Level 2 Training Diary – Part 2

After the sea survival course, it was time to head over to Gosport Marina and meet up with our Skipper for the week, Juan Coetzer (Skipper of Geraldton Western Australia in the 11-12 Clipper Race). I would be sailing on CV9 Qingdao with 8 others who had decided, like me, that the end of January would be the perfect time of year to spend a week at sea in the Solent and English Channel. I think most of us had chosen January to do training so that we would have more chance of experiencing sailing in colder, rougher weather; the forecast for the week showed that we weren’t going to be disappointed.

After our gear was stowed in our bunks, it was time to get started on introductions, safety briefings and theory for the week as dinner was being cooked in the galley. The great thing about doing the sea survival course first was that we were already fairly relaxed with each other as a crew, having spent the day towing each other around the pool and huddled in a liferaft, so the jokes were already flying around. After a few hours, it was time to go and continue the crew bonding over a drink in the pub, but not before the skipper had told us that we would be starting at 6am the next morning… so fairly early nights all round then!

The following morning was taken up with safety, engine and deck checks, all of which had to be completed before we could set sail from the marina. Finally, it was time to head out to sea. The wind was being kind to us, so we only needed to put one reef in the mainsail. We spent the afternoon recapping the drills we had learned during our Level 1 training like tacking and gybing before returning to the marina for more theory.

The next morning we awoke bright and early – the boat had to be cleaned down below and rigged up on deck before we were going to have breakfast! Incentive enough to get things moving quickly! The wind had picked up overnight and was blowing 20 knots – it was going to make for a physically challenging day at sea, especially as the plan was to cover all we had learned during our level 1 training in a day.

We had an additional crew member on board, Dobie, who would be our Man Overboard dummy for the week. In Level 1, man overboard drills were carried with a fender; Dobie was going to make searching and recovery of a ‘person’ from the water a bit more realistic and he would be going over the side of the boat. At least one crew member wears a climbing harness whilst we are sailing so that if there is a man overboard, or Dobie overboard, that person can be lowered over the side of the boat to recover the casualty. There are many reasons you have to quickly learn to work as a team and trust each other as a crew – this is one of them.

After a full day of sailing, I was on the helm, helming a 68 foot yacht upwind in waves for the first time. I didn’t get much chance to helm these yachts during my level 1 training, due to my encounter with the ankle breaker, so I was savouring the experience. I also happened to be the person wearing the climbing harness. I think we all thought that we wouldn’t be carrying out a man overboard drill in the conditions we were sailing in – the wind had picked up to 30 knots and it was getting dark.This video was shot around this time.

How wrong were we! We were told afterwards that as these were the sort of conditions when people ususally fall overboard, it was good experience to practise recovering them in the same conditions. At least I had had a bit of notice about the drill, when it was suggested that I pass the harness onto another crew member. It wasn’t worth risking damaging my ankle this early in the week, so I agreed and stayed on the helm, and Dobie was sent over the side.

To say our man overboard (mob) drill left a lot of room for improvement was an understatement. In the fading light, it was difficult to keep track of the person in the water, even though there was a light attached to the dummy and we managed to send the buoy with the flag over the side relatively close to Dobie. We temporarily lost sight of the mob but managed to find the flag and therefore the dummy nearby after about 20 minutes. The person who recovered Dobie was lowered slightly too far into the water, so much so that their lifejacket had automatically inflated. It was a sobering experience, especially with Dobie being so lifelike. It certainly brought home the reality of the situation to us all – being overboard in any sort of weather was not somewhere that we would want to be.

Level 2 Training Log

CV9 Qingdao Clipper Yacht Weymouth Harbour

Yacht ‘CV9′ Qingdao Clipper 68 foot Cutter Rig Sloop

Wind Max F9

317 Nautical Miles (Tidal)

8 days on board

9 night hours

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

Many reefs in, not so many reefs out, racing head sail changes, realistic man overboard drills with a life size dummy, one mast climb

A few equipment breakages, cold weather gear fully tested

Sea state – bumpy, bouncy, splishy and splashy

Weather – a bit gnarly

One encounter with a lobster pot; unfortunately no lobster for dinner

Not as many cups of tea; no doughnuts. Chocolate, wine gums, turron and Dutch cake consumed instead

Fantastic crew, shared hard work and many laughs.

All limbs intact; countless bruises, scrapes and broken nails.

RYA Sea Survival and Level 2 Clipper training certificates achieved.

26th January – 3rd February 2013

New Year’s Day Sail

What better way to start a big year of sailing for me than a sail across Belfast Lough, from Bangor to Carrickfergus with a group of friends.

Leaving Bangor MarinaLeaving Bangor Marina 2






In squally but sunny conditions, we made good time across the Lough. There were remarkably few boats out on the water – the Stena Line ferry doesn’t really count!

Christina Sailing Belfast Lough

After a great lunch of homemade Irish Stew and some cups of tea to warm us all up, we set off back to Bangor in the fading light. A perfect start to a brand new year.

Sarah, Diane, Christina, Sunset, Belfast Lough

Sailing, Surfing, Swimming, Surviving

After a month of Sunday ‘racing’ (read drifting / floating) in very light winds, this weekend the wind decided to show up. Laser sailing in heavier weather has some benefits in the winter – you are usually working really hard to keep the boat flat or upright that you have little time to get cold until you end up swimming. With the wind coming from the north, that guaranteed big swells in the bay, especially out into Belfast Lough. Closer to the beach where the committee boat was anchored, the smaller swell caught a fair number of sailors by surprise pre-race start and there were many soggy sailors before the warning signal had even sounded.

Committee Boat, Robin Gray, Ballyholme Yacht Club Icebreaker SeriesOne of these soggy sailors had good reason to be a bit nervous, having just bought the Laser sailed by fellow club member James Espey for Team Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics. This was only his second time out on the boat – luckily his pre-start swim only damaged the burgee at the top of the mast when he turtled it close to shore. It is fantastic to see James’ Olympic Laser being sailed at Ballyholme Yacht Club.

Reach Around, James Espey IRL, London 2012 Olympics LaserAnyway, back to the racing. Not surprisingly, people were being cautious at the start of the race; the Laser fleet starts under a black flag each week due to our amazing abilities to start a race properly. I managed to get a pretty good start – by the committee boat, inshore, where there was less swell. My race tactics were merely to keep the big pointy thing (mast) pointing in an upward direction for a long as possible. Compared to a lot of the other guys, I managed to do this with relative ease on the upwind leg, probably because I tend to depower my boat more than others. At times the bay looked more like a Monday evening open water swim session than a sailing race. Visiting sailors were getting caught out by the swell and could be seen doing multiple capsizes as they were being carried towards the shore.

This was not a time to be smug as has previously been noted. No. This was a time for keeping concentration, whilst watching the waves loom overhead as the fleet beat towards the windward mark. When one of the catamarans pitch-poled metres from the bow of my boat, there was no smirking from me (well, until I was safely ashore afterwards).

Ballyholme Yacht Club Icebreaker SeriesIt was on the first beat that I realised that I had not tied the tiller on properly. This meant that every time I tacked the boat, the tiller would catch on the traveller cleat and stop, requiring a bit of a jiggle to push the boat through the tack. Not great news, but in those conditions I figured I would carry on and hope for the best.

All was going well to the windward mark, where I bore off and immediately managed to catch a wave, surfing Laser-style. Yes, those whoops of excitement and joy were probably coming from me – the white knuckle ride had started for the downwind leg back towards the shore, where sometimes all you can do is to cling on for dear life and hope for the best.

It was at this point that things started to go awry (well, you were expecting it, given the title of the post weren’t you?!). Surfing a wave is great fun… exhilarating even. The problems start to occur when you need to stop surfing and change direction, especially when you are rapidly approaching rocks at the mouth of the bay as I was. I had no choice but to gybe the boat on the wave and try to change course before smashing into land.

Except that as I gybed the boat, the tiller got well and truly caught on the cleat, and no amount of pushing or pulling was going to dislodge this in time before the inevitable death-roll. Swim one. Climb back in… try again. Bear off, catch tiller, death-roll, swim two. Hmm…

As I stood on the upturned boat that I noticed a crack in the centre-board casing on the underside of the boat. I decided that this was a particularly good time to retire whilst maintaining my dignity (equipment failure is always a good excuse to come ashore early!). There was no reason not to enjoy the surf back though was there! As long as you return to shore the same number of times as you launch, that can be considered a good days sailing.

One of my fellow sailors commented afterwards that I must have been feeling fairly confident in my sailing abilities to take a camera onto the water in those conditions… I didn’t want to dispel his illusions by admitting that it was a waterproof camera 🙂


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