My face looks grim but really I’m trying to read the telltales on the sails while being buffeted by the winds. This picture was taken as we sailed from Ireland to Scotland aboard Juggler, a Beneteau Oceanis 393.
I didn’t know how cold I would get. I didn’t know how tired I could be. And I didn’t know that it didn’t take long to develop sea-legs and feel the shaping motion on land!
I took the helm when it was offered but with 3 other able sailors aboard, there was plenty of time for doing other things. When I figured out that I didn’t get sea-sick below, I helped with the cooking.
On a cold day in March in the North Channel, handing someone a warm cuppa was pretty much like telling them they’d won the lottery.
It took me years to get myself out properly on a voyage. I’d done bits and pieces, crewing for others, but in early 2016, freed of many shackles and believing that when we have lost everything we are capable of doing anything, I signed up for a Day Skipper course.
Six weeks before the course, an opportunity to crew aboard Juggler for two weeks with Tom, Alex and Steve reared its head. And I was away.
The journey would test me, freeze me, free me, terrify me, sicken me and ultimately reward me.
After a lot of reading and wishing, I attended the RYA Sailing Level 1 and 2 course at Ballyholme Yacht Club and got my qualifications. The days of the course, the winds were light but I still managed to capsize a few times as I got used to the trim of the sails and how to spill the wind during the gusts. The course was a great introduction and teaches the basics (and kudos to Alice) but it doesn’t prepare you for sailing in all winds. As Alice said on the course “This isn’t sailing, this is bobbing”.
I bought a RS Q’ba (equivalent to a Laser Pico) with the idea of actually learning to sail alone and independently after my course. You have to keep it up – and me squeezing into my wetsuit must have been a shock for everyone!
Living in Bangor was a big advantage though joining a club to get access to storage and a slipway was necessary. For ages I pottered around Ballyholme Bay on my tod (usually when the races were on so the Rescue boat was out). But even then there was no peace like it. Hearing the bubbling of the water behind you, realising that the power of the wind was propelling a couple of hundred kilos of sailboat and human. I took the kids out on it and also took my good friend Stuart. I regret not getting out more often.
It was nine years ago that I first stepped into a sailboat. I was in Amsterdam for the IBC (broadcasters conference) and staying with my friend Keith and his family. On the last day of the conference it finished at lunchtime and Keith took me on a secret trip to a marina to see his yacht, a Contessa 32. We then spent the next three hours sailing the IJmeer. And I fell in love with the sea.
He advised me to go and learn to sail on dinghies first. So I did.