Our first time out sailing

Posted in: Learning to sail, Video on Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Where to begin! Well I’ll start with the debilitating hangover I had after a night of watching the Royal Wedding with too much champagne.  I was ill.  It took all my energy and determination to get ready and even then I wasn’t sure I was going to be able go.  I was so annoyed with myself for being in that condition on the day I had been looking forward to for so long. Despite my hangover we left roughly on time.  Naively trusting our GPS for directions we didn’t research the route ourselves. This was of course a mistake. Ten minutes later we were still in the driveway waiting for the GPS to get a fix.  It was eating away at the fat in my carefully planned timeframes, my stress levels (and nausea) were rising.  I quickly raced back inside got a rough idea of the route praying for adequate signage along the way.The GPS finally got a fix before we hit the Story Bridge and guided us there on time.  We actually got somewhere on time and with time to spare.  Although we still manged to be the last to arrive.We met the other students and our instructor Rob.  Sailing with us were Trevor and Karen, a married couple refreshing their sailing skills before bareboat chartering throughout the Whitsundays in June. And Ian who was already very knowledgeable, he was partway through his professional skippering training.

First up was finding the boat in the forest of masts in the marina.  This marked the first time we had been around boats and marinas since the plan was born and for me it was an intensely moving few minutes.  The weather was absolutely perfect. As time slowed, blue skies stretched uninterrupted to the horizon. Bright, warm sun glinted off the water. The gentle rhythm of the boats knocking against their berths. It felt like a wonderland.

My reverie was broken when we arrived at the yacht that was to be ours for the day.  She was a beautiful 40ft Danish built vessel called ‘Foxy Lady’ and she certainly was foxy.  Ten years old and pristine.  Stepping on board was a bittersweet experience for me.  She was large, bigger than what we’ll buy. She was beautiful and still looked new. She was more expensive than we could afford.  It’d be like driving a Ferrari and then having to go back to your battered old Holden (although we love our battered old Holden to bits).

We gathered in the cabin to go over basic safety equipment and where to find it, then we learnt the different sections of the boat i.e. galley, head, saloon.  We were given a demonstration of the radio equipment and how to use the head (toilet). I knew I didn’t really need to listen to that part as there was no way in hell I was going to the toilet that day (and I’m pleased to say I didn’t have to. I’ll save my first marine toilet trip for another time.)

Then it was topside to be shown all the rigging and other parts of the yacht.  Even on a yacht that size with six people on board you’re always in someone’s way.  It was at this stage I started thinking that maybe 32 feet isn’t going to be big enough.

After that it was time to motor out of the marina and get sailing.  This is where specifics of what I was being told start to get fuzzy. I was in sensory overload. I was too busy checking out all the boats in the marina. Looking all around me trying not to miss a second and filming (very poorly) for this blog. On the way out of the marina we were told about the navigation markers that we were passing.

While still under power we were taught about the four points of sail and were given a chance steering into/across each.  From a distance to the casual observer we would’ve been going in slow, large circles.  It was at this point we were involved in our first bit of drama for the day. A marine rescue.

A group of windsurfers were training off to our starboard side when one of the girl’s sail snapped clean off her board and she drifted far from her group. It was a considerable time after that when we spotted her kneeling on top of her board in the recognised distress position (arms behind her head).\

We headed in her direction the radioed the harbour to advise of her presence in the water and our intentions. The harbour master then alerted the windsurfing groups assistance vessels (who weren’t providing much assistance). Ben was instructed to head to the bow, get her attention and offer our assistance. After about five to ten minutes of slowly circling and chatting to her the rescue vessel came and collected her out the water and we motored away.

Not long after that little bit of excitement the sails went up and we were all enlisted to help.  The thing I remember most is the sound of the sails unfurling and the sound they make when the wind catches them.   It was information overload for me. Rob was firing off commands and everyone was scuttling around carrying them out.  I had no idea what I was doing and felt totally out of my comfort zone. It was fantastic!

I think my biggest surprise for the day was realising just how physically demanding sailing is and just how unfit I presently am. My lack of physical strength is concerning me. I want to be a good deck hand who can do everything my skipper asks me to. I’m going to have to get stronger.

We anchored off Green Island for lunch (sadly my hangover combined with the gentle motion of the boat and food gave me my first bout of sea sickness). After eating we were shown how to tie a few basic knots and then went below to learn how to read charts and their symbols.  If you’ve ever seen a nautical chart you’ll know just how much information is shown on them. They’re covered in lines, symbols and notations in a multitude of colours.  Very confusing to the novice sailor.  But we’ll be doing some navigation training later in the year which will teach us what all those lines, symbols and notations mean in greater detail.

After lunch it was time to hoist the sails again and practice our skills at tacking. With the sands of Stradbroke glinting off the bow and the sun on our backs we spent the afternoon tailing and grinding, lazily changing course as we took in the ever changing view. The afternoon was hard work and yet very relaxing.

On our return to harbour, we were treated to a stunning sunset through the clouds which I was too busy piloting to fully appreciate.  It was exciting to get another turn at the helm as we headed back through the channel towards the marina.  My sole focus was the two white lights on shore. I had to have the bow of the yacht lined up with them while steering between the red and green channel markers. All while not hitting any of the oncoming traffic heading out of the marina!  To say I was nervous would be an understatement.

It was sad to have to go back to land after finally getting to be on board a yacht. We didn’t want to leave. But home we went, tired, sore and unbelievably happy.