Not that I’m slightly competitive at all (nooo, not me, never), but if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. Or at the very least knowing why you’re doing it and whose responsibility it is if it all goes horribly wrong!
Apparently the answer to this on a boat is – the Skipper.
So what on earth led me to the decision to take my RYA Day Skipper Theory and Practical is somewhat of a mystery. On board a Clipper yacht, I have no real need to know about skippering or anything other than basic navigation. But you know what it’s like – you get one Competent Crew certificate and it all goes to your head!
You stick it in a nice record book with your Sea Survival and your Essential Nav & Seamanship certificates, then you start eyeing up the blank sections in the book for the certificates you don’t have. Yet.
Suddenly you’re on to the next challenge and before you know it, you’ve got one of these:
In truth the RYA training is a fantastic place to start to learn the basics and the not so basic. At some point I’m likely to want to upgrade my dinghy for a bigger boat and actually knowing how to undertake a passage safely will be crucial.
I signed up to do the theory course online with Urban Truant, after seeing them at the Southampton Boat Show. It’s a beautifully designed user friendly website that is easy to navigate. Plus the instructors are lovely, were a great laugh and weren’t fazed by a pair of Crazy Clipper Crew! They say it takes about 40 hours to complete the course in it’s entirety. There are seventeen different modules to work through, at the end of most of them is a module test for you practise your new found knowledge. If you need any help at any point, you can contact the instructor directly from the page you’re having trouble with. At the end there are two timed exams to complete online. Within half an hour I’d received a message to say I’d passed and the next day I had another nice certificate arrive in the post to put in my book!
In my infinite wisdom, the last week of November looked to be the perfect time to put all this theory into practise. Of course the weather would be positively balmy, with a warm light breeze right? Wrong. It was cold, it was damp and it was blowing a gale. OK not quite a gale, but it was a bit windy. Thankfully it only rained a few times, always at night and I soon learned that if I slept with my head under the hatch, I’d wake up with a wet head! While we were connected to shore power, we had use of heaters so we were quite cosy.
The Elan 410 is lovely boat, very different from a Clipper 68 or 70 but perfect for learning on yet also suited for racing. The cabins are amazingly comfortable, especially the forepeak cabin which I had all to myself.
The galley was well equipped and the food provided was both plentiful and amazing. Meals had all been planned in advance and everything was provided, we had everything from full english breakfasts to moroccan lamb stew, not forgetting the sailing staple of pasties!
By day we learnt about engine checks and maintenance, springing on and off moorings, anchoring, manoeuvring, man overboard recovery and lots more besides. Each night we went into a different marina so by evening we had amazing meals, fine wine and many a laugh setting the world to rights. I’m not saying it was a bit of a crazy week but we ended up having the lamb stew for breakfast one morning and chocolate and snacks one evening as we were too tired to cook!
I’m not going to bore you with exact details of everything covered on the course, it was hard work but we learnt a lot in a really short space of time. I don’t think I made myself terribly popular on occasion with the words “we don’t do it like that on a Clipper boat” when querying things but it was certainly interesting seeing the differences.
One night we undertook a four hour night pilotage. I love sailing at night but night pilotage can be quite intensive when in heavily used waters. We spent our time running up and down the companionway checking the charts and then squinting into the distance trying to discern the correct flashing pattern for whichever buoy or marker we were making for next. All the time keeping an eye out for other marine traffic and keeping an eye on the depths as we were occasionally following a narrow channel.
The week passed by incredibly quickly, it was great to be able to put all that theory into practise, even if I did suffer seasickness for the first time ever. One minute I was hunched over the nav station looking at a chart, the next I felt slightly queasy and the next I was running up the companionway steps at quite a rate taking very deep breaths. My fellow crew member Chris remarked he’d not actually seen anyone go that particular shade of green before!
Add that to the not one but two sprained knees earned during the week, by the last day standing up was really quite painful. But not enough to put me off!
So what comes next? Coastal Skipper/Yachtmaster theory of course! Being a skipper is somewhat harder than I actually anticipated. Dinghy sailing is done a lot more by feel, you sometimes make adjustments without even thinking about it. I find a bigger boat very different, and giving the orders to get other people to do things even more different. So now I’ve got a taste for it, I’d like to get some more practical experience, some more hours out on the water to figure things out in my head in a less pressured environment. Then maybe we’ll be ready for the next step. But for the time being, it’s back to the charts for more theory work.