The Competent Crew course flew by and at the end of five days, Barry, Dan the other sailing student and I were given our certificates. I know we all felt elated and relieved. I chuckled to myself that yet again, I’d achieved a goal despite my massive self-doubts and briefly wondered when I would learn that I’m actually more competent than I realise!
After Dan left, Baz and I were joined by two new students – Ryan and Colm – for the Day Skipper course which consisted of four days in class followed by five days of practical live-aboard sailing.
Once again whenever I thought about the possible challenges ahead, faint murky undercurrents of anxiety threatened to ruffle the otherwise calm surface of my growing confidence, but I mentally floated on the buoyancy I had gained from passing the Competent Crew course and decided to see just how much of a Day Skipper I could muster up from within. To help with this, I reviewed my achievements from the Competent Crew course and had to admit I had a few encouraging abilities and enjoyments:
I didn’t get seasick – even in big seas with Force 7 gusts of wind. That was a good start and a big plus for a live-aboard sailor!
Learning knots came almost second nature to me, and it didn’t take long to get my head around tying new ones;
Once I realised that a yacht could actually heel as much as 120 degrees before capsizing, and that at most we were heeling by about only 30 degrees, I felt safe and enjoyed the experience of moving with the wind on the water;
When I was at the helm, I found that I could feel the movement of the water currents under the boat and the boat’s responsiveness, almost as if it was an extension of my own body.
I was able to steer on course and also on a wind heading;
Nine times out of ten, I could capture a bollard with a lasso;
I loved standing on deck at the mast while I was putting up a motor sailing cone – looking down at the sea far below me, feeling the wind on my face and watching the wake of the yacht trail out behind us.
And probably the most bizarre of all, I discovered that I enjoyed performing precarious manoeuvres such as going to the boom to put in a reef in bouncy seas with occasional Force 7 gusts of wind. Putting in a reef effectively reduces the size of the sail and is used to prevent the boat from heeling over too much when the wind picks up. Leaning hard into a slightly swaying boom, feeding a thin reefing line through a tiny cringle (hole), catching the line on the other side of the sail with the other hand that is also holding onto the boom and then tying a reef knot – and repeating this another couple of times - required me to bring everything I had to that one task, with no room for error. Not only did I feel proud when I’d accomplished this task (with Dan who was pulling the sail down at the mast), but arriving back in the safety of the cockpit I realised that I actually felt exhilarated! This enjoyment of meeting danger head on with only my abilities and a safety harness preventing me from pitching into roiling seas is still something that surprises me!
It has to be said here though that after the first time I put in a reef I commented to Baz that when there were just the two of us sailing shorthanded, it would probably make more sense to have a yacht with a furling main, as it would pose less of a risk with there being only the two of us on board. But we wouldn’t be short of exhilarating manoeuvres that need to be done without reefing the mainsail!
Bringing all of these growing competencies to the Day Skipper course was encouraging and I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed getting my head around the complexities delivered in the four day theory side of the course. This included learning the essentials of navigating, including chart work, understanding symbols and abbreviations, plotting our position on the chart, using way points, estimating our position and plotting a course to steer. We also learned about calculating for tidal regions, pilotage, meteorology, and collision regulations. I will admit that Baz and I seemed to be a bit slower on the uptake at times than the young learners. However with plenty of assistance from Carrie our instructor and team work with class mates (“Psst James, did you get this as your answer? ... Yes? ... Oh thank god!”), we had learned enough that we were at least able to complete all of the questions on the exam at the end of the course.
On a debrief over beers with Colm and Ryan later that afternoon, Barry and I both hoped we were borderline passes. But we wouldn’t find out until the end of the practical in five days whether we’d passed the exam. I just hoped that Baz at least would pass because I knew he’d make a good skipper and I’d make a good competent crew member.
Thankfully we had Mareike Grigo again as our skipper/instructor for the practical and after the first morning the next day, where we all participated in the safety brief, our Day Skipper practical training began. Highlights of the course from my perspective include:
Visiting the same great diversity of marinas as in the Competent Crew course: Ceuta (a port in Spanish territory next to Morocco), La Duquesa and Alcaidesa, both marinas on the Spanish coast.
Working as a team with Mareike as Skipper/instructor and four of us as crew. There is a bond that grows when you are with others sharing an experience and as well as Dan before, I will remember Ryan, Colm and Mareike with fond memories. I enjoyed training with them, as each of us demonstrated different abilities and overcame our challenges in various ways that I think we could each learn from.
Gaining confidence to be at the helm and call out necessary commands, such as when tacking: “Ready About”, “Helm to Lee”, “Lee-Oh!” During the first few days my voice came out like a quiet whisper, after that I overcompensated by shouting, and towards the end of the course, I settled into a more confident and commanding delivery!
Gradually getting the knack of more manoeuvres including jibing, man overboard, anchoring at sail, heaving to and mooring at sail. There were times, especially when I was attempting my first man overboard manoeuvres at the helm, that I wanted to run away because I just couldn’t get the circling distance right so that I would be on the correct course to the wind to safely allow a team member to go forward of the beam and hook in the two fenders which had been tied together as our man overboard (Bob). But where do you run to when you’re on a boat in the middle of the sea? Nowhere. You just have to suck it up (your stuff, not the sea) and get on with it. I’m glad that I did, because eventually I got the hang of it.
Heaving to in Force 8 winds (39 knot gusts) off the coast of Gibraltar on passage back there from La Duquesa. It was amazing to me that the boat can become so stable in such rough seas, enough that you can trim your sails, make a cup of tea and decide on the best course of action, after having a needed break.
Thinking for myself without waiting for orders. That’s a biggie for me because I naturally go with the flow and generally follow other peoples’ directions, unless I specifically want to do something else. I also get a bit edgy with the whole ‘taking command’ thing. I just about managed to do that when I learned all about being a mother after my son was born. But unlike Baz, I honestly wouldn’t say I was a born leader. And looking at my work history, unless I have been in artistic mode as a creator of a project/mural or painting, I have always been happier in an assistant role. Well, learning to be a Day Skipper got me to break down a few of those subservient walls. I wouldn’t say that I’m a natural by any means, but maybe I’m being hard on myself. Once we’ve had more practise on our own boat and I’m confident in my abilities and able to do manoeuvres with my eyes metaphorically closed, I don’t think it will be the massive challenge that it was for me on the training course.
The night sail was enjoyable. Going out after dark into the busy Bay of Gibraltar and learning to discern buoy
lights, ship and other navigation lights in amongst the bewildering background of shore lights and realising that distance perception is definitely skewed in the dark - was an education in itself.We also had fun navigating and estimating our position in the dark. I think that was a valuable part of the course, which I know is Day Skipper, but if for some reason you arrive at a marina at night, and haven’t had any previous exposure to the confusion of lights in the dark, you could quite easily get lost or maybe even hit something.
I also enjoyed the camaraderie of being a student and crew member on our yacht and getting to know the other students who were learning on Rock Sailing’s other boats.
All in all, the practical part of the Day Skipper course, as challenging as it was – and it stretched me beyond my mental, emotional and physical limits – was an amazing adventure, all under the competent, watchful eyes of our sailing instructor Mareike Grigo. At the end of our five days of sailing, Mareike gave us each individual feedback and I was thrilled to learn that she confirmed what I had felt: that I had risen to the challenge and shown a growth in my confidence and abilities over the course. She was happy to pass me for my practical and I gave her a teary hug with thanks to her for being so patient. I’d highly recommend her as a sailing teacher any day.
As I was basking in the glory of passing the practical, I remembered that we hadn’t received our exam results for the theory yet. As I told myself that I would be happy to remain a Competent Crew member as long as Barry passed, Peter and Carrie arrived with our results. And guess what? I passed the theory too! So did Baz, which meant we were both qualified to carry Day Skipper licences!
Ryan and Colm had to return to the UK to catch a flight to Antigua with their jobs, but we managed to have a drink in a local bar to celebrate, and swap contact details. One great thing from the courses that we benefited from along with our licences, was making friends with three awesome crew mates and I am sure we will be seeing at least Dan again as a crew member on our own yacht one day!
Once again, Baz and I had the boat to ourselves that evening as Colm and Ryan had left and Mareike moved to another boat for her next Instructor role the following week. Peter Ormond spent the next day taking us through the Diesel Engine Maintenance course, which Baz and I were pleased we took. Peter not only taught us the RYA course, but also gave us some valuable maintenance tips from his own experience of several decades on yachts.
The following day, Barry and I collected our belongings together, had a great long chat with Peter and Carrie who came to see us off, and let them know that we would definitely recommend their school Rock Sailing Gibraltar to anyone who wanted to learn sailing.
Stepping ashore a little while later and feeling very proud of ourselves if a little knackered, we walked back over the airstrip that separates Gibraltar from customs and into Spain, where our car was parked. The great surprise of that morning was that instead of paying an expected 30 Euros for parking, the lovely parking attendant allowed us parking for free!
Our journey back to Javea was enjoyable and later that evening we cracked open a beer in celebration. “Cheers!”
Amazingly, there we were with Day Skipper certificates, which would allow us each to receive an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). Breaking apart some fluffy Spanish bread and dipping it into a bowl of marinated boquerones (we call them little white fishes - they're actually marinated white anchoves), Baz and I agreed on our next step.
It was an important step, and one that all of our training was leading up to: Finding our own yacht that we could call home. But where would we find her?
We will discover that later. For now, here are some memories from our time with Rock Sailing.