So, Level 2 – the actual sailing part. (All photos shamelessly borrowed from Level 2 Crewmates. Thanks guys!)
The purpose of Level 2 training was not so much about learning how to sail a yacht but more about how to live on a yacht. This was about spending our time out at sea 24/7, sailing at night and experiencing the watch system. We left Gosport on Sunday to spend 4 days at sea, travelling 307 miles total. 1 of those days was spent being spent holed up in Fowey Harbour in Cornwall due to bad weather, but those 4 days felt like a MONTH! Feels like I’ve condensed a lot of life experience in over the last week. Here are some of the joys…
I’ve never experienced sea sickness before, and I never want to again. As the winds picked up and the boat begun to rock on Sunday night, many of us ended up being sick. We were sick in the loos, sick on deck and unfortunately for some, sick in bunks. The worst part, however, was the transition between getting out of your bunk and going on deck.
In our bunks, we were all chucked around as the boat heeled over and ploughed through waves. You have a cloth tied alongside your bunk to stop you falling out, but the sensation is really quite odd; like bouncing in slow-motion on a bouncy castle/trampoline with the occasional rugby-tackle as a large wave hits the boat. Staying horizontal in the bunk was fine, but when it came to getting out – well – that was the horrible part. Cue trying to get clothes on as quickly as possible whilst being chucked from side to side. This really made me feel nauseous, so for the first 24 hours, I spent quite a lot of time lying on my belly on the deck, head out over the edge just waiting for the nausea to subside. This, combined with the watch system and the delightful recipe below meant I felt the roughest I have ever been in my life, physically and visibly. I didn’t recognise myself in some of these photos at first.
Clipper Recipe for Manky Sailors
- Take 10-14 slightly bonkers but fresh people.
- Place each in 1 set of clothes.
- Add a few drops of Diesel & the smell of cooking.
- Mix in fresh sweat and 3-4 gallons of sea water – make sure you top this up every day!
- Once everything is mixed together, shake vigorously to ensure sick & bruises form.
- Roast in a sleeping bag for 2-3 hours every 4 hours, allowing a nice salty crust to develop.
- Leave to marinate for 4 days on a yacht, wet-wiping and brushing teeth whenever your people are stationary enough to do so.
- Once your crew is looking and feeling really rough, remove from the yacht and serve to the general public.
Sea sickness meant I inadvertently did the 5:2 diet last week. Luckily, we had Fox’s Crunch Creams on the boat. This is a biscuit very close to my heart, as the last time I ate them in any quantity was during a rather traumatic Gold DofE expedition when I was 16. 10 years later, they came to my rescue again!
When the steering snapped
On Wednesday, we had the wind behind us to sail downwind back to Gosport. This meant we had some pretty “lumpy” seas (a Huw Fernie definition) and keeping the boat on course at the helm was particularly difficult. The 5 of us from Starboard watch were just about to switch with the others when Ash yelled “Get Huw, we need the emergency tiller!”. Whilst Rupert was helming, the steering had gone and we had no way to control the boat.
As this was only Level 2, it took a few moments for us to respond to Ash’s call. Within minutes, however, Huw was up on deck (he moves FAST!) shouting at us to get the Yankee down (the big sail at the front) to slow our speed. I was the nearest to the front of the boat, so moved as quickly as I could to the bow to try and pull the sail down.
We had one of the smaller Yankee sails up, but these are still pretty massive, so it took a huge amount of effort to even get hold of the sail to try and pull it down, it was flapping so strongly in the wind. I managed to grab it but as we couldn’t control our direction, I lost my grasp and the sail inflated again. I was clipped on, but I can see now how people end up going overboard! On the second attempt, I managed to grab hold of it and by then the rest of the crew had joined me. With some calls of “2, 6, heave” we then managed to wrangle the sail into the boat between us and tie it down. When we turned to face the back of the boat, Huw & Ash had managed to rig up the emergency tiller, steering the boat between them. The emergency was over, but everyone was on edge for quite a while after this with the fear something else might go wrong. In hindsight, it was great to get a taste of some drama as anything could happen during the race. Our arrival back in Gosport at 1am was also all the sweeter for it.
All of the above meant I’ve done some serious character building over the last week. I keep finding new bruises every day and have been completely wiped out for the last 3 days. Having said that, it was a great week with some genuine joys during that completely made it:
Helming at night
Out of all the activities I’ve done on the boat, this is my favourite to date. I was grinning like a crazy woman as we ploughed through waves in Force 7/8 winds at 2am. The targets to navigate by were stars, lighthouses and glittering buoys. The challenge was to keep the boat on course and not to wash your crew mates off the deck. There were only 1 or 2 waves that soaked everyone when I was helming, and I only nearly washed Marta off the deck. That’s why we all clip on to the boat at all times. As well as being a mental challenge, helming was also great for building up the guns as it was physically hard work to move the wheel and combat the waves. Somehow, I ended up helming for 4 hours straight on the final night (helm-hogging clearly) so my back and shoulders are now feeling the pain (in a good way!).
A breather at Fowey
Tuesday was forecast to be the windiest day of the week, and we ended up spending the day on a pontoon at Fowey as a result. Given that we’d all been pretty sea sick for the past 36 hours, it was great to have a break. As the wind was so strong, we were stuck on the boat until a water taxi was persuaded to pick us up in the evening. This meant some cracking games of hangman with my awesome crew and the opportunity to go up the mast. A casual hoist up 90ft or so by my crew and I could see some great views, using my legs to make sure I didn’t swing too wildly.
Dolphins & Puffins anyone?
At one point, we had 5 or so Dolphins swimming & leaping alongside the boat. That was pretty cool. Apparently you could hear us all squealing below decks with excitement. I’ve also since learnt that the tiny black birds I saw flapping for all their might were Puffins!
Not feeling sea sick!
Once I’d finally got over being sea sick, I loved the motion of the boat when on deck. Despite being kitted up in foulies all week, I’ve still managed to get a burnt nose through standing on the back of the boat watching the waves chase us. There was a real beauty to it as well as being exhilarating – the back of the boat was up and down all the time like a roller coaster.
Level 2 has definitely brought it home how tough the race is going to be next year, but I’m so glad we had the week we did. It’s only 2 weeks now until my Level 3 training and I’m not looking forward to getting sea sick again. I am looking forward though to hopefully having another fun week sailing faster with another crazy set of people.