When I signed up to do my Level 1 training for the Clipper Race in October I was expecting that the elements would give me a taste of what is to come. Well they certainly didn’t disappoint me in this instance!
The idea behind the Level 1 training is to ease you into the ways of the Clipper Race and give you the chance to start sailing in their way. You get shown the basics and complete the RYA Competent Crew Certificate, which shows you have gained a basic knowledge of how to sail a yacht.
I didn’t get off to a very good start in that between my flat and the station I lost my Oyster card. For those non-Londoners out there this is like losing your car keys as you suddenly realise you are stuck and can’t travel anywhere… luckily for me there are good people in this world and it was handed in. However it did mean I missed the train I intended to catch, so was somewhat stressed on my final arrival at Clipper Training HQ in Gosport!
The yacht we had been assigned for the six days was CV2 which is one of the Clipper 68s which had completed 4 circumnavigations of Clipper Races. We were met by our training skipper Jono and mate, Nigel and led to the yacht which would be our home for the following six nights. I had been quite worried about going on the training as this made everything somewhat real – what if I didn’t like it? What if I wasn’t any good? What if I hadn’t packed something vital? What if this was all a big mistake?
There were ten of us on the training in total with a mixture of ages and backgrounds. It was great to see a friendly face amongst the crew as I had met Mandy the day we were both interviewed at the start of our Clipper Race journeys last December. We were put into pairs to carry out different duties from being engineers, to the ‘chosen ones’, to cooking and making sure the kettle was on as mother watch.
The weather certainly decided that is was going to test us Clipper Race novices out somewhat as the Solent was filled with 40kt winds, thunder, lightning and hail (which was a big shock to Michel who is from Barbados – what ice falling from the sky?!). This did mean however that practising putting reefs in was not just an exercise but a necessity for us.
For our first man overboard drill, I was the ‘chosen one’ which meant I became the swimmer to rescue the casualty ‘Bob’ from the water. This involved having a halyard attached to the climbing harness and being lowered into the sea to grab hold of the casualty and be winched back onto the boat. ‘Bob’ is a full sizes dummy that weighs 75kg before getting wet so it really is like seeing a person in the water and having to recover them. It was hard work once I had clipped ‘Bob’ on to the rescue line as I also had to hold the weight as we were winched up together. I have to say that I hope this never happens for real but carrying our the drills will make all the difference if the unfortunate has to happen. We not only had man overboard drill but an accidental bucket overboard situation which unfortunately ended in said bucket not surviving the rescue as it sunk just as we had turned the yacht back to make the rescue!
It wasn’t just the weather that decided to test us out as a crew either as we also encountered engine problems. This caused us to have a close encounter with a warship leaving Portsmouth as we had to make an abrupt U-turn on discovering smoke coming from the engine as we left the marina! This resulted in having to shift yacht and continue the remainder of the training on CV9 which had subtle differences to CV2, just to add to the confusions!
I learnt a lot during the training, from how to hank on a sail, use winches (both things that I hadn’t encountered in my previous sailing as the Tall Ship is winchless and the sails always attached!), how responsive the helming is, the process of setting the main sail, stay sail and yankees and how cumbersome it is to get the sails in and out of the sail locker. I also had a wardrobe fail in that it turns out waterproof trainers are only any good when the water in beneath you and not when waves come crashing over your head! This ended in my rocking the very sexy plastic-bag-over-ones-socks look which I am sure you will be seeing on a catwalk near you soon..!
Over the days we all came to realise how physically demanding sailing a racing yacht is – there were bits of my body that were aching that I didn’t even know existed until this point!
It also became apparent that seasickness is going to be something I need to combat – although Level 1 is mainly day sailing so I spent a lot of time feeling sick rather than getting through that feeling and out the other side (something to look forward to on level 2…). Its odd how some people are affected and others are not and I wonder how far round the world I will be before it isn’t a recurring problem. Don’t worry though readers as I did vow will my fellow crew that I would start a Vom blog so that you can all keep up to date with my progress with this one too (so far it’s Ruth 1, vomit 0 as I didn’t actually feed the fish)! Saying this however it didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience – even being permanently wet and looking like a prune.
One of the most exciting things for me was going up the mast. Those of you who already know me are aware that I enjoy being up high! I’m not sure my crewmates were as enthusiastic when they realised they had to winch me to the top of the mast. I was however appreciative for their efforts. Everything is about team work and communication as without this I could have plummeted back down to the deck at an alarming rate or still be swinging about up there!
Before we knew it the training was over and it was time to experience our first deep clean – this involves scrubbing every single inch of the yacht! I am happy to say that nothing I experienced has put me off my dream. I know it is going to be hard, exhausting and emotional but the feeling of helming the yacht, being at the top of the mast and facing the elements head on will be worth all the sacrifices that I am making.
I will look back fondly on my Level 1 and look forward to seeing those I was training with again on the water, if not as a fellow crew-mate then I will look out for them behind me in the race. 😉 See you soon Nick (the other half or Ruick), Emma and Barry (Emarry), Kieran and Jo (Kiero), Jacky and Michel (Jackel), Mandy and Peter (Maneter) and thank you to Jono and Nigel for putting up with my madness!