Barry's Blog #18 - Herding black cats in a dark room at midnight

The skipper on the boat berthed next to us said to me "You'll have to walk around to the other side of 'Sunborn' and you'll see a white door in between the sports bar and the Irish pub. Follow the passage to the end and there's a unisex toilet with a shower in there."

Gibraltar marina with sunborn hotel & casino

It seems that my high praise of the marina facilities in Gibraltar in my previous blog, had been slightly premature. Sometime overnight between day 2 and day 3 the toilets in both the men's and women's facilities had become blocked and the hot water system wasn't working either.

To me it wasn't a big deal, it just meant an extra 5 minute walk to answer the call of nature and have a hot shower and as an early riser I was able to walk right in, do what I needed to do, and walk back to Rockefeller without meeting another soul. But as the morning wore on and more yachties clambered off their vessels to make use of the usual, but now none functioning marina facilities, it became quite apparent that the temporary fix of using a single unisex toilet wasn't going to be enough to meet demand and I later heard mention that a small and impatient queue of yachties had begun to form in the passage leading to the loo.

After stowing my towel and toiletries back in the V-berth, I climbed the companionway steps and as I stood in Rockefeller's cockpit taking in the marina surroundings and staring up at the many seagulls slowly circling the great Rock of Gibraltar I wondered what our first day of the RYA Competent Crew course would entail. Rockefeller was tied up bow to onto the pier and as my gaze slowly turned in that direction I could see several of the skippers from Rock Sailing Gibraltar, including our own Mareike, involved in what looked like a very sombre conversation led by the boss man Peter.

After about 10 minutes Mareike came back on board and gathered all three of us novices into the cockpit to announce that because it was unknown how long the marina facilities would be out of action, we were going to take Rockefeller out of Gibraltar and 'around the corner' to the Alcaidesa marina in Spain. I knew it wouldn't be a long sail because that's where Aannsha and I had parked our rental car just a few days ago, before walking ourselves across the border into Gibraltar. However there was a lot to do before we took that short sail and it all began with a full safety briefing beginning below decks and culminating back in the cockpit learning about how to deploy the life raft and under what conditions to use the various flares.

All of the safety briefing information Mareike imparted sunk in quickly and easily for me, because it was all very much common sense, logical and practical. Then my whole world took a 180 degree turn as Mareike started talking in a foreign language and I'm not talking about her native German language, I'm talking about yacht language.

The boom of a furling mainsail

Let me give you an example; In order to raise the mainsail you first need to attach the main halyard shackle to the cringle in the head of the mainsail. Point the bow close to the wind, but not straight into it, then open the jammer to ease the kicker. Release the topping lift, then ease the main sheet to allow the boom some movement. Only then can you hoist the mainsail by hauling on the main halyard, keep hoisting until the sail is up all the way or to your required reef and manually check that the luff is tight. You can also have a crew member sweat the main halyard at the mast to make raising the mainsail a bit easier. Once the mainsail is up, close the kicker jammer and tighten the kicker strap. Open the main sheet jammer and ease the main sheet to whichever point of sail you want to be on and leave the topping lift slightly slack, because now it's the sail that's holding up the boom. And that's just raising the mainsail. When sailing you'll generally also use a headsail and if it's a furling headsail it can be a working jib or a Genoa, depending on how much you unfurl it. For hanked on sails, there are many different sizes of sail which can include a storm sail or a drifter. Easy eh?

We also had to understand what direction the wind was coming from so that we could set the point of sail to make the most of the wind depending on our required course and the wind direction. A yacht can be sailed close hauled, on a close reach, on a beam reach, on a broad reach or on a dead run. The physics of this was easy for me to get my head around, but once again when it came to getting the yacht language associated with the physical actions, I found myself fumbling around inside my head attempting to tie it all together. I felt like I was trying to herd black cats in a dark room at midnight.

The good ne