For the past two weeks, we have used the playground of the Solent which provides all the challenges that we need, to demonstrate that we can overcome them with our sailing skills.
A key part of the yachtmaster syllabus is being able to demonstrate skills that you are in full control of the yacht, whether it be under sail or power in all scenarios both day and night and in restricted visibility, aka – fog !
Sailing onto a pontoon, onto a buoy or onto an anchor is a key set of skills to master, the difference being that most would choose to do this with an engine, at yachtmaster you have to be able to do this under sail. The key to doing this successfully is to do it into the strongest element, TIDE is king in almost everything that we do, the wind is secondary but does determine whether this is upwind (mainsail) or a downwind (headsail) approach. The important factor is to remember which sail to use and which to furl away, how much to use and when to spill requires great judgement. Over the past 2 weeks we have relentlessly practiced this, it’s harder than it looks, and you have to ensure your approach angle is perfect, the boat needs to stop and give the dedicated cowboy (nominated person) at the front every chance in lassoing the buoy upwind – Trust me this is not easy either !
Needless to say, nobody got this right first time, practice makes perfect, downwind was easier to learn but upwind in stronger wind conditions is frustratingly hard and will take weeks of practice to learn to be perfect in time for the exam, fingers crossed.
What is critical and an absolute cert to be tested on, is that a Man Over Board (MOB) drill will happen and recovery of a person ( fender & bucket, as nobody really goes overboard) is retrieved in an efficient, safe and controlled way both with an engine and without an engine, under sail only. Part of the game by the instructors is to do it when you least expect it or downstairs when navigating. Probably a very realistic scenario and one that you learn from day 1 to control the panic and adrenaline surge to recovery your crew as quickly as possible without placing the boat or others members of the crew at further danger. I can confidently say that there is every chance the boat can be stopped, turned around and brought back to the overboard person very efficiently. However recovery from the water is something that takes further effort and some thought as you have to try and lift a heavy wet weight from the cold water. All boats should carry lifting devices but if need be, crude lifting strops can be created and we are taught to be able to do both. Like many situations at sea I hope never to have to come across this scenario and envisage this could be very traumatic if it ever occurs for real. Hats off and big kudos to anyone who has done this for real !
In the second week we all learnt a very valuable lesson on our assessment, the skills and drills we have been learning and practicing can become real in a blink of an eye. Having no engine is a reality that you need to be prepared to overcome. Once the ‘oh s**t’ moment pasts, you quickly realise that you are blessed to have sails and you can recover the situation without engine and sail onwards to a buoy or pontoon in our case and try and recover the situation. They used to call the AA the 4th emergency service, well I am not sure that is accurate as I would put the RNLI up there higher after the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services but Sea Start is the equivalent to the AA for the sea should get a special mention, an amazing concept that started out in the Solent and is now going further afield – Thanks for the help guys !.
As the week closed, we were all given feedback as to how our assessments went, having been observed in a number of skippering tasks. The prize was to be deemed ‘coastal’ and competent enough to go offshore without instruction for the next phase. This is where you are set a nautical mile target to complete over the next 3 weeks but given enough rope to get yourself well and truly tied up in knots by experiencing offshore sailing and having to overcome the challenges yourself. Rather dauntingly I passed the assessment, so the length of rope on offer is East to West from the coast of Belgium down to Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall. I only hope to live to tell the tale and post a new blog in the future…..
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