10 Things I Learned during Level 1 Training

  1. Your little fingers are less important than your thumbs. When using a winch, make sure your hands are the right way around (little fingers towards the winch) or risk the Skippers’ wrath. Still, being told it is better to lose a little finger than lose a thumb is not overly comforting.
  2. Learn to bake bread. Then you too can take part in the ‘Great Clipper Bake Off’.

    Spelt, fig and walnut bread
    Here’s one I made earlier…
  3. Sometimes there are too many Chiefs / cooks. One mealtime there were 4 people in a very small galley discussing the best way of heating up quiches (in the oven?!). My suggestion of serving them cold wasn’t very well received. Funny thing was it was actually my turn to make the meal – and I couldn’t even get near the galley!
  4. Sometimes there are too many Indians. There was the (rare) occasion where no one person took charge of an evolution (sail change, putting in a reef etc.), resulting in long discussions about how something should be done and ending with the Skipper just telling us to get on with it as we were getting close to the beach. There are times when you just need to get on with things.
  5. Never turn down a cup of tea or coffee – you don’t know when you will be getting another one!
  6. Don’t leave your gear lying around. I managed to ‘temporarily misplace’ my head torch on the first night; it reappeared under a pile of sails on the last day during the deep clean of the yacht but it would have been much more useful earlier on in the week. Even more concerning to me was the number of times I lost my lifejacket down in the ghetto. Those extra minutes spent looking for it could have been extra minutes in a warm sleeping bag.
  7. Pay attention when someone is showing you which taps are fresh water and which are salt water. Yes – I did end up brushing my teeth with marina sea water with a dose of diesel and goodness knows what else on the first evening; the taste lingered for a good while afterwards.
  8. Make friends with your crew mates. They will be helming the yacht and carrying out manoeuvres whilst you are in your bunk below sleeping, spotting you if you have to climb a short way up the mast, cooking your dinner and making you coffee when you get out of bed at 1am and it is cold and wet.
  9. Physical fitness and upper body strength will be important. Sails are heavy to move around, winches need grinding, halyards need sweating and it can be hard work even climbing into and out of your bunk when the yacht is going upwind and everything in on an angle.
  10. Don’t forget your earplugs! With up to 18 people sleeping in the ‘ghetto’, the odds are that someone will snore. We were fortunate enough to have 3 such individuals and whilst earplugs didn’t totally block the noise, they certainly helped!

Level 1 Training Diary – Part 3

Andrew and Anne on Night WatchAt 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 On deck at nightothers 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 Andrew and Freddy have a morning coffeeGus, 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 Laurent on the coffee grindersleep 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.

Dinghy RowOnce 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. De Lage Landen during a sailing evolutionUnfortunately 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!

Helming under spinnaker
De Lage Landen under spinnaker in The Solent

Level 1 Training Diary – Part 2

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.

Level 1 Training Log

Yacht ‘CV8’ De Lage Landen Clipper 68 foot Cutter Rig Sloop

Wind Max F7

402 Nautical Miles (Tidal)

7 days on board

12 night hours

Gosport – Solent (Training) – Weymouth – Dartmouth – Cowes – Gosport

Countless tacks, gybes, reefs in, reefs out, head sail changes and man overboard drills

4  bunks

Innumerable cups of tea and coffee

Unlimited supply of doughnuts (well… I think we ran out on the last day)

RYA Competent Crew and Level 1 Clipper training certificates achieved

1 encounter with the ankle breaker

7-14 September 2012

Level 1 Training Diary – Part 1

On Friday 7th September 2012, I set off to Gosport to undertake my Level 1 training for the Clipper Round the World Yacht race. I had heard earlier in the week that I was to do my training on De Lage Landen CV8, one of the 68 foot Clipper yachts that had just returned from its last circumnavigation at the end of July. Another Level 1 crew as also on Visit Finland CV11 and we would be spending the majority of the week sailing in close proximity to each other.

Arriving at the yacht on Friday evening, I was joined by seven other crew members. Our skipper for the week was Jan Ridd, who had skippered the Cape Breton Island Clipper Yacht around the world in the 09-10 race; he was joined by Simon Layton as first mate. With eight novice crew members on a yacht that has a racing crew of approximately eighteen, these two were going to have their work cut out for them!

The evening started with a tour of the yacht, including instructions on how to work the heads and the really important bit of information about which taps had freshwater and which ones were salt water. I obviously missed this vital piece of information but learned the lesson the hard way when I found myself brushing my teeth with saltwater mixed with diesel later that night. Lovely.

Next item on the agenda was a safety briefing, including how to fit life jackets which were to be worn at all times on deck, use of safety lines, how to move around the yacht at sea (keep to the high side) and the location of and how to launch the life rafts if required. Other hazards on deck were pointed out to us, including a raised area on the cockpit floor known as ‘The Ankle Breaker’, which will unfortunately feature again later in the post. There was a lot of really important information to take in; luckily it was revisited over the next few days so I think some of it started to sink in (No pun intended :))

Once we had had complete information overload, it was time for dinner (Slow roast pork – yum) and drinks in the local pub.

Saturday started early with instruction on how to use the winches safely and how put the head sails on and hoist all sails. The sheer weight of each of the sails is phenomenal; it was hard enough to move them around the yacht whilst we were still tied up alongside the pontoon. It will be so much harder to do the same thing whilst bouncing around at sea. We also covered how to tack the yacht (change direction where the front of the yacht is turned through the wind so that the wind moves from one side of the yacht to the other), how to put a reef in the main sail (make it smaller if it gets windy) and the procedures to follow in case of a man overboard. After a quick lunch, followed by engine checks, it was time to sail out into the Solent and put some of the theory into practise. With wind speeds of around 10-12 knots, it was perfect weather for our first time out at sea.

Once out in the Solent, it was time to hoist the main sail and the two head sails. With a mast height of 81 feet, getting each of the sails to the top of the mast took a huge amount of effort. We then went through a series of tacks, putting reefs into the sail, shaking them back out and man overboard drills. We returned to the marina about 8pm, at which point it was time to tidy away the sails, make dinner, get showered and go for a drink if you could summon up the energy!

We spent all of Sunday at sea in the Solent and venturing a bit further afield around the Isle of Wight and consolidating the knowledge we had gained the previous day as well as learning how to gybe the yacht (similar to tacking, except the stern of the yacht passes through the wind). As there were 8 of us on board, and 8 jobs that needed doing during a tack, it was decided that we would do a series of 16 tacks – hard enough in a Laser dinghy, but so much more work on a 68 foot yacht! At any point, there could be a man overboard drill so we had to keep one eye out for that too. Whilst I was helming, the wind dropped to about 5 knots – not much to push a 40 tonne yacht through the water. Luckily, with my dinghy sailing experience, I managed to keep the boat moving through the water – after all, this was just a big dinghy with a few extra sails :). As we had completed all of our tacks, the skipper decided it was a perfect time to put up one of the new asymmetric spinnakers to see what they were like – we were warned that this would add an extra 45 minutes to the day as it would take that long to pack it away afterwards but there were no complaints!

The day finished with the stowing of all sails once we were back alongside the pontoon – at which point I got a lesson in how hard ‘The Ankle Breaker’ could bite…