New LateSail team member and pedalo fan, Kyle, headed down to Port Hamble on the Solent, last month to train as competent crew. It was the first time he had been sailing and we’ve caught up to find out how he got on….and if he stayed afloat! This is part one in a long-read series, so keep watch for Kyle’s next installment.
In mid-April, I headed to Port Hamble for a five-day RYA Competent Crew course out in the Solent with Sailing Logic. The only time I had been on the water before was in a boat shaped like a swan with two sets of pedals and, although my pedalo experience is second to none, it didn’t quite compare to a sailing yacht.
Getting to know the crew
I arrived at the marina the evening before the course at Hamble, a small village in between Southampton and Portsmouth on the south coast of England. It’s a pretty village too, especially after a few pints at the Victory Inn.
I got to know the team that night at a meet and greet, which is pretty handy considering I was going to be sharing a yacht with them for the next five days. Two were doing the Competent Crew course, including Trent from Australia and Mark, who came with a life-saving amount of sun cream (more of that later). Gary and Fred were big sailing fans and completing their practical Day Skipper course. They were both were super helpful throughout the week.
Fred, Gary, and Mac at the Helm
This mix of experience on board was useful, as everyone was dependent on each other at some point in the week, and not just for making a tea. We were in the hands of our instructor, Mac, who had a fantastic mustache and was the most knowledgeable and helpful person you could find. Not only was his sailing knowledge never-ending, he also knew the history behind pretty much any British saying you could think of (most of which come from the navy, apparently). After putting our luggage on the boat, we headed off to the pub, for a few drinks and a lovely meal.
Arrangements on board
Here’s some useful information about sleeping arrangements if you’re thinking about the Competent Crew course. If you’re attending the course alone, be prepared to share the next five nights with a stranger although the cabins are always split in the most logical way.
There were six of us on the yacht, which had three cabins. The men on the Day Skipper course took the saloon, as they already knew each other from the theory part of the course. The instructor took the cabin at the bow of the yacht, as it’s not quite as spacious as the other two cabins. Me and Trent took a cabin together, as we were a similar age. Mark took the remaining cabin.
Day 1: The fight for the quiche
We woke around 7.30am and got ready to start around 8.30am. We didn’t use the shower in the head of the yacht but used the showers at the various marinas we stayed within. Note, the showers at Port Hamble are hot! As we had breakfast of porridge and tea and noticed we were blessed with unusually splendid warm temperatures around 20ºC/68ºF and clear blue skies. Luckily for us, this weather lasted for the whole week.
Mac briefed us about that day’s plan and he talked us through what we’d be working on. We set off down the River Hamble and out towards the Solent. Each of us took over the helm, maintaining course and dodging an amazing amount of fishing buoys.
Before getting the sails up we had a go at anchoring, mainly because it’s a pretty important thing to cover, but it was also approaching lunchtime and there was a bacon and cheese quiche in the fridge. After the quiche was no more and Trent had refused more than once to try a pork pie, we came off anchor and got the sails up.
Once we let out the head sail, the Oceanis 37 immediately began to lean and it was absolutely fantastic. As the wind took the yacht further towards the Isle of Wight, we had some time to relax for a while.
A lot of time on the first day was spent learning how the boat actually works and the important ‘Man Overboard’ procedure, which we re-visited multiple times under engine and sail. The crew happily did the drill, as falling into the Solent and drifting off didn’t seem too appealing.
Eventually we arrived at East Cowes Marina, where Mac demonstrated mooring into the marina in a rather impressive, seemingly effortless, way. We covered how to make up the warps on cleats ashore and found out if we were steppers or jumpers. Mac explained that each had their pros and cons. Jumpers tend to size up gaps between the yacht and the shore and confidently leap off the yacht. Steppers tend to be a bit more timid, but safer nonetheless! I will happily say I am a stepper, though jumping looks great when the water is warmer.
That evening we ate on board and Mac made a lovely curry – compliments to the chef indeed. We practiced some knots, and called it a day.
Day 2: Feeling the burn
I’ve lived in the UK all my life and have grown accustomed to miserable weather, so sun cream didn’t find its way into my bag. What a mistake. My goodness, was I burnt! I had a windbreaker on, so my arms were fine but the bottoms of my legs, my face and my hands were raw. It was such a dreadful mistake. It took great skill to shower efficiently without the water harming my now delicate, sun-kissed skin. This is where Mark became a saviour. From this point on, Mark gave me sun cream and Mac constantly reminded me to apply it. Rookie tip – do not forget the sun cream.
The route for the day was planned by the Day Skipper, from Cowes to Lymington. Again, we practiced getting the sails up and down, tacking and gybing, along with deepening our understanding of the yacht and sailing terminology. As we got further into the week, the weather got warmer and, as you can imagine, the marinas got busier. It was interesting to see how the channels in and out of the marina actually worked. East Cowes marina is home to the RedJet ferry to and from the Isle of Wight and a unique ‘floating bridge’ chain ferry, which causes a bit of traffic.
After a day of sailing, we entered Lymington where it was Gary’s turn to moor on the dock. I can’t say I envied him at that point, as it didn’t seem to be a simple task for a learner. I kept busy tying fenders along the side of the yacht.
Lymington was also nice, although a bit of a walk from the marina and along the river. I made the trip alone the following morning, as my toothbrush was left (and probably still is) somewhere in East Cowes Marina and a replacement was needed. Also, for those interested, Lymington Yacht Haven has lovely showers.
Before I stepped on board, I was told how great it is the first time you feel the wind fill the sail. Whoever it was who said that, you aren’t wrong at all. The late evenings were easily a highlight for me as you find absolute peace. Clear skies made for a welcome appearance from the stars and I would lay on deck, and just relax. It was needed. One thing that surprised me was how physical sailing is. After hoisting the mainsail a few times, I didn’t feel so guilty about missing out on the gym.
Competent Crew is the UK equivalent of ASA 101. If you would like more info on gaining the right qualifications, please do give us a call
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