Sailing day three

Today was our first chance to sail single-handed and I have to admit I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it. But after a classroom session detailing what we could remember, I decided it was better to face my fears than to put them off any longer.

So we headed off to the foreshore to rig six Toppers and three Comets for our group. These are small boats with only one sail, so relatively simple to rig. Before long we were all on the water practising tacking close to the shore.

I was quite happy just pootling about, picking up speed and then changing direction.

The trouble was, I can’t honestly say that I was following a planned route. I just went wherever the boat took me. I still had to think through the combination of movements, swapping hands, moving the tiller, ducking down as the boom came across and then straightening up again. I was saying the words to myself in my head as I was doing the actions.

I have to go through the same process everytime I try to learn a new skill that requires co-ordination and moving through three dimensions. New words, terms and concepts I can pick up and recite back to you easily. Learn and remember, yes. Apply in practice? Well that’s another matter entirely, as I proved when I attempted to sail a triangular course.

I was the first of our group to capsize. “Good chance to practice that capsize drill,” I thought. And as that’s pretty much the worst thing that could happen, it was good to get it out of the way early on. But I hadn’t banked on my brain deciding that this was a good time to take a holiday, leaving me sitting, sails flapping thinking, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing”.

Thanks to some great support from Paddy and Jack in the patrol boat and Julie sailing beside me I did manage to complete a circuit or two and picked up quite a bit of speed. But as they were shouting confidently, “She’s got it now”, I knew that I was just following instructions and fighting off the frustration of feeling out of control.

Gary meanwhile was scudding along, ahead of everyone else, competitive instincts on top form and thoroughly enjoying himself. His more instinctive approach works well for him. As for me, I just need a lot more practice!

New compound words

This week I was asked to look over some copy that included the word ‘webinar’ and it almost caused a physical twitch. I’m guessing the writer used it as a shorter way of saying web-based seminar.

But it started me thinking about my attitude to compound words in general. You see I didn’t like ‘blog’ or ‘podcast’ the first time I heard them either.

‘Blog’ sounds like what it is – a made up word, a contraction of web log and it just felt clumsy in my mouth. I objected to podcast initially because I felt it was inaccurate. You didn’t have to own an iPod to listen to one.

Needless to say I’ve overcome my first reactions and have adopted and use both terms. But it’s going to take some serious persuasion to get me to use ‘webinar’.

Nancy Friedman picks a word of the week on her Away with words blog. Last week it was upycling which I like and this week it's crowdsourcing – which I'm a bit undecided about. As a matter of personal preference, I recognise it's a purely subjective judgement. They're fun to collect though!

Sailing – day two

Kielder was like a mirror as we arrived, with barely a ripple on the water and the sun just as bright as the previous day.

Once kitted up, we were soon trying to remember what we'd learned the day before about rigging the boats. I'll have to put in some knot-tying practice, as the only one I'm confident about is a figure of eight, which I already knew from climbing. I never was very good at 3D puzzles!

There were more people at the club on the Sunday as there were races taking place. We were also witnesses to a very special event – the launch of a brand new boat belonging to the club commodore and her husband, Viola and Mike Scott. We were all invited down to the foreshore to toast the launch with champagne and chocolate covered cherries, accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes – it was quite a celebration and a good start to the day.

Julie was our instructor this time as we set out on our boat. I was surprised at how much we were able to remember from the previous day. I thought I'd be too exhausted to have taken anything in! But tacking was becoming a bit easier and more natural and we sailed through most of the points of sail. It started to make a lot more sense, when we were doing it for real and you could see the changes in the sails, rather than just imagining what they would look like.

There was a hot lunch today, provided club members in the clubhouse who managed to feed dozens of hungry sailors in from racing or training. Once refuelled, we had a classroom session learning to gybe. This meant we could sail a triangular course in the afternoon.

We managed pretty well until I got confused between pushing away and pulling in the tiller as another boat approached and we had our first (and hopefully last!) collision! Thankfully no one ended up in the water and the only thing hurt was my pride!

But don't think we got off too lightly. The last exercise of the day was capsize drill – learning how to right and get back in boats which topple over in the water. Gary and I were the last of the course to have a go, which meant we had the benefit of watching all our course mates successfully turn their boats the right way up. It felt very unnatural to deliberately topple the boat, but it had been so hot all day that it wasn't too much of a shock to find ourselves swimming in Kielder. And our instructors were absolutely right – it really wasn't as bad as it sounded. I even managed to do a double capsize in the Topper (one of the smaller, single-handed boats), after I tipped it over getting back in. And the dry suits stayed dry!

Clear blue water – sailing day one

Gary and I started our sailing course this weekend. With two days up at Kielder, we really couldn't have asked for better weather. We had blue skies and bright sunshine throughout.

It was a pretty packed two days, with lots to learn as we spent time on the water and back in the classroom. Day one started off with rigging our boats, seeing how all the sails are fixed on and what you need to do before putting your boat in the water.

Next we stuggled into our kit, having borrowed a couple of dry suits we did the reverse of escapology to get into them. Our instructor for the day was Dave, who took us out on the water in a Wayfarer and we took it in turns to be the helm and the crew, learning to control the sails.

The helm sits at the rear or bow of the boat and controls the mainsail and the tiller (or steering). The crew sits further forward and controls the smaller sail called the jib. See, I'm already getting into the terminology.

During the first sailing session we tried our hand at tacking, or changing direction to catch the wind. Basically it involves moving the mainsail from one side to the other, remembering to duck when the boom (a long bit of metal which holds the mainsail in place) swings across. It's pretty painful when it whacks you on the head – as I found out a couple of times. Thankfully Dave managed to keep us afloat!

It was great fun to be out sailing, and we were soon spotting approaching gusts of wind by watching for patches of darkness on the water. Gary certainly seemed to be getting the hang of it.

After a break for lunch and some time in the clubhouse learning about the points of sail, we were soon back on the water for the afternoon session. By now, the wind had picked up quite a bit and was too strong for us novice sailors. So we learned another new trick as we prepared the boats – reefing the sails to make them smaller.

Once again we took turns at the helm, putting the classroom theory into practice. This time we did a lot more sailing close hauled, or close to the wind. The trick is to sail into the wind until the jib starts to flutter and then ease back so it's full again. It really helped me get a better feel for the tiller and the small amount of movement it needs to make changes in direction. Needless to say there was plenty of over and under-steer too!

Whilst sailing there was too much to think about and do to notice the bump on my head from that earlier close encounter with the boom. But once we wer back onshore, and had packed the boats away, it came back to remind me with a vengeance. But even a throbbing headache couldn't spoil a great day.