Training on the Solent

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On Monday and Tuesday I did a training voyage on a 35 footer from Port Solent to the Isle of Wight. It was the second time I’d been on a sailing boat that size, and the first time was when I was six. I went with my Mum and a friend of our family, Colin, who owned the boat.

To begin with Colin gave us a full introduction to the boat including all safety features such as fire extinguishers and buoys to throw out if there was a man overboard. We did lots of rope work, tying and untying the boat as we left the harbour and went through the sea lock. Mum got lots of practice at dropping ropes into the water. She says that a sailing boat should be light so that it can go fast, so it’s really important to get rid of as much weight as possible, and that’s why you see so many ropes washed up on beaches. It didn’t sound very plausible to me and Colin didn’t look convinced!

When we left the safety of the port I was put on the helm so that I could get used to handling such a heavy boat (I love sailing a Pico but it’s a bit smaller!). I was terrified. The wind was between 15 and 20 knots and Colin had the boat set up to go fast. We heeled right over and were sailing at between 6 and 7 knots. The angle of the deck was really steep, and I felt as though I had to fight the boat to keep it on track. Colin gave me a break from the helm, and I went below for a while.

When I came up we were sailing into a fog-bank which completely covered the west side of the Isle of Wight. The wind was strong and we were still heeled over, but it didn’t seem to bother me any more.

Navigating only by electronics we kept going. Colin was navigating and calling out headings to Mum, who was on the helm. I stayed as a lookout for buoys and other boats. With visibility at no more than two hundred metres we found our destination, Yarmouth harbour. we sailed in, tied up, put the kettle on and…  The fog cleared.

The next day the wind was coming from the same direction, so would be coming from more or less directly behind us. All we had to do was have our back to the wind and we would almost make it back on one tack. The weather was beautiful: with blue skies, warm sunshine and the wind coming from behind us it was a warmer, gentler sail than the day before. No heeling over, and we were sometimes making more than 7 knots.

I took the helm for the approach to Portsmouth and I noticed three small islands which looked unnatural. I asked Colin who owned the boats and he told me they were sea forts from the Napoleonic era. They are now hotels apparently.

In and out of Port Solent there is a channel that is dredged so that boats can pass during low tide. As a result it is very important that you stay in this channel or a boat like this with a two metre keel will run aground. Even so I was allowed to pilot the boat back to the port and Colin only took over when we had to enter the lock to get into the harbour.

I enjoyed helming this time, the boat felt more controllable on a broad reach, and I was beginning to get used to the feeling of handling a bigger boat.

I really enjoyed the trip despite the scary start. Mum and I are doing the RYA Competent Crew Course soon, and I think we will get much more out of it because we have already had a couple of days learning the ropes, although I think I need to convince Mum that the idea is to keep them on the boat.