Our Fastrack student gets to grips with boathandling.

Day 20

Woke up absolutely shattered. In fact Howard summed it up perfectly when he said that he felt like he’d had a heavy night out on the beers! We all felt like we’d been out at sea for days – scary to think that it was only one long day. Thanks to our bleary-eyed state, Andy went easy on us and we enjoyed a long debrief over a cappuccino in Gunwharf Quay, Portsmouth. It was encouraging to hear that Andy and Bevis thought our navigation skills had come on in leaps and bounds and they were impressed with our passage planning round the island. All of us had enjoyed the night sailing experience and felt very comfortable handling the boat in the adverse conditions.

I helmed out of the harbour and, under the navigational command of Matt, tacked and gybed up the Solent towards Cowes. Incredible how awake we instantly became when we set off, we all jumped back into action as if the long day was last week.

Spent the afternoon taking it in turns performing a number of boat handling exercises – man overboard under sail, wind awareness and picking up buoys. Even did a few unplanned exercises as we found a roaming fender in the water and successfully rescued my baseball cap as it flew overboard. Each exercise was practised over and over again until we got it right and even then Andy put us to the test by timing us.

The final exercise before heading to Port Hamble for the night was blind navigation. It isn’t actually part of the Day Skipper syllabus but Andy thought it would be a useful test of our navigational skills. Excellent practice of our chartwork and even more exciting as the previous blue sky became enveloped in low cloud and actually simulated poor visibility sailing.

The exercises were great for our confidence and knowledge of wind awareness and handling the boat under pressure. We’re all feeling happy that the theory of the last couple of weeks has sunk in and the only thing we need know is to keep practising until perfect.

Day 21

The last boat handling exercise of the Day Skipper week is mooring alongside a pontoon. All of us had some experience of this after our Competent Crew week, but Andy definitely upped the stakes with reverse mooring and the singlehanded mid-ship spring. I’m still finding the close quarter handling a bit tricky, which isn’t a surprise, as I have practically no experience of it. However, Andy helped me become more familiar helming the yacht under power in the marina by getting me to stand off, ferry glide in the tide (ie not move) and then under control perform 360 degree turns using forward and reverse. Interesting to see a group of yachtsmen on a nearby yacht watch me nervously as I handled the boat; some stereotypes just don’t change!

Enroute from Hamble back to Cowes Howard and I practised reefing the main as Matt helmed. Each time we tried to get the manoeuvre faster and more controlled.

In our final debrief of the week, we all agreed that our navigational and boat handling skills had greatly improved. It was interesting to put into real practise the course-to-steer and tidal calculations previously learnt from a textbook. Taking on the various roles of skipper, navigator and crew was important for our overall experience on board and we all quickly realised how fundamental good communication is.