Level 3 Training – Part 2, Training and cleaning up

The sail training component of the Level 3 course is focused on various aspects of racing and revising and solidifying anything that was still unclear from the previous levels. The main structure of the course was a series of races between the 3 boats that were completing the Level 3 at the same time. The sailing commenced with some practice starts on a start line set up specifically for us. In sailing races are started with an imaginary line between two points, typically a boat and a buoy of some sort. All boats must be on a designated side during a countdown to the start time. Yachts are not allowed to cross the line before the start time, as signalled by the organising boat. The aim is to cross the line as close to the start time as possible, without being early, and with as much speed as possible. Quite often easier said than done, particularly as yachts don’t have brakes to slow you down and everyone else is trying to do the same thing.

As training is the main aim of the course the races are relatively short and set based on the expected wind conditions rather than going to or from predetermined locations. We spent most of our time going along the south coast on either side of Portsmouth.

Despite being a training exercise there was some distinct competitiveness between the boats. With a healthy dose of banter going on throughout the week. We had a couple of solid starts with a few wins thrown in, so spirits were high. The various positions of the boats changed regularly throughout the races as different training drills were run. There were several things we needed to cover as part of the course and these needed to be done during the races, rather than setting aside time specifically for them. The most common of these were man overboard (or MOB) drills, which we did at least once a day. This is one of the emergency situation we’re likely to encounter and it’s important that everyone is intimately familiar with what must happen. Particularly as anyone could potentially be the person in the water and therefore everyone needs to understand all the roles involved in recovering a person from the ocean.

During the lead up to the start for the last race we had the unfortunate incident of letting a line (nautical talk for a rope) drape over the side of the boat while the engine was being used. There wasn’t much of it in the water but it was enough to get caught around the propeller. Once this happens the engine becomes useless and the propeller can’t turn. Being a sailing yacht, we can move about without the engine, however it is a safety device and really needs to be serviceable at all times in case of an emergency and less importantly for mooring in a marina. A couple of hours and a diver under the boat and we were on our way again, playing catch-up on the boats that had already set off. While annoying the most telling thing from the whole incident was how quickly and innocuously things can go wrong. There were approximately 15 people on deck at the time and not one person noticed the potential from the line to get caught…. You really need to be on top of everything!

Some of the best moments for me during the week were helming (nautical for steering) one afternoon and going up the mast on the last day. I can’t remember which afternoon it was, however the sun was out low enough in the sky to be pleasant without blinding and there was a mild steady breeze. The waves were relatively small and smooth and the boat was set up nicely. I was lucky enough to be on the helm, as they say in sailing parlance. It was quite a special moment and I remember thinking: this is what it’s all about, I could do this for days on end. One of those moments that makes everything else disappear!

On the last afternoon (Saturday) we were heading up the Solent (between mainland England and the Isle of Wight) which is a prime sailing area in the UK. It was another sunny day, which they all weren’t, with very little breeze. Being a weekend there were plenty of yachts out and about. We decided to get started on some of the maintenance early, as it was calm enough to get some things done. One of the things that needed doing was to check the rig, which is basically the mast and everything that holds it up. So I found myself 30 odd meters above the boat as we sailed along. Being calm it was an easy trip up and quite easy to work once I was up there. The views were amazing, as you can see from some of the photos below.

As with most things in life, there is a cost to a wonderful weeks sailing. Aside from the financial cost, which we’ve all paid, the big cost for a week’s sailing (or several weeks crossing the ocean) is the deep clean. This job, is done on the last day of all the training courses and generally takes the entire crew working for 3 to 4 hours to complete. Everything that isn’t fixed down is removed and washed, all surfaces are cleaned down including the floors, walls and ceilings of the boat. The galley (kitchen) and heads (bathrooms) are given special attention. It’s quite surprising how quickly 20 odd people can create so much mess in such a short period of time. Especially as spot cleaning is done every day, and everyone is conscious of being clean. Water that enters the boat, despite every attempt to keep it out, doesn’t help with keeping things clean.

One of the last jobs we did at the end of our clean this time, was to fill the two 300 litre fresh water tanks, ready for the next crew. In doing this I ended up sitting below in the saloon on my own minding a hose sitting in a tank. After such a hectic week with something always going on, it was an odd feeling being in the boat which was quiet, without another person to be seen or heard. It brought home two things at the time, one was that I hadn’t truly been alone on my own in a week. Even when I was sleeping there was someone in the bunk below or just around the corner in the galley/saloon. The other was in a very short period of time we’d all been through an experience that had bonded us as a group and despite the relatively short period of time, I would miss the people I’d been with. Sailing a racing yacht for 24 hours a day is very intense experience and bonds a good group together quite quickly. It’s too early to predict what things will be like in a year, but if the previous week is anything to go by, then the end of the whole journey is going to be a very emotional experience.