We finally escape from the classroom to the water for week four of our Fastrack course.

Day 17

After two weeks confined to the classroom, we were eager to get back on the water. The twelve of us were split into three groups and assigned to an instructor and X332 for the week. Co-director of Flying Fish Andy Fairclough was to be my instructor.

It felt very familiar going through the boat preparations and safety checks, but my confidence at the helm was soon shattered as I attempted to collect a buoy under motor. Somehow everything learnt during the competent crew course seemed to disappear. After two attempts at successfully hitting the thing, I finally managed to retrieve it in a controlled manoeuvre.

After a more successful passage planning exercise we set off to practice our dead reckoning, marking our estimated positions on the chart regularly. The day was very hands on, with Andy and Bevis (a trainee instructor) ensuring Matt, Howard and myself did all the work. That evening, with plenty of heckling from the other two Flying Fish boats, I moored the boat for the evening in Yarmouth.

It was great to be back on the water again, and to put the last two weeks of theory into practice, but it served as quite a reminder that I still have so much to cover over the next ten weeks. At times it felt like I’d forgotten everything and was having to learn it all from scratch. I guess that’s to be expected with such a steep learning curve.

Day 18

An excellent day on the water. We left Yarmouth on a high tide and headed out into the Solent with each of us taking turns to helm, navigate and crew. After yesterday’s rude wake up, I felt much happier today, navigating with confidence and accuracy. We found gorgeous Lulworth Cove the perfect place to drop anchor for an hour and took a break from battling wind against tide. Soon after I navigated us to Weymouth and moored up safely. After dinner and a debrief we chatted about tomorrow’s long passage before heading to the pub to sample the thrills of Weymouth nightlife.

Day 19

This long day started with me navigating out of Weymouth; great until I began to feel a little less than perfect after a spell down below at the chart table. It was quite choppy (wind against tide again) and rolling down the following seas certainly didn’t help. Enroute we practised poling out the headsail and securing a preventer line to the boom. The conditions made the passage rather uncomfortable and I slipped into ‘no can do’ mode as I sat on the rail looking out to the horizon. Never the less, we continued to take regular running fixes. That evening we stopped in Studland bay for a long awaited lunch (at 5pm!) and a break from the rolling sea. My appetite had returned and it was great to be out of the wind and waves.

The long passage to Portsmouth, passing south of the Isle of Wight, was fantastic. It took us a little over six hours,meaning we had our first taste of night sailing. We arrived at Gunwharf Quay just before 1am. It was a gorgeous night and we all enjoyed the challenge of locating headlands, spotting buoy lights and avoiding the huge tankers that charge up the numerous channels. I had the task of navigating into Portsmouth from Bembridge Ledge. In minutes I was totally mesmerised by the array of lights: red, green and white all flashing at different intervals and in every direction. Added to that was the complication of unmarked buoys and ferries. Needless to say, I found it a somewhat nerve wracking experience. When will this begin to feel normal?