On the second evening of training, I had an encounter with ‘The ankle breaker’. This is a raised area of the deck which people use to brace themselves against when the boat is heeled over to one side going upwind. It is even painted fluorescent orange to deter people from standing on it. But after a long day of sailing, I was getting ready to start packing the spinnaker away, when I stepped down onto the deck and ended up in a heap by the entrance to the companionway. I may have uttered a few choice words at this point. Luckily for me, I only sprained my ankle (but with some oh-so-impressive bruising :)) but as the plans for the next three days were to sail offshore, I needed to be sure that I could at least move around the yacht and be a useful member of the crew.
The following morning, after a discussion with the Skipper, I decided that I would carry on with the training week. Even though we had only spent two days together as a crew, everyone had gelled as a group immediately and I couldn’t imagine leaving the yacht at this point and returning in a few months time to start training again.
We set off from Gosport heading out to the English Channel around the Isle of Wight. The plan was to sail upwind for two days towards Dartmouth, then turn around and come back downwind. Before we had set sail, we had been divided into watches. This means that the crew is split in half and works four hours on watch, four hours off watch all day and all night. As there were only eight of us on board a yacht that is usually raced with eighteen crew, this was going to be a tough challenge, especially as the weather forecast was predicting strong winds which mean lumpy seas and the probability that at least some of the crew would succomb to sea-sickness pretty quickly.
After a few hours out at sea, there were a few people starting to look a bit green, so they were given tasks like helming to keep them occupied. I have always been lucky that I am not affected by sea-sickness – however I took some painkillers for my ankle that didn’t agree with me and I ended up in a bunk for the best part of twelve hours. Sis – I know how you feel now! The bunk I was put in was right underneath the cockpit, next to the navigation station, which was great because I could hear everything that was going on on deck, even the Croatian singing when Tanja was on the helm! It was also interesting to hear the difference in the sound that the water made as it swept past the hull, depending on who was on the helm at the time.
After about ten hours, I started to feel better and was about to go back up on deck when someone hit a wave and I got bounced back into the bunk. As I lay there for a few minutes to recover from another bruise, the Skipper took the helm and before I knew it I had fallen asleep, only to be woken as we entered Weymouth harbour for the night. The Skippers of both our yacht and Visit Finland who were sailing in proximity to us had decided that we didn’t need learn how to be sea-sick or how to deal with exhaustion as we would get enough experience of that along the way and with half of each crew down with sea-sickness, it was better for everyone to get a few hours of sleep and we would continue on our journey up wind in the morning. After a cup of tea on deck, with the obligatory chocolate and biscuits, it was time to get some sleep.
We awoke the following morning to brilliant sunshine; it was great to see Weymouth harbour and the Nothe Fort which had recently played a big part in the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events. We followed Visit Finland out of the harbour and continued on our journey up wind.
Our route took us out into the open seas which were building all the time. We passed Portland Bill lighthouse and then went out across Lyme Bay, heading for Dartmouth. In the space of one four hour watch, my watch had to take a reef out of the main sail, put in reef one, then reef two, then reef three, tack the boat and then take a reef out. With only four crew (including one with a dodgy ankle) and the first mate as watch leader it was hard work, especially as the boat was bouncing around on the waves. We gladly handed the yacht over to the other watch once our time was up and went below to try and get some sleep.