In October, I did my Level 1 sailing certificate. When the winter was over and the centre was open again (ie last weekend), I did my Level 2.
Five and a half months with no practice wasn’t very helpful but my biggest obstacle of the weekend was that the dinghy, a 16’ Wayfarer, was rigged with a centre mainsheet when I’d learned in one with an aft mainsheet. I spent all of Saturday confused about how to do basic tacks and gybes – which I’d been good at during the Level 1 course! – because literally everything I’d been taught was now backwards. The dagger grip on the tiller extension made me feel like I was trying to hold it upside down, I couldn’t swap my hands round properly when I changed sides and I tripped over absolutely everything. Not a single tack or gybe was completed without me getting the mainsheet tied around my ankles.
Fortunately, I did ok with the manoeuvres. I was the only one of the three learners in the boat to rescue our man overboard, actually a fender named Bob, on the first attempt (although in fairness, the wind was behaving for me), I left the mooring buoy with no difficulty whatsoever and I managed to return successfully to it on only the second attempt.
On Sunday afternoon, our instructor, Max, put us in the boat on our own to see how we coped without him. We did ok. We rigged the boat correctly, we left the buoy and we set off into the channel. That was where we ran into problems. It was very low tide – so low that six feet from each side of the narrow channel were mudbanks and there was barely a breath of wind. With no power to help us move properly, we drifted round in circles, we scraped the bottom of the sea even in the channel, we couldn’t tack at all and after Max had towed us back on track twice, he had to admit defeat. We were doing our best but there was no wind and not enough water. It was time to take on that most daunting part of the syllabus, the capsize.
I didn’t enjoy the capsize. I’ll swim for hours in a pool but tip me out of my boat and into the sea and watch me panic. For some reason, I especially freak if my arms get wet. My only meagre consolation was that the boat didn’t want to capsize any more than I did. We sat on the edge of it to try and push it over and it teetered, went some of the way back over and then rolled back upright.
I survived the first capsize. I played the crew role, sat on the submerged gunwale, clinging to whatever I could to keep as much of me out of the water as possible and threw a jibsheet over when Dave called for it. I hated it but I survived.
Then it was my turn to do the helm role. I had to slide off the submerged boat, swim round it and try to climb onto the centreboard. Frozen, soaked and panicking, I couldn’t do it. I could cling to it but I couldn’t for the life of me get myself onto it Getting the jibsheet helped a little, being repositioned for better kicking helped but what mostly helped was discovering that sitting on the end of the centreboard pulled the boat upright far more efficiently than standing on it and leaning back as far as possible. Physics, people.
After having been thrown in the sea twice and panicking to the point that Max had to order me to breathe, I was expecting to be angry and snappy and in a horrible mood and I was astonished to find, once I was standing on the pontoon again, that I was warm and cosy and comfortable and happier than I’d been all weekend. Don’t mistake that for pride at having accomplished the capsize. I’ll accept that the warmth came from it – I’d put on a wetsuit specially and I know wetsuits work best when they’re wet – but I think I was happy because I was warmer than I’d been in two days and I was back on solid ground. Reasonably solid. Apparently the pontoon isn’t nearly so stable in bad weather. A light breeze had come up and now I was warm and happy, I was perfectly ready to get back in the boat, bail it out and then go for a sail.
But alas, Max didn’t want us cold, wet and miserable. We were towed back to dry land, we derigged, rinsed the salt out of the sails and packed everything tidily away and then, when we were out of the wetsuits and back into real clothes, we were presented with our certificates. I may be back for Level 3. We’ll see how my employment status, free time and enjoyment of cold water goes.