Thursday, September 23, 2021

learning to sail: day 1

 yes, i know, i still haven't finished blogging the stuff covered in my driving lessons even though those were over 2 years ago (it's been 2 years since i passed my test last month - talk about being late!), but my sailing lessons are probably more noteworthy 😁

anyway, before i start: just like everything else that i seem to do, this was by coincidence too. the first time i've been on a sailboat was 11 years or so. i thoroughly enjoyed it, but never ended up sailing again after those 3 weekends on the water. it was always on my list though, so i attended the open day at the carrickfergus sailing club two years ago, and that was the first time i was on the water in this country. right after that, a colleague told be about a facebook group where people in NI look for and offer themselves to be crew on sailboats, with all levels of experience and expertise being welcomed. i joined that group, and offered to crew, was contacted by people who wanted crew, and finally the pandemic happened before i could actually set sail.

and then, last month (or was it july?) someone asked if anyone offers training. and unlike my usual experience of facebook, the post and one of the comments showed up in my notifications. i contacted Hugh of WaveRides, and booked myself in. I was going to learn to sail!

the course is for 5 days, and is usually done at a stretch (including 4 nights on the boat), but my office situation necessitated me to split it into 3 days and 2, which Hugh agreed to despite it not being his usual pattern (I was basically blocking a spot on two courses which is not great for the school, but i'm glad he allowed me that!).

the list of things to bring along was quite reasonable, and didn't need me to buy much besides a pair of deck shoes - regular trainers have large grips which tend to pick up gravel/pebbles that can scratch the boat, and deck shoes are waterproof + designed to be grippy on deck, which is always textured for grip to begin with.

i was at carrickfergus marina at 9am, where i met the my co-students and the people who had come to drop them off (i on the other hand had to drop myself off 😜), and Hugh, our instructor.

basic housekeeping (ie showing us where the marina toilets were) done, we made out way to the boat, with everyone else's luggage in a trolley and mine in my backpack (i packed light!).

we were shown to the Trinculo, a Sigma 400 (the 9th of 15 ever built), a rather nice yacht, defintely better than any i've set foot on before. once we popped our bags in we sat around on the deck, and Hugh started our training.

the first item was safety: how to make sure your life vest is on perfect and why it's best to always have it on. how to reduce your chances of taking an unplanned swim (ie using the harnesses), what to do in case someone falls over, and especially what to do in case Hugh falls over 😜. the other risk is of having to evacute the boat in an emergency: how the life raft works, how it's activated, the emergency bag and what's in it, the types of flares and how they are to be used (and some interesting stories about how they're disposed). then came fires: the types of fires, where they're most likely, and what to do (and not do) in each situation. the location of the fire extinguishers, smoke/carbon  monoxide alarms, and why it's important to be on your guard against fire at all times, with a few anecdoes about instances where things have gone terribly wrong (thankfully, none involving Hugh or anyone on this boat, or the boat itself!).

we were shown around the inside of the boat, especially the sleeping quarters, cabin, galley (ie the kitchen), toilets, engine bay, radio... and most importantly, the kettle and snack stash, which are probably the two things on the boat we used the most πŸ˜‚

next, we got to the parts of the boat, and especially the names for them. the helm, mast, boom, vang, main sail, jib or genoa, rigging, fenders, cleats, fairleads, winches, compass, chart plotter, and the engine control (i forgot what it's called 😁).

then came the ropes (also called lines). there were a baffling array of them, but Hugh reassured us there were only 5 ropes on the boat we needed to know about: the main sheet, halyard, jib sheets (there are two of them) and the furler.

after that, we had an overview of the knots we needed to know. the round turn and two half hitches used to tie fenders to stanchions (ie the railing), the cleat hitch used to tie a line to the boat or the jetty, and the bowline, which is the knot used to tie a line to the jetty when the boat will be tied up for a while.

we were shown how to coil ropes so that they don't bunch/tangle and also stay organized. we were also shown where the ropes were stored on this boat. and the last step: how to make a lasso and use it to lasso cleats on the jetty - very useful when you need to park the boat!

we were shown how the locks on the lines work, how the winches work on this boat (i assume they work differently on other boats, but the principles would be the same), how to hold ropes, pull them, secure them, and how to release them from the winch with fine amounts of control if required. some of the winches also had a mechanism to lock the rope. "sweating", a technique to make ropes easier to pull. also, how we store ropes when sailing and when not sailing.

with all that knowledge under our belt, we went off and did some practice with the ropes: lassoing cleats, tying them, tying fenders. i managed to do a decent job after a couple of tries - much to my surprise! i've been terrible with knots all my life, but i guess having a purpose automatically made me better πŸ˜‚

we then took a quick break for lunch, which was sandwiches, more tea (yes, i had already drunk more tea that morning than i usually would in a week 😜).

lunch, more tea and an informal q&a session later, we were ready to set off... once we were told how!

getting a boat untied and freely floating (also called "slipping") involves a few steps: first, since we're planning to sail, we take the mainsail cover off to make things easier once we're out and about, and pack it away. there was also the bit about attaching the halyard to the top of the mainsail - locking it in place is very important! once locked, it has to be threaded into the mast, through the "monkey nuts" (no points for guessing what they look like πŸ˜‚) next, we untie the 3rd line that was used to keep the boat from swinging about when parked, since we only need 2 lines to keep the boat tied securely: the bow line and the stern line. we then replaced the bowline knots with a loop around the cleats on the jetty and a cleat hitch on the boat (so basically all the knots are on the boat, freeing us to "slip" from on the boat, instead of untying and jumping on). we were then taught how to slip: one person at each line unties one end from the cleat on the boat and holds it firmly. when the skipper calls "ready to slip" and both people reply that they're ready the skipper calls to "slip", which involves letting go of the end that has been untied, and pulling the other end back quickly. it should be done quickly enough that the boat is free in seconds. once the rope is about to be off the cleat, the person at the bow or stern slipping the respective rope calls out "bow slipped" or "stern slipped" so that the skipper knows the boat is free and can be powered out. the other thing to pay attention to while slipping is the fenders: in windy conditions, the boat may be blown about and the fenders are the first line of defense against collisions. everyone without a task assigned gets a "roving fender", which is a fender that they take to whichever spot the boat might collide with something else.

we had a couple of practice attempts at slipping the rope, and once confident, we were ready to go!

we slipped without a hitch (no puns intended) and were floating free in the marina. i coiled up the slip ropes and put them away, while others handled the fenders and the helm.

once out of the marina we were showed how carrickfergus marina makes it easy for boats to get in and out using the deepest part of the channel: there are 3 lights, one green, one red and one white. on the way out, the green light indicates you're on the left of the channel, red indicates you're on the right, and white indicates you're in the channel.

once we were out a bit, it was time to pull up the fenders, tie them to the back of the boat, unfurl the sails, and sail away!

the first step is to point the boat directly into the wind (as that's the only direction the sail can be pulled up and down without catching the wind), under low power (as the rudder only has control when moving). we then pull the mainsail up tight using the halyard (once the sail has reached the top of the mast, the tightness can be guaged from the edge of the sail next to the mast) - towards the end you can feel the weight of the sail and you need some help, from someone "sweating" the rope, or winching (or both!).

we then point the boat at an angle to the wind, depending on where we want to sail, and let the mainsail fill up. that gets the boat sailing!

next up, someone pulls the furler a bit to free the jib, and then depending on the direction we want to sail, we pull the appropriate jib sheet to the point where the telltales rise up and are beginning to float horizontally instead of hanging vertically from the jib.

the rest of the afternoon was a blur of doing what we were told: pull this line, tie that line, etc. we got to use the stuff that was pointed out to us in the morning, although i didn't really understand most of what i was doing.

before we knew it, it was almost 6 and time to furl the sails and head back into the marina. first, the jib, using the furler (you know the sail is furled when the sheet wraps one turn around it), then the main sail - it has to be folded as it's brought down, by releasing it 1 metre at a time and folding it on alternate sides. as it's folded, "sail ties" are used to make sure the folds stay in place. fenders out, slip ropes ready to lasso, and we headed back in. we managed to get the ropes lassoed, pulled and tied it tight, covered the main sail, and we were done for the day!

 a lovely dinner had been popped into the oven for us, and we polished it off, seconds and all. dinner time conversation drifted from thoughts about the day to all sorts of random banter, and we were finally treated to a firework show that happened to be on at carrickfergus castle - a nice end!

day one was super amazing, and i was happy that i had learned so much... and hoped i'd remember it all!

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