I can spot a fellow sailing novice at 100 paces. It might be a furrowed brow when asked to ‘throw a painter’ or a look of bewilderment after enquiring how a race went, only to be bombarded with a detailed account of events including the ‘luffing match, involuntary gybe and broach.”
And that’s just on dry land. If the novice decides to take the sailor up on his/her kind invitation for an afternoon’s racing (aka desperate for crew) the bewilderment is escalated to a whole new level when, at speed and more often than not, in dreadful weather conditions, they are asked to ‘back the jib, watch the tell tales’, or, horror of horrors, unleash the very devil’s spawn itself, The Spinnaker….
Despite being around boats for decades, my knowledge of sailing remains far too limited, but honestly, it’s not as if I haven’t tried to learn. My dear father in law, with the patience of a saint, would take me out on his Freedom 21 explaining the uses of various ropes and sails while I did my best to fight seasickness. I gamely supported my husband as he travelled around Europe crewing Dragons (not a hardship – the parties were marvelous) and again when he was campaigning his Squib, collecting a little bit of knowledge (and a hangover or two) along the way.
A few years ago when my husband couldn’t get crew for his Squib I said I’d step in and learn on the job (I don’t know what I was thinking either…). Armed solely with my memory from trips in the Freedom 21, party sailing chat and some shiny new kit from Musto, I became part of the RCYC Squib fleet for two seasons. I’d like to say I learned a lot but if I’m honest, all I can remember was spending the first part of every single race dreading the call to ‘get the pole ready’, and the rest of the race fighting with the pole and the devil’s spawn on the end of it. There was no time to learn anything other than spinnaker wrestling.
Then, when the Squib was sold and a pretty pink RCOD moved in as replacement I thought this would be my chance to learn properly on a larger boat with more crew to hide behind. To be fair, over the past couple of seasons, I think I have got a little better but when you’re racing there’s not much time to ask what ‘feathering or pinching’ means or why one needs to let the runners off/pull the uphaul and why the call ‘ready about’ precedes a flurry of activity which can be cancelled at the last second.
So when I heard the Club was launching something called Sailing on Sundays, for those new to the sport as well as anyone wanting to build up their confidence and/or knowledge I signed myself up and last weekend did what I should have done years ago.
We turned up for our briefing at 9.30 on Sunday morning and the first hour or so was spent covering theory with Steve Rands who assured me he didn’t mind my ‘stupid questions.’ In a short period of time he explained things I’d puzzled over for years (who knew the no go zone was that simple?) After the theory it was onto the water in a shiny new Topper Sport where we put our theory into practice in gentle, no pressure conditions. Our instructor was the wonderfully patient Christie who had me helming in no time and by lunchtime I felt I’d understood more about wind, tide, pointing, pinching and tacking than I had in many decades of just trying to stay one step ahead of a spinnaker… I can’t say Sue Law will have anything to worry about as the RCOD queen for a while but what a wonderful idea these sessions are.
If you think you could do with a little help in the sailing department, I couldn’t recommend them highly enough, whether you’re a complete beginner or just want a little extra help. At the very least you will learn to speak ‘conversational sailing’ and no spinnaker hoists required…