When I reached South Africa, back in April, I started feeling slightly panicked about my return to a land-locked home town. I always knew I loved the sea but throughout my travels I began to realise I needed it. The sea makes me feel calm, content and ultimately happy. A much nicer person to be around. Reading isn’t very close to the sea… well not by UK standards anyway. So what could I do to get a little closer to this natural wonder that keeps me sane. Sailing was something I wanted to explore, it could be a gateway to travel and freedom.
I have a romantic image of living my life as a pirate and sailing the Seven Seas. This isn’t completely down to Johnny Depp (although he’s reinforced it). I spent a lot of my childhood hanging out in North Cornwall, exploring smuggler’s paths with my little brothers and learning all about the olden day wreckers and getting lost in their nomadic lifestyle. Obviously I don’t condone smashing up other people’s property and looting it but their rough and ready, free-living ways have stayed with me.
Then during my travels, I spent a fair amount of time on boats. Sailing boats, yachts and catamarans. Four days at sea as I travelled from Lombok to Flores in Indonesia, four days at sea diving The Great Barrier Reef, sailed the Whitsundays with the most awesome bunch of travellers, plus many many dive trips. I loved my time at sea and the crews always made sailing look effortless. Waking up in the early hours to watch the sunrise and sleeping on deck at night, watching the majestic moon command the night sky. Ahh these moments will stay with me forever.
So, that’s pretty much how I found myself lying nose-to-nose with a lady I’d never met before in a tiny bunk, just off the coast of Cowes in the Isle of Wight. I’d come to do my Competent Crew Qualification in The Solent, a five day course of hard graft and remembering loads!
I wasn’t quite sure whether this was going to be a tick box exercise, maybe a multiple choice quiz and afternoons sipping wine on the deck in the sun. These thoughts were quashed when we met the skipper on night one. For the the next 5 days, the 4 newbie crew members (inc me) would be running the ship. This included preparing the sails, helming, mooring, navigating, cooking and cleaning with Sophie the skipper assessing us throughout. We moored each night after a hard day’s graft, stopping over in Portsmouth, Yarmouth, Lymington, Cowes and Southampton.
The work for four people on a smallish yacht was relentless. I guess because we completed exercises like ‘man overboard’ and various different mooring and sailing techniques. I think you can probably cheat and buy a boat with lots of automatic functions for hoisting sails etc but we did everything manually.
Sailing was everything I hoped it would be. It demands physical activity and strength but also brain power too. It is a wonderful feeling being out at sea, navigating a yacht to a new destination. The night sail blew my mind. Unless you’ve done it you have no idea how insane it is finding your way round a busy port and then the sea using just flashing buoys as markers. One minute you’re cruising and the next minute you have a huge ferry on a collision course with you. It is essential to stay calm and use logic to escape from potential danger.
So sailing is great BUT… It does mean you have to be perfectly comfortable with having no time on your own, not even a millisecond. This I am not okay with. I had thought sailing may be an option to continue my travels around the globe, with a roof over my head. However, your sanity and desire to throw someone overboard is largely dependent on the crew you end up with. You could luck in and get a boat full of like-minded souls or you could end up with patronising control freaks who have no self-awareness at all. They may insist on talking in character, doing *jazz hands* at inopportune moments, talk at you and then dismiss your response. Yup, all of those.
Perhaps I’m not ready to cross the Atlantic just yet. I have no doubt sailing is a skill I never want to give up and I fully intend to use my new-found knowledge and qualification in the near future. Maybe I just need to be a lone pirate or vet my fellow crew members very carefully!