With no time to waste our Fastrack students hit the water on day one.

Day 1 – Cowes to Hamble

At 9am we met Andy (who was to be our group’s instructor) and headed to the marina and our home for the next 5 days: an X-Yacht 331. Fay and I grabbed the forepeak and left the boys to fight amongst themselves for the remaining bunks. A quick shopping trip for provisions and last minute sailing kit (Wednesday’s forecast was stormy) and we were off.

Our first ‘voyage’ took us across to Hamble in a gentle force 4. Each of us took it in turns to helm, running through the points of sail and tacking and gybing as necessary. It took us all a few hours to shake the feeling of complete disorientation. The last boat I’d sailed was a laser 4.7, so it felt particularly strange to helm a 33 foot yacht with two sails and three other crew working the sheets. We also ran through some basic chartwork, looking through the almanac at the daily high & low tides, checking the proposed passage for hazards and plotting a simple straight-line course.

That evening we were moored at Port Hamble putting the galley through it’s paces before collapsing, exhausted and excited, into our bunks.

Day 2 – Hamble to Yarmouth via Beaulieu River.

Woke up early to the first rays of lights coming through the fore hatch. The day started with our first attempts at manoureving under motor. With the sails down we each attempted 180 degree turns, stops and going astern before tacking our way up to the Beaulieu River where we practised picking up a buoy under motor. This appeared much easier than it was, especially as we all thought it was useful to shout at the same time, completely confusing the poor helmsman. With practise we eventually all managed it successfully and were awarded with lunch. Before heading off to our overnight anchorage at Yarmouth we ran through more chartwork, learning to take compass readings and mark the bearings on the chart.

With a gale forecast for tomorrow, we ran extra lines as we tied up along the harbour wall. During the week Andy frequently used other boats as examples of how things should, and in some cases should not, be done. Like the boat in Yarmouth, with it’s bow suspended three feet over a dropping tide by a bar taut mooring line! The crew were all below decks having a cuppa! Often these teaching aids were a bit of a comedy of errors, but I guess we looked the same at times.

Day 3 – Yarmouth Marina

First lesson of the day, hold on to your wallet as you step off the boat! Nothing more annoying than watching your credit cards, cash and keys disappear to the bottom of the marina.

As suspected, we were marina bound for the day as the wind whipped up to severe gale force. As Andy put it in his best Aussie accent, ‘Strong enough to blow dogs off chains!’ We took the opportunity to cover more theory including chart work and buoys. Just before lunch we were each given a subject to research for an hour and then present to the group. I definitely drew the short straw with ‘diesel engine maintenance and safety checks’ and less than eagerly stuck my head into the course handbook to learn about the 4 cycles of the marine diesel engine! Other topics included tides by Fay, safety briefings by Nick and a very topical lecture on depressions by Mike.

After provisioning we were advised by the harbour master to move the boat to a pontoon to avoid getting bashed against the wall. With a combination of lines taken across by the harbour taxi and a thorough brief from Andy, we manoeuvred across safely. Looks like we won’t be going anywhere for a while.