(In) Competent Crew. How we (hopefully) became more competent – Part One

2018-04-23T21:28:31+00:00 April 28th, 2017|Life Afloat|0 Comments

Own Boat Training – Starting Somewhere.

Tied up alongside

Tied up alongside. Putting the days learning into practice.

What better way to improve your confidence than to undertake some own boat training. We started with Competent Crew, inviting another couple to experience it with us.

The thing about owning a boat is that for the uninitiated (like myself), one can completely take to sea without a care in the world. And, in doing so, put all and sundry at risk. Buying a boat is easy. It’s as cheap or as expensive as you care to make it. Yet, there’s no legal requirement to insure it or, get any training. The only “legal” requirement being to have a licence to operate the radio. You can literally buy and float away. For some this works. For me? I’ve had next to no sailing experience in yachts and SJ’s, (who has experience a plenty) was a fair while ago and we needed to awaken old muscle memory.

Despite appearances. We are actually pretty cautious when it comes to the boat. Mainly because we don’t want to do any damage to ourselves, the boat or indeed anyone else or their property either. Especially, when leaving a densely packed marina. It is (afterall) going to be our home. So we need to be cautious.

Despite a few successful departures and arrivals. It was always more luck than good planning that saw us safely if not prettily away from or back on the pontoon. Our aged Sadler has a very pronounced port prop walk and we’ve not learned the finesse to get her away, first time, everytime.

So we’ve bitten the bullet and asked East Anglian Sea School to help us, by putting together a package to undertake both the competent crew and the day skipper on our boat. It also helps that we invited our friends who (on the day we made the offer on the boat) were until only recently, complete strangers. So, there we were. Four very eager trainees awaiting the instructors arrival.

The good thing about doing it this way, is that it allows us to go at our pace and to really learn the idiosyncrasies of our boat. And she has a few. Well, what do you expect for a 30 year old? We’re also fortunate in that we’ll have the experience of two different instructors over two separate weekends to cover everything. It also helps to spread the cost of the training with the only additional cost we’d incur being the food which, we’d have to provide for everyone and any marina fees for overnight stops etc. Having it split over the weekends allows Stephan & Beth (our new friends) to continue with their respective day jobs.

So it was, that RYA instructor Nick pitched up on a Saturday morning and started to go through the competent crew syllabus. Trying to align our varied experience to what was needed to be done over the weekend to ensure that we covered the required topics.

As it was, we wanted to start with more boat handling. Mainly to improve our confidence when trying to manoeuvre in confined spaces (like the freeway of the marina). Or, coming alongside a pontoon.

Off We Go

We undertook a fairly lengthy briefing. Discussing what the plan was to get away. Discussing with Nick that the boat likes to reverse out to port After leaving our finger pontoon, we find a clear space in the marina and Nick takes the helm just to see if he can spin the boat within its own length and to acquaint himself with how she handles. Of course, the boat (as expected) behaves beautifully. Going exactly where he wants her to go. We can get her to turn within her own length and are eventually doing ‘donuts‘ in the marina, much to the amusement of onlookers.

Next up, we’ll try coming alongside. This involves reversing (mainly to port) into fairways and then driving back out onto an empty pontoon. Ultimately, it all comes down to taking ones time. With the odd dash of power to control momentum. We also give springing off a go, both forward and back.

This exercise takes some time as there are four of us, plus Nick. All taking turns at various roles. Most of the first day has gone and we’ve not even left the marina, let alone get the sails up.

And, I couldn’t have been happier.

Shall we go somewhere?

We manage to leave the marina and head out into the river to get the sails up. We tack, to and fro as we sail out towards the much larger ships in the docks.

Exit Left

Actually getting away from the Marina

Setting the radio to dual watch for both the port authority and channel 16. We hoist the sails and see how the boat will handle. As expected, again she handles beautifully.

We try a whole range of exercises and eventually decide to take a mooring on the river. Then it’s back into the marina for a few more boat handling exercises and we park up for the night.

Day 2

Lots and lots of man overboard drills and then over to Ha’Penny Pier to practice coming alongside again. Which is perfect practice for having lunch afloat.

A gentle spring off the dock and we’re off out into the Stour for yet more practice. There’s no real pressure to learn yet we’re going through the entire syllabus. Knowing that it will be reinforced over the following weekend with Paul (our other instructor).

The Orwell is a perfect learning ground. With some large tidal ranges and a great deal of shipping using the ports of Ipswich, Felixstowe and Harwich. All of which ensures that learning the rules of the road is an absolute must.

Sailing past the Lightships

Sailing past the lightships moored just off Harwich

So it’s back to the marina for yet more boat handling and another comfortable night.

Day 3

Yet more man overboard drills. Our trusty bucket and fender combo is getting well and truly dunked. It was then that the wind just stopped. Nothing. Not even a gentle breeze. There was nothing for it but to cut the day short and hope that when we got back together again, the weather would be more conducive to sailing.

As we motored back into the marina, we were a well oiled machine. Fenders making an appearance, re-tuning the radio to the marina frequency (channel 80) and a gentle arrival on the pontoon. No fuss, no rush, no panic. Which is one of the quickest results in such a short period of time.

Yes, we were going to get it wrong at some point. But, we no longer feel the need to panic. We’re fortunate that we’ll have the opportunity (if the weather allows) to get out and about and put what we’ve learned into practice, prior to part 2 of the training, a couple of weekends later.



Want To Know More?

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SJ’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WebSite

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Feel free to comment and feed back. If we’re getting it all wrong or even if we’re getting it a little right. We’d like to hear back from you. Tell us about your own adventures and experience and how we might be able to learn from it.