At some point over the four hours between going off-watch to try to get some sleep and being woken with the news that it was really cold and wet on deck and to dress accordingly, the other watch had reached our furthest upwind destination for the trip and had turned the yacht around. This makes a huge difference to life on board the yacht. Imagine standing in your kitchen, trying to cook a meal for ten hungry people. Now imagine that the floor is sloping to a 35 degree angle and keeps rising and falling four to five metres at a time – and still having to cook that meal. I love upwind sailing when I am on deck – but life down below is hard work, even getting in and out of your bunk is a physical challenge. Once the yacht is sailing with the wind behind it, everything levels off and becomes much calmer and flatter.
Suitably bundled in many layers, we arrived back up on deck at 1am to torrential rain. The others hadn’t been joking then when they said it was wet! Luckily after about an hour, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and we were treated to an amazing display in the night sky. There were so many stars and a rising moon and I even saw a shooting star. As the yacht was flatter now, I could helm the boat and spent a fantastic hour trying to surf down waves towards the moon.
Sailing at night is so different to sailing during the day. There are so many more challenges, like trying to figure out what the lights on ships mean, which way they are moving and even if they are on a collision course with you or not. Sometimes it felt like we were driving down the motorway at night, doing 80 miles an hour, with the headlights off! But in some ways it is calmer to daytime sailing; there are usually fewer people on deck as anybody off watch tends to be sleeping which means you get a chance to talk to the other members of your watch without a lot of distractions.
For the next four hours, we helmed in pairs; the wind was quite gusty and when the gusts hit it was hard to hold the yacht on course without some additional help. I was helming with Gus, another dinghy sailor, so between the two of us we spent our two hours trying to get a 68 foot, 32 tonne boat to surf down the waves… well it is just like a big Laser afterall, with a few extra sails! As we finished our watch at 5am, we were just approaching The Needles off the Isle of Wight, setting the Skipper and his watch up for a fantastic sunrise and sail up The Solent towards Cowes. I only have photographic evidence that it was a lovely sunrise… I was in my bunk trying to get warm and a bit of sleep.
Four hours pass very quickly; luckily we had a Skipper who liked to cook and we crawled out of the Crew Ghetto just before 9am to the smell of baking bread. There was even a bake-off between the Skipper and Tanja, a Croatian whose mother had insisted she learn to make bread at an early age; only once a girl can make bread is she ready to get married! We were treated to two loaves of freshly baked bread for breakfast on deck in the sunshine – both of which disappeared very quickly, giving us fuel for the activities the Skipper had planned for us that day!
The plan for the evening was to stay in East Cowes Marina – so the Skipper decided that we could stay up all day and do some more drills as we were going to get a good nights sleep that evening. That meant a day of tacking, gybing, reefing and man overboard drills, followed by a Le Mans start upwind race with Visit Finland. In a Le Mans start, the yachts line up next to each other with their mainsails hoisted and their headsails hanked on and ready to go. On each of the yachts the crew wait behind the big winch on deck called the coffee grinder for the start signal, at which point they race forward to hoist the headsails and trim them as quickly as possible. The crew who manages to do this the quickest will get a lead over the yacht whose crew are slower. Unfortunately that crew was us due to a combination of poor planning and equipment problems.
Once we had tied up in East Cowes Marina, it was time to get the dinghy out and pump it up for our next challenge. As part of our Level 1 training, we were being assessed for the RYA Competant Crew certificate which meant that we each had to demonstrate that we could row a dinghy. With a safety line attached to our life jackets, we each took it in turns to row between the pontoons; on completion we were given the code to the shower block and allowed to go and get a warm shower.
After an evening in the pub and a good nights sleep, we were ready for our last day at sea. Unfortunately there was not much wind to play with, but that didn’t stop the Skippers of our yacht and Visit Finland setting up a number of races between the two crews. As we had lost the race the day before to Visit Finland, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be losing the races today – luckily we managed to better organise ourselves as a crew which meant we won the majority of the races (and the promise of a drink from the Skipper that evening!)
For the final hour at sea, we put the spinnaker up again – and this time I got to helm under spinnaker which was an amazing experience. Visit Finland were doing mast climbs just behind our yacht, and one of their crew managed to get a number of fantastic pictures of me helming De Lage Landen under spinnaker from the top of the mast. I love the reflection of the sails in this picture – not bad for a Laser sailor who is used to only having one sail to deal with!