Feedback on a Boat-handling Weekend

Brushing up boat-handling skills? Sounds like a good idea. Taking to the water in mid-March? That may not sound such a good way to spend a weekend, and yet when our party met at Hamble Marina earlier this year for an early season refresher course, we were all agreed that it was going to be a great time.

Our instructor for the weekend was Chris Price, well-known to BTOSC members. There were three other candidates apart from myself and among us we had a range of experience – but one aim: to hone our skills in manoeuvring a boat.

On the Saturday morning, over the first cup of tea of the day, Chris explained how the course would be structured. Most of it would be spent with one of us at the wheel carrying out the exercise – this was unashamedly a practical, physical weekend. We would be getting ‘down and dirty’.

After familiarising ourselves with the boat and going through the safety briefing, we completed the final checks and set out for Southampton Water and the first stage of our learning. Chris went through boat shape above and below the waterline and how this affects the boats manoeuvrability, wind and tide and the all-important prop effect; work with it and it can make life so much easier!

With our introduction complete, it was time for us to put the theory into practice and re-acquaint ourselves with going forward and astern, describing a figure of eight and turning the boat in her own length. The Hamble proved to be an excellent place to (re)learn the basics of steering with plenty of space, little water-bound traffic and few onlookers to be puzzled by our repeated moorings alongside followed at intervals by the sound of our voices united in the mantra “wind on, spring off, tide open”.

The instruction was relaxed rather than intense – just in keeping with the mood of the sunny spring day. Chris would allow us to make our own mistakes (never a question of danger to life or damage to boat, I hasten to reassure the club Chairman!), but then explained what we’d done, and how we could put it right. The weekend was turning out to be fun.

And then we came to man overboard.  This is perhaps what most sailors are nervous about and fervently hope never to have to do for real. Practising time and again is the only way to overcome the nervousness and anxiety. With Chris’ expert tuition, we all managed – eventually – to recover our “man” swiftly and in tact both under engine and under sail. That was a very useful exercise and one that you can never repeat too often.

We put our newly rediscovered skills and confidence to good purpose during the afternoon when we practised sailing and motoring onto and off a buoy and anchoring. Over a pre-dinner drink, Chris talked us through rafting up and leaving a raft and explained the theory of running aground. And we left it there…..

One of the best things about the training course was that it didn’t just tell you what to do. Rather, Chris explained why we should handle the boat in a particular way. So instead of just turning the wheel and hoping for the best, we were starting to get a real understanding of how a boat steers. By carefully watching what was happening to the boat, we could anticipate what might happen next and handle the boat with ease.

Which was just as well. After a gentle cruise up the Medina in the unseasonably warm and sunny weather of Sunday morning, and a little more practice in stemming the tide with some ferry gliding thrown in for good measure, Chris set us our toughest test of the weekend.

The challenge was to reverse the boat into a space in the North Basin marina at Cowes. Fortunately at the start of the exercise the marina was fairly empty but as time progressed other boats – yachts and power boats, big and small – came into berth. It was a very narrow space with an angled approach and other peoples’ boats on either side. We’d seen this spot when we set off that morning, and there was no way I’d have thought I could ever steer a boat into that space without losing the push pit or some paint at least or gaining someone else’s guardrail en route. This was going to be a real test of how much we had remembered from our steering lessons from the day before.

For many people (and I hold my hand up here), berthing the boat in a marina is one of the most trying experiences to be had on the water. Attempting to come alongside in a busy marina somewhere in the Solent on a Saturday afternoon in the summer can test anyone’s boat handling skills – let alone their psychological stability.

But I managed – and so did the rest of the team. Because by now, we’d settled into the rhythm of the boat. By giving us plenty of hands-on experience, Chris’ coaching had increased our confidence to such a point that we wouldn’t throw our hands in the air when faced with a challenge like this. Instead, we took it calmly, slowly, and carefully. I think that’s what boat handling is all about.

For me, it was a thoroughly enjoyable refresher to the skills needed to handle a boat in a range of situations in close quarters. While we were chatting over a final cup of tea, it became clear that whether experienced or relatively inexperienced sailors, we had all learned a lot – perhaps more than we would have thought at the outset. And just as importantly, we’d all had an enjoyable time.

Many thanks to Chris Price and my companions on the boat-handling weekend, March 13th -15th 2009.

BTOSC Croatia Cruise 2008 (13th. – 28th. September)

This was a two-yacht BTOSC cruise, with a crew change on one of the yachts after the first week.

The idea of sailing in Croatia had been discussed in the Club during 2007 and two Club Skippers were keen to do this trip. In the end we had two boats, for two weeks with three crews – one boat changing crew midway. With options of June or September, the latter was eventually chosen because it received the most support from club members

The Yachts

The yachts, a Sun Odessey 42.2 called “Wendy” and a Bavaria 34 called “Sebastian” (what an unusual couple!), were chartered out of Kastella Marina, near Split Airport.

The Plan

The plan was to spend the first week sailing down through the islands to Dubrovnik, where “Sebastian” would change crew, and then sail back to Split during the second week, taking in the sights that were missed on the outward leg. In the event, it did go more-or-less like that.

Day One

Everyone arrived safely at Split and we took over the boats; there were a few things that the skippers had rectified before accepting them. Commercial coding in Croatia currently lags behind that of the EU and life rafts aren”t mandatory, nor are jackstays and the lifejackets were of the bulky foam variety. We had a very pleasant meal at the marina – the first of several for the crew of “Wendy”!

Day two

The next morning we got away in a reasonable breeze and pleasant sunshine; the smaller yacht getting away first (a general feature of the holiday!). We were heading for Milna on the Northern end of the island of Brac.

Halfway out to the Island, a weather front came through, delivering 35 knots plus of wind and “horizontal rain”. With little visibility and just a scrap of sail, it was time for the engine and navigation lights!

Meanwhile, “Wendy” was also in the channel and additionally experiencing the first of her engine/gearbox problems. She had to sail back to Kastella, where the wind died as she approached the marina; she eventually berthed with the aide of a RIB and the crew retired to the marina restaurant again (the usual seats?).

“Sebastian” arrived in Milna on the other side of the front but found it very busy – one marina was full and a space was eventually found in an out-of-the-way corner of the other marina – much to the suprise of the marina official when he found that we had berthed there without his help!

Day three

The next day both yachts set off for St Klement island off the Northern end of Hvar Island, opposite the tourist town of Hvar. We both berthed in the Palmizana Marina in the late afternoon and took the ferry to Hvar for a very pleasant evening – one of only three we would share (excluding the first and last nights).

Day four

The following day both yachts set off for Korcula on the Island of the same name. “Sebastian” was well on the way when a message arrived from “Wendy” to say that they had had a recurrence of their engine problems. “Wendy” then headed for Vela Luka on Korcula, where a rendevous with an engineer had been arranged (turned out to be a Croatian hunk by at least one account!).

“Sebastian” pushed on for Korkula, but as the wind faded it was back to the engine for the afternoon in a pattern that was to become familiar. On arrival Korcula was full so it was a quick trip across the channel to the Peljiasac Peninsular and an evening in Orebic.

Day five

In a renewed attempt to cruise more-or-less in-company, the yachts set off the next day for Polace on the Island of Mljet, which is a Croatian National Park. On arrival the restaurateurs, each with their own jetties, encourage yachts to tie up at their restaurants by holding up their “lazy lines” (a feature of Mediterranean mooring). Joseph was successful in getting our attention and whilst the food was of limited choice (we were lucky that it suited us), the service was excellent! Day five and we were heading for Luka on the Siapan, another of the Elephite Islands. As usual (by now), “Sebastian” had a head start and secured the last of the berths on the harbour wall at Luka. “Wendy” was obliged to sail on to Slano, on the mainland, where she ended up secured alongside a “lights and bouys support vessel” (which, the skipper noted, did not avoid them being charged for mooring!).

Day six

The next day was on to Cavtat, South of Dubrovnik and close to the airport. Everyone was able to get pictures of the historic, walled town (An UNESCO World Heritage site), before berthing Mediterranean-style at the town key in Cavtat – a location that would have been unavailable in June, owing to the number of “Super Yachts” that use it!

After a tour of Dubrovnik in the late afternoon, we had what was to be our last meal together as a combined crew, until the last night.

Day 7

The next day “Wendy” started back for Split, but “Sebastian” had a lay day waiting to complete her crew change. Taking advantage of this “Wendy” headed for Luka on Saipan to see what she had missed.

Day 8

The following day “Wendy” continued on to Pomena at the North of Mljet – the lobster looks nice! “Sebastian” took a short hop to Dubrovnik marina – probably the most mediocre meal of the holiday.

Day 9

The next day began cold and wet for “Sebastian” , with a little wind at first but soon fading to leave us chugging along in the murk, trying to catch up to Wendy. “Wendy” had set off for Korcula, but not before booking a berth for “Sebastian” in Pomena at the same restaurant – where the steak was excellent too! “Wendy” was successful in getting a berth in Korcula, but the getting into it was less straightforward (in fact it involved forwards and backwards!)

Day 10 -11

The sailing on the tenth day was some of the best that we enjoyed – “Wendy” pushed on for the Island of Viz and “Sebastian” made a repeat visit to Orebic (the new crew having not previously been there and the skipper having been there many times).

“Wendy” spent two days on Viz, in different harbours, and “Sebastian” returned to St Klements, to give her new crew a look at Hvar (Above).

Day 12

The penultimate day saw “Wendy” complete her tour with a visit to Milna on Brac and “Sebastian” headed off for another walled town – Trogir on the mainland; at one point “Wendy” had hoped to join her, but changing winds altered that plan.

Final Day

The two weeks were rounded off by a very interesting berthing in a crosswind of 25 knots, gusting to 35 knots plus when we returned to Kastella!

It was a great holiday – a combination of sightseeing, challenging sailing, relaxing sailing and excellent food and company! The old walled towns of Dubrovnik, Korcula, Vis and Trogir were not to be missed. Then there were the small bays of Polace, Pomena and Luka where you could just step off the boat into a local restaurant with delicious fresh fish and tasty steaks. Highlights for “Wendy” included mooring alongside the ship that maintains the Croatian Light Ships in Slano and parking illegally on the Customs & Excise mooring in Vela Luka!

Both yachts covered over 300 miles in total with wind speeds from 0 to over 35 knots, though the weather and the forecasts were a bit hit and miss (another feature of the Mediterranean). We would set out with 30knots then within 2 hours we would be going nowhere, re-reading the daily forecast warning of winds of 35-50knots in the Adriatic!

So it was on the last day – returning from Milna to Split. The forecast of “Near Gale” was greeted with all round derision as we hung around waiting to get onto the fuel pontoon. As we came out of the bay the wind speed gathered pace and we spent the next 4 hours battling with wind speeds of over 35knots! On “Wendy” Colin was the hero of the day though, dodging through the fleet of returning yachts and reversing into the marina and onto our mooring in gusts of Force 8!

On “Sebastian” , we were amazed by the incredible scenery. The harbours and quays, where we spent the night, were all strikingly picturesque and different. The views made even the motor sailing tolerable! Finally, we will never forget that “horizontal rain” on the first day.

“We had a good holiday, which was well organised by Andy Shrimpton and supported by Colin Jarvis skippering the second boat. The engine failures on Colin’s boat were handled well and calmly by him and the crew, who on the first occasion got us safely back to the marina for repairs despite 20 Knot winds dropping to 0, and all boat movement was lost as we approached the marina. On the second occasion, we were setting off to leave in the morning, and after a few minutes of pandemonium and the help of a neighbouring boat we were able get lines back to the shore and re-moor. Thankfully the next engineering fix lasted the holiday.”

BBQ Weekend 26-28 Sep 2008

Forever after to be known as “The Inuendo Cruise”) – Bavaria 34 “Bagadeus”

As I was unloading my rather small weekend sailing bag containing, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 Pair of seaboots, thermals, mid layer, oilies, hats socks – you are getting the picture? Well this is the Solent in September!! I was accosted by an old acquaintance who appraised me of the weather forecast for the weekend!!, shall I just take a pair of shorts and a couple of shirts??? Nah, as I already said, this is the Solent in September!

Our skipper and some of the crew were already on board and after introductions the obligatory kettle was put on. Soon after another member of the crew joined us and we then adjourned to the Ketch Rigger for our evening meal and a small glass of Sherry, and then we were joined a little later by the 6th and final member of our crew who has an affinity to Prince Charles as he has the unusual claim to fame of also being at both of Charles weddings!! The evening degenerated as the effect of the Sherry kicked in, and the small talk went from, how much sailing experience you have to what washing machine and vacuum cleaner you own and even what sort of lawn mower !!!

‘Bagadeus’ the kettle was once again put on, and out came  homemade cakes! Coffee and Walnut and Lemon Drizzle!!, Now call me shallow if you like but I was really beginning to like this particular crewmember by now, especially as Coffee and Walnut is my favourite, and I made a mental note to ensure that there would be none left by Sunday.

Saturday dawned cold damp and very foggy, this is not good we thought. However, after an expertly cooked breakfast, the sun began to burn off the fog and a gorgeous day looked in prospect.

I was offered the honour of acting as ‘Mate’ for the day, so with myself at the helm we slipped Hamble Point without too much stress and headed out toward the Solent. The wind was really light and quite fluky so motor sailing was the order of the day with each crewmember having a half hour stint on the helm. Our original plan was to anchor in Newtown Creek for lunch, but on approach it looked like a motorway service area on a Bank Holiday, so we decided to use the anchoring area outside. All was calm and serene as we made our approach and the order was given to drop the anchor. After a relatively short time all hell broke loose as the windlass tried to follow the anchor and chain into the murky depths!! The decision was made to cleat the anchor chain off and reassess the situation after lunch (assuming we were still afloat!) On further inspection it was discovered that the base mounting for the windlass had already been repaired, and this is what had failed again.

The wind had filled a bit by now and we were able to make reasonable headway across towards Lymington with a view to tacking back to Yarmouth where we had a berth booked. As we approached Yarmouth we were greeted by the spectacle of numerous Gaff rigged boats with their multi coloured sails being picked out in the bright sunlight, it really was special.. Passing the sign saying “Harbour Full”, we found our pontoon and rafted alongside a Westerly Consort with not too much drama and broke out the beers.

The Mate had arranged all the food for the BBQ and we made our way to the BBQ area, surprise surprise, lovely summer evening and all of the BBQ areas were taken, a-ha time for another beer!. The Mate being as resourceful as ever found a large stone near to the shoreline, which was perfect to house our coals, so we fired up. The BBQ consisted of Steak burgers, Ferociously hot Lamb and Chilli burgers, chicken and lamb kebabs and sausages all cooked to perfection, thank you Chef!

We returned to Bagadeous for the obligatory night cap and slab of cake, I now was on a mission as I had heard that a potential robber was back in the country and may be parachuting in to stake a claim on my cake.

Now, when we were discussing sleeping arrangements on the Friday night, I was very honest and said that I snored, a lot! However my companion in the saloon said that he didn’t, needless to say I was a little concerned that I may keep him (And the rest of the crew) awake! Can I just say – you is a fibber!!!!

Our neighbours had said that they were leaving early so the decision was made to get up about 7 and beat the rush for the showers

Sunday morning was again still and misty, and we all managed to get up on time and undertake the trek to the toilet block, which was really quite busy even at this ungodly hour. On our return a conversation ensued regarding the inordinate amount of time that a woman can take to shower, at which time our skipper made his feelings known in a way that only a chap can!! However this was taken as a compliment that quite clearly our skipper felt comfortable in her presence.

We left Yarmouth with the Mate at the helm and Mate for the day and started our way back to the Hamble in very light airs, motor sailing became the order for the day again. We picked up a buoy on the lead in to Power Station creek and sat in awe at the size of the container ships that were going in and out of Southampton. After a short break for lunch we proceeded back to the Hamble in a really busy procession, which got quite exciting at times as only the Hamble can on a busy Sunday afternoon, but a perfect approach was made as was departure to and from the refuelling berth at Warsash!

The weekend seemed to pass all too quickly and before we knew it the decks were scrubbed, heads cleaned and we were all heading towards our respective vehicles for the trip home.

I must say that I, for one, had a FANTASTIC weekend, the crew demographics were amazing and I hope that my fellow crewmembers enjoyed it as much. This sort of event makes me wonder why I do not sail with the club as much as I did anymore.

Norway (11-20 June 2008)

One of the BTOSC Skippers has been organising club cruises to Norway for a few years. With an upbringing in Norway, and his ability to speak Norwegian coupled with his love of the area has made him the ideal person to organise such events. Many members have been on these cruises and found out for themselves the beauty of the Norwegian coast and experienced the friendliness of its people. I have always meant to go on one of these cruises but have never quite made it but this year maybe that it could be the last year he would be able to organise such events so I thought I had better sign up while I still could.

The flights were arranged well in advance so we all got a good deal with Ryanair. More particularly a good charter rate had been negotiated, obtaining a bigger boat for less money! The crew first met at Standstead Airport and after a quick top up with duty free which hopefully would see us through the 10 day trip (Alcohol is a little expensive in Norway!) we boarded the plane for the mid-morning flight to Torp. There we were joined by the last member of the crew who had flown in from Manchester.

We then made the short minibus journey to Sandefjord, a delightful town that use to be a centre for the Whaling industry where our boat was waiting for us on the town jetty, tied up next to a restored Whale Catcher, complete with harpoon gun!

“Trans Ocean Express” was not in fact a Container ship, but a Benetau Oceanis ‘Clipper’ 473. She was well equipped with all mod cons plus a lot of extras that you only find on a private charter yacht. Her name sounds impressive on the VHF and harbour masters do tend to query the length and draft sometimes! John knows these waters well and had a full itinerary planned for our nine day cruise, so without delay our gear was stowed and it was off to explore the coast of Norway.

Our cruising area was the SE coast, which is in an area known as the Skagerack. It is made up of thousand of Islands, countless isolated rocks and many deep fiords and sounds. It is a popular area for sailing and holidays. I am sure there are more boats than people. Many charming small towns and villages complement the beauty of the seascape. The geography means that it is often easier to travel by boat than by car. It is boat heaven, during the summer anyway! The combination of rocks and pleasure boats may account for the 5375 shipwrecks recorded in Norway during 2005. Hopefully most of these were minor incidents.

Our cruise took us to Stavern, Kragerø, Lyngør, Tvedestrand, Arendal, Grimstad, Lillesand, and Risør. We did some interesting rock hopping navigation through some very narrow but very deep inshore channels. These passages gave some beautiful views of the Norwegian coast and countryside and access to small hamlets tucked away in virtually rock pools. On the chart some of these passages seemed impassable but local knowledge saw us through and took us to some amazing places.

A social highlight for some crewmembers was our stop at Arendal (Wasn’t this mentioned in Lord of the Rings?). Our visit coincided with a Harley Davidson convention. There were almost as many as Harleys as there were boats and that is saying something in this part of the World. The small town was awash with bikers and live music, all clustered around the small harbour; a great atmosphere and contrast to the normally quiet towns along this coast. Norwegians certainly know how to enjoy themselves.

For others the visit to Grimstad, home to the famous Norwegian playwright Ibsen, was a highlight. Whilst drinking in the Café Ibsen a striking resemblance between a crewmember and the great man was alleged?

For most of the cruise winds were generally light and S’Westerly and on the nose of course. Despite its Northern latitude this coast is normally pleasantly warm in the summer but like England temperatures were down a bit this year. Towards the end of our cruise as we headed back towards Sandjeford the winds picked up giving us a really good downwind sail in F5/6. We stormed into Stavern for an over night stop with wind still increasing and visibility decreasing. We were followed in by some yachts which were abandoning an off shore yacht race due to the high winds and huge seas which soon build up in this area. After doubling all the mooring lines we weathered the worst of the storm in a local restaurant and celebrated what was to become the last night of our cruise.

The next day sea conditions made it unwise to attempt even the short offshore passage back to Sandjeford, so it was agreed with the owner to leave “Trans Ocean Express” in Stavern which made for a slightly longer road journey back to Torp and our flight home.

The crew were also introduced us to the delights of Norwegian cuisine. It is true that some crewmembers did not fully develop a taste for fish balls. The reindeer balls were more to my taste but surprisingly small!

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