The end of Fastrack week one saw a close encounter with a helicopter and a chance to consider what we'd accomlished in five days.

Day 4 – Yarmouth to Hamble via Portsmouth

We woke up to a cooked breakfast and a welcome ‘All clear’ from the VHF weather forecast. Good thing – cabin fever was beginning to make itself felt. With a deeply reefed main we set our course across the Solent, practising taking compass bearings on the way. Approaching Portsmouth, we had a detailed chat about harbour approaches, in particular transit lines and the use of a small boat channel.

That afternoon we had an incredible beat back to Hamble. The wind had defied the forecast and increased to a force nine! Andy delayed reefing to let us experience sailing the boat overpowered. We all took a spell at the wheel to feel how the boat responded under so much power. I had to helm for three hours through some pretty nasty stuff – quite unpleasant, lots of heel and very tiring too. Lessons were learnt quickly and often with wet consequences, like where to position myself before a tack to avoid having to grind in the jib crouched knee deep in rushing water, the boat heeled over so far that it meant a strong hand had to pull you up.

To add to the excitement we ended up assisting the helicopter rescue service with a drill! Within minutes a dangling crewman, screaming instructions over the roar of the rotors, was descending vertically into our cockpit as we held our course. It was incredible sailing along close hauled in that breeze with a huge helicopter hovering around the masthead!

Slightly damp but still buzzing we headed for Hamble. Within minutes of starting the engine the warning buzzer came on – there was a cooling problem and we’d have to sail onto our berth! We were happy to leave this to Andy, who with firm instructions and ice cool nerves managed it with aplomb.

Day 5 – Hamble to Cowes

Woke up to a busy morning in the marina: the Round the Island Race is tomorrow. While the engine was repaired, we pumped up the tender and rowed around the marina before an hour or two of knot practice. I’m beginning to see the tree from the rabbit’s perspective!

When we got out there, the Solent resembled the M25. Hundreds of boats seemed to have appeared from nowhere for tomorrow’s race, but we found a quiet area to run through the man over board procedure a few times.

Looking back on my first week, I think having a little experience before the course has made a big difference for me. My very limited dinghy sailing experience was a big help, especially in understanding points of sail. I would’ve thought that most students, having spent several thousands of pounds on the course, would have some previous experience, but interestingly there were a few that had literally never been on a boat before.

Although this was technically our competent crew module, since we’re on the 14 week fastrack program we were taught more with a long term view of the course as a whole. I’m quite sure we’ve done more than what is required by the competent crew syllabus. Andy was rarely on the wheel – the boat was usually being helmed by a student so we quickly got used to being in control, but he was always at hand for when we weren’t. He also encouraged us to give commands to the rest of the crew, and let us experience everything for ourselves, allowing us to make mistakes as you do.

Initially it felt like we were just going out sailing. I almost wondered “Where’s the lesson?” but Andy’s style is more subtle than that. Through the week we slowly became aware of the different roles aboard, through doing them and then rotating. There were only a few times we felt we were actually being taught, such as when being instructed on ropework, coming alongside, picking up buoys and MOB procedure. Fay and I were probably the least experienced of our bunch and it was comforting to know we were learning the right way. By contrast, Mike, with a little more experience, felt he had to correct some bad habits he had picked up.

For me, one week in with thirteen weeks to go, it seems doable. I certainly feel like I’ve gained a lot of knowledge this past week. I feel a lot more confident than when I boarded the Red Jet to Cowes a week ago.