to be very comfortable with plenty of quiet corners to rest. Not a single argument or raised voice throughout, nothing but respect, teamwork and camaraderie ensued. We looked after each other.
The food was divine everyday, home cooked chicken pastas, meat balls, lamb chops and a beef stew a long with a plentiful supply of chocolate biscuits fuelled us day and night as we completed over 550 nautical miles for the week.
We crossed back and forth across the English Channel six times visiting various harbours along Northern France and Southern England with the luxury of only stopping twice to set foot on land.
I had the task of skippering the leg from Portsmouth to Cherbourg overnight , holy s***t , an overwhelming sickening feeling of responsibility for the crew and boat to get there safely. I did not want to be the one who missed France and ended up in the Channel Islands because of the wind and tide because of my miscalculations.
Firstly I had to safely get out of Portsmouth at night and then follow my calculated course to steer across to Cherbourg. Sods law the wind is always directly where you want to go, so you have to adjust your course to steer to account for the tides the direction you actually sail to wind. Not easy to calculate in the middle of the night when tired where even the most basic maths becomes a mensa equivalent test.
Portsmouth lights up at night like a street having a Xmas house light competition, you need to pay meticulous attention to the lights and not mistake a light on the IOW for the way out to the main channel.
I liken the crossing of the central of the English channel to a game a Frogger, with very large tankers going in each direction and we have to navigate a sailing vessel successfully between them, although we do have priority according to the Colregs, no chances are taken as they would flatten the boat instantly so we constantly keep an eye out for the time it takes to cross the zone – terrifying how big and fast the super tankers actually move in comparison to your yacht, unlike Frogger you do not get 3 lives to try again.
One thing that is paramount when sailing is that there is a need for crystal clear communication and leadership, this is even more important when sailing offshore as the crew changes and the skipper tries to rest over a longer passage time at sea. You quickly learn and sometimes the hard way, that you need to inform your crew and 1st mate of your intentions and you need to become the drum beat for all, actions, tacks and gybes. I will not forget in a hurry our attempt to take a reef out mid-channel at 5am with the sail tie still on – That brought a about a particular choice of teaching style from our instructor, who gave us some tough love for waking him up and being so s**t! – Ooops Sorry !!!
Getting past that challenge from there on in, it seemed like a breeze and we cruised into Cherbourg without further incident. I have never felt so relieved to see land and the outer harbour wall of Cherbourg – We made it – Phew !
Many many learnings
- It’s harder than it looks, To be a good skipper offshore is hard – mentally & physically.
- You need to take control, make decisions and act. Take the helm and direct the crew work to your drum beat.
- Stop, think, work it out, don’t just guess and keep winching ! ( even if the sail tie is same colour (in disguise) as the reef line )
- Take multiple points of reference, use your eyes, chart plotter, notes & charts
- The quicker you sail, the quicker you get there – Sail more efficiently!
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