Memories of Learning to Sail.
Sailing, for me, for some reason didn’t feature on my list of interests until I was around 60. The one time I did experience sailing in a dinghy was around 1959 when Mac needed somebody to hang on to the jib of his Albacore in Chichester Harbour but getting cold and wet just for the fun of it never quite grabbed me, sorry Mac. But it was still better than work!
However 40 years later Barry persuaded me that I should get cold and wet at his sailing club at Weir Wood Reservoir near East Grinstead, he was an instructor there. I worked alongside Barry at Air Products and he convinced me that I would enjoy it. So, one Saturday I turned up at Weir Wood and was introduced to a Topper Dinghy which is not much more than a skate board with a sail, you don’t sit in it, you sit on it. I sat on it and promptly capsized before untying from the pontoon. The view from the depths was quite interesting.
I climbed back on board and surprisingly managed to stay aboard for a few trips up and down the lake, found my way back to the pontoon and even more surprisingly I was told I had passed the Level 1 RYA Sailing Course.
I’ve never been quite sure of what prompted me to sign up for a Level 2 and 3 sailing course at The Yealm Yacht Club in Newton Ferrers but I did. The pleasant couple who ran the club were welcoming enough and convinced me and my fellow students that we would be competent sailors by the end of the week. I knew a great deal about aerodynamics of an aircraft’s wing but I couldn’t figure out how a vertical wing (sail) could propel a yacht from A to B and back again from B to A. Nevertheless by the end of the week I did have a thorough grasp of how it was that sailing boats could go anywhere.
The teaching boats at Newton Ferrers were 100 year old clinker built craft with room for half a dozen – much more civilised. My fellow students and I took it in turns to experience tacking, gybing, reaching and running. The very adjacent cliffs in the narrow estuary were an incentive to tack smartly as was the sand bars lurking beneath which were waiting to catch the unwary. However, part of the course is to demonstrate that you can survive a capsize and for that you will have to, guess what? Climb aboard the club’s Topper Dinghy. I explained that I had already survived a capsize in a Topper but my argument didn’t hold any water. My fellow students seemed to enjoy the experience so I thought that I had better conform. Reluctantly I allowed myself to be tipped out of the Topper, this time my sun hat stayed on! I have to say that the social side of sailing was quite pleasant especially when a young lady student asked me to run her into Salcombe one evening! But I’ve never told anyone before so don’t mention it!
So, still not thinking much about sailing, Spike, another workmate at Air Products and a sailing enthusiast told me he was selling his Dinghy but it had a hole in it. To cut a long story short I bought his boat, mended the hole and joined a sailing club on Queen Mary’s reservoir near Heathrow. Sailing dinghy’s in a club is very competitive and not being too competitive I decided to seek a more conducive place to sail which turned out to be the club on the beach at Pagham. it seemed to fit the bill. It had a club house converted from a railway carriage with a very cosy bar which was enough to convince me to join.
However, launching a spindly dinghy on a steep shingle beach in amongst crashing waves is a bit of a challenge so a season at Pagham was enough – sorry Pagham.
My interest then switched to more chunky traditional craft which turned out to be a Cornish Cormorant. She suited my requirements - non competitive, docile and quite pleasant to look at. I found one for sale at a sailing club somewhere in the Midlands and trailed it back to my back garden. At about that time Mike, also at Air Products, was keen on sailing and he bought a brand new Wayfarer which had sparkling performance, gleamed in the sunshine and he named her Dawn Stroller after his wife.
To cut a long story short Dawn Stroller became known as Smashey and my Cormorant became known as Nicey so the adventures of Smashey and Nicey began and can be found on the front page of this blog.
Ray, also at Air Products, who also fancied himself as yacht skipper bought a Bavaria 37 called Bryan’s Breeze which he kept in Chichester Marina – very comfortable! My association with Bryan’s Breeze can also be found on the front page of this blog – riveting reading! By the way by this time I had enrolled for an RYA Competent Crew Course and Day Skipper Course at Leatherhead evening classes which also included an RT Certificate so that you would be confident if required to declare a ‘Mayday’ over the radio. I passed with 100% in all subjects – honest.
The practical side for the Day Skipper Course I decided to take was a week on board Barolo, a Gibsea 402 based in Falmouth Harbour, they were called Dream Seekers Sea School but have since disappeared.. My week with Bob, Bob, Dave, Jim and Denise was memorable but not that memorable. What was memorable was my trip aboard Barolo later that year from Brest via Ushant, The Scilly Isles, Lizard Point and back to Falmouth. On reflection I must have been potty to join this trip but I did see a Dolphin leaping alongside so not all bad. A brief account of the trip in verse can also be found on the front page of this blog.
My involvement with sailing continued with various hilarious and memorable trips, details of which can also be found on the front page.