A few years ago I had a really scary sailing experience. My partner, at the time, had a yacht. It was wonderful to be able to sail whenever the mood took us. We would do short weekend sails or longer, more adventurous journeys, depending on what time we had available, but also what the weather was like. The season was no barrier and I remember many winter sails, including one New Years Day trip into the Solent on a beautiful winter’s morning.
We had always said that we would like to sail across the Channel and spend a few days in Cherbourg. So, one August, we decided to do it. We checked and the weather conditions looked okay, it would be a force 3 – 4 wind, increasing to 5 – 7 later. In hindsight, we should probably have thought harder about the conditions later in the day, but we were excited to be off across the Channel to spend a few days in France, so we didn’t. We were up very early and set off from Portsmouth at 5a.m. ( see photo above ). It was a bit choppy but the day was bright and sunny and we were enjoying the challenge of sailing further than our usual routes. Around early afternoon the weather deteriorated, with the wind picking up and the sea state increasing. We were not making the headway needed to get us to Cherbourg before dar, so my partner decided to turn around and head back to Portsmouth.
During the afternoon the sea became quite rough and we both suffered with sea sickness. Mine acme and went, but his was more severe and he couldn’t stand, so he lay down in the cockpit. This left me to sail the boat. The weather worsened. The boat was tossed around quite violently. I took all the sail down and decided to motor back. But the tide was against us, as was the wind, so we made slow progress. The storm developed and I could hear distress calls on Channel 16 from along the coast. My partner was very ill and couldn’t assist in handling the boat so I was left alone to deal with conditions which I had never experienced before.
The sea was often above the boat all around me. I gripped the wheel hard, trying to keep us on the right course. I had to go down into the salon to look at the plotter, so as to check our course, but the weather was so violent that I could barely stand and really struggled to get back on deck. We hadn’t prepared for these conditions. We had no life lines on deck and we weren’t in the right clothing. I was terrified, but I had to keep going, I had no choice.
It was a long haul, but I finally got the boat through Portsmouth Harbour walls at 1a.m. I was totally exhausted. I knew we had actually been very lucky not to have got into real difficulty. I learned lessons that day.
One of the main lessons I learned was to always be prepared for anything when sailing. The weather can change in an instant and you need to always be ready for what it throws at you. I also wanted never to feel so helpless again. This was one of the reasons for my signing up for Clipper – to learn how to be a good sailor and be able to handle and understand what to do in difficult conditions. The other big lesson was about trust. Trust is a big part of sailing. Trust in the boat, trust in your fellow sailors, trust in the safety equipment and trust in yourself, that you are prepared for any situation.
We recently had our team building event for Clipper Team Ash and we decided to go to an outdoor activity centre. Trust and building trust between us was a big part of the day. So, amongst other things, we had to climb up a high pole and stand on the tea-tray sized platform at the top to await a team-mate climbing up to join you. We had to stand together at the top, leaning out, holding each other, before assailing down.
There are going to be many occasions on our voyage when we will have to put our trust in each other. We are also going to have to trust Clipper to give us a boat that will weather all storms and equipment which will keep us safe. But I want to be able to trust in myself, that I have learned all that I need to know, to be the best crew member possible and to have the trust of my crew mates.