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

2018-04-23T21:27:40+00:00 May 4th, 2017|Life Afloat|0 Comments

It’s now been a couple of weeks since part one of our Competent Crew own boat tuition. Which, consisted of 3 very full days going through the RYA syllabus as well as a great deal of boat handling. You can read about it HERE . Doing it this way allowed us to tailor make a selection of courses for four people (which always helps in reducing the costs) and fit it into dates which suited everybody. As previously mentioned it’s also a fantastic way to actually learn about your own boat and give you confidence in how to handle her. A wonderfully bright and windy Saturday morning sees the arrival of our other instructor Paul from East Anglian Sea School.

We were joined the previous evening aboard our 30 year of Sadler 34 by Stephan & Beth who are our friends also undertaking the training along with ourselves. As with the previous outing. Paul, had to take a little time to acquaint himself with the boat and how she handles.

However, the confidence within us ‘mere’ crew had grown significantly. And, as Paul backed the boat away from the pontoon. We let the lines off without any fuss, nonsense or more importantly trepidation. Soon, Paul was turning 360’s to gauge her handling characteristics.

Out to Sea

This time we were going to head a little out to sea and just get a feeling for how she would really sail. Again, passing a very busy Felixstowe docks. Tuned to both Harwich VTS and channel 16. It was then that she really started to heel and track towards the cardinal at Gunfleet at a very steady 7kts. Not bad for a 30 year old twin keel boat.

Competent Crew Pt 2

Second weekend undertaking Competent Crew training aboard our own boat

This was obviously the perfect time for me to get into the galley and make a cuppa for everyone. It would also be a reasonable test to see if I am going to suffer from any level of sea sickness. Even in smaller seas like these. Unlike a lot of modern boats. Our aged lady was kitted out with a really snug galley. Even then, I had to use a strop to ensure that I remained in the vicinity of the cooker. It can be a little disconcerting looking through the galley window and just have water in front of you. Your eyes tell you one thing, brain something else and equilibrium something altogether different. A potential recipe for feeling queasy? Possibly, but I actually felt fine and was really enjoying the experience. Judging by the animated conversation above me in the cockpit, so was everyone else.

Coming about the cardinal buoy we were beating back into the wind and still maintaining a healthy speed. Steadily making our way back alongside the Harwich Deep Water Channel towards the Stour where it would be the perfect time for Stephan and Beth to practice picking up a mooring.

Time for a late lunch. This could be a blog post of its own. Is it possible to cater for 5? That’s 3 meals a day for 5 days for 5 people. Actually, victualling is all part of the Day Skipper syllabus and with a little bit of pre-planning, it’s relatively easy. There were certainly no complaints.

With lunch completed. Beth & Stephan handled the mooring lines and Paul and I did the hard bit of driving off the mooring. Time to get the sails back up and then we were going to head up the Orwell towards Ipswich and figure out where we were going to spend the night.

Thalassa Patris

Being helped into her berth at Felixstowe

Coming around the Shotley Spit cardinal, we were fully aware of the massive ships moving through the deep water channel. Especially Thalassa Patris as the two tugs started to spin her 180 degrees so she could be reversed in. A salutary lesson in why it’s necessary to stay out of the deep water channel as much as possible.

Sunset on the Orwell

There was sufficient wind to make the river interesting. With water making its way over the bow and plenty of other craft sailing around as the light stared to fade and the boyage starting to come to life.

Sunny Sailing

sufficient wind to get some splashes over the bow. Just making the best of a beautiful sunny day

The wind was very favourable as we didn’t need to do very much tacking up river. Also helpful as SJ was in the galley rustling up a very delicious dinner. With Beth at the helm and Stephan in charge of the sails. I had the difficult job of just enjoying the ride.

Up river, back down and finding somewhere to park for the night.

By the time we reached the Orwell bridge it was time to turn around and pick up a mooring back towards Pin Mill. By this time the stars were resplendent and the disco effect of the buoyage made picking up a mooring in the dark interesting. However, it was relatively easy to get us secured and everyone tucked up inside for a hearty meal followed by a very peaceful rest.

The Final Day

Travelling by boat seems to revolve around food. A hearty breakfast already consumed meant that we actually started planning to slip the mooring and head to somewhere for lunch. That somewhere was again Shotley Marina. It would be for us, somewhere new to visit and also provide a chance to experience different leading lights and a lock. Another new one for us all.

A couple of hours sailing down river, ensuring that we had covered all the Competent Crew syllabus. Leaving Beth to call up Shotley on the VHF and ask for a visitor mooring. We only had to wait a few minutes for the lock to be made available to us, which allowed us to drop the sails and head up the channel towards the lock gates. I had some difficulty making out the leading lights but arrival through the lock gates and a gentle starboard side to, saw us secured to the lock with an audience watching from above.

A New Marina

Arriving at a strange marina is a time when the nerves can kick in. You start to think if there’ll be a space and what you’ll do if there isn’t. Well, that’s what it’s like for me, being a novice. I need not have worried. the crew handled the warps and fenders expertly as we sprung off the lock pontoon and we decided that as we were already set up on the starboard side there was no point other than to head into the marina, reverse back and then come starboard side to (again) alongside the visitor pontoon. Of course it didn’t work out that way. We had to put additional fenders out on the port side and came port side to.

Having come alongside, we actually walked the boat back a little to ensure there was adequate space for any other craft wishing to use the pontoon. Then it was time for lunch at the Shipwreck pub.

another successful arrival

Leaving adequate space for other visiting boats.

It’s A Lockout

Having stuffed ourselves silly it was literally time to spring off and lock out. Calling up the duty lock master he gave us the all clear to head to the lock  and it was a gentle spring away from the pontoon with Stephan at the helm as he made our way into the lock.

Don’t let the audience put you off.

As with the lock in, there was the obligatory audience, so no pressure for Stephan. Then another gentle spring away from the pontoon and out over the sill and through the gates. It seems that the Sunday afternoon drop in wind meant for us to ride the tide back towards the marina.

Paul sensibly informed us that he would take the boat back onto the berth. So we enjoyed the sun and then as we made the safe water mark, started putting out the fenders. Coming alongside and just stepping off as the boat settled onto her normal mooring was a world away from one of our previous arrivals. Which was in fact, the whole reason for booking these courses in the first place.

One More Thing

There was just one more thing on the syllabus to complete. As we walked around to the school mooring and just borrowed a dinghy to each have a practice rowing. That done, it was back to the boat for a cup of tea and a debrief.

Competent Crew. Complete.


As mentioned earlier. Anyone can buy a boat and go to sea. Even Arthur Ransome gave that route a go. But when your boat is your home and your really are (like me) as green as the water. There’s nothing quite like building your confidence. Not only in your own capabilities, but also those of the boat.

The Training

It was a rewarding experience that we all thoroughly enjoyed. Including the instructors. It was great to hear their positive comments about the boat. In terms of build quality, sailing and handling. It was also good to get some opinions about things we could do to improve the boat. Having the same instructors for both the Competent Crew and Day Skipper provides some good continuity and allows the instructors to gain an understanding of our capabilities.

Learning on the East Coast is an experience in its own right. There are challenges a plenty. The folks at East Anglian Sea School were professional, accommodating and ensured that our requirements were exceeded. They’ve all become friends who we’ve since called upon for help with issues we’ve uncovered. They are also welcome to come sailing with us. Anytime.

Learning On Your Own Boat

As for own boat tuition. What’s not to like about it? It’s all very well pitching up and using the school boat. If you can gain that level of confidence in your own boat just imagine the additional experience you’ll glean from handling her with occasional guidance and input from your own personal instructor. Overall the costs can be significantly cheaper than using the school boat and the timetable is completely fitted around your own requirements.

Up next? Day Skipper. Bring it on!


Want To Know More?

You can follow our adventures on social media or our respective websites.

SJ’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WebSite

Al’s Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, WebSite

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.