Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Sailing Challenge: Training on Pricey Waters

Less than 36 hours after popping cartilage in my chest whilst training for The Wrestling Challenge, I awoke before my alarm due to excitement for the days that lay ahead; this morning I'd be off to Chichester for a 2 day voyage of discovery, in training for The Sailing Challenge.

OK so the 3 hour drive South West to arrive in Chichester may have somewhat cooled off my excitement, especially seeing as it was cold, damp and I knew that more rest for my chest injury was far from what was on the menu. But the sight of Marbella, Coach Taylor's boat, tied to the jetty was enough to reinvigorate my desire to learn more about sailing.

Coach Taylor had been busy in the day's leading up to our trip preparing his 26ft sailing yacht and I was surprised to find that mending the boats engine had been a part of this prep; I'd never thought a vessel of this type would have an engine - how little of sailing I knew.

We set off after around an hour, when the waters were judged to be high enough for us to safely coast out of the harbour. The engine purred noisily as we set off on calm waters.

Almost immediately, it started to rain
While the waters and the wind remained frustratingly calm on our outward journey, the rain started to fall almost as soon as Coach Taylor set about unfurling the main sail, and didn't stop till we'd reached our destination for the day.

The journey to Cowes in the Isle of Wight took us around 4 hours, the wind remained too low for practising manoeuvres though I enjoyed some time at the helm, watching the tell-tales (small ribbons attached to the front sail which indicate how you're tracking in the wind) and operating the tiller to manage our direction.

On the route we passed between two giant man-made 'forts', designed to house guns and act as defence posts against attacks in the World Wars; one of which was now derelict, the other oddly now an expensive hotel - apparently you can hire the whole place for just £8000 per night.

As we neared our destination for the evening, Coach Taylor booked us a mooring on the radio and I steered the boat, now back on its engine, towards our allocated space.

As we removed those soaked outer layers and prepared for a well-earned pint, the sun finally managed to elbow its way through the clouds, typical.

Bringing more than just a touch of Marbella to the Isle of Wight
I've been to the Isle of Wight a few times before but never to Cowes, which seems to do a pretty good job encapsulating all that's good about the place; enough drinking holes to drown most of the fish in the English Channel and more than enough shops to fill even the largest of attics with unwanted souvenirs.

The rich association with the surrounding waters is celebrated in most drinking establishments, of which Mark took me to a good handful (breaking the crawl briefly for a hearty dinner), though none more vividly than final destination which featured not only photos of Cowes many visiting boats and ships but part of one of the most famous vessels ever to race on open waters - The Kings Yacht, Britannia.

The image above shows the plaque on the Gaff Spar from this historic royal racing yacht, the length of which hung from the ceiling and travelled the full length of the pub. This one section would have originally sat above the main sail (atop the large sail on the right of the ship - see image of a model below).

A model of the original Britannia
This amazing racing yacht was built in 1893 for Albert, Prince of Wales, and was passed down to his son King George V whom after years of racing, decided that his dying wish was for the ship to follow him to the grave - the vessel was sunk by St. Catherine's Deep on 10th July 1036, the exact location remains unknown.

Thankfully the gaff spar was somehow retrieved and now makes for a wonderful pub ornament.

Waking up closely 'encased' on three sides by thick wood is not the most pleasant way to start your Sunday, but once I'd realised I wasn't being gawped at by weeping relatives I manoeuvred my aching body into the smallest rest room imaginable and emptied my internal water bottle.

Upon seeing we were now both awake, the rain clouds pushed the sun out of the way and gave a wet welcome to the day. This welcome intensified throughout our return journey and with it came strong winds and rolling waves.

On the journey back I was gifted a lesson in real helmsmanship; the wind and rain battered our sails and ourselves above the water line, while the wind and the tide conspired to push wave after rolling wave right at us, and all the while I had the tiller. The 26ft long yacht was moved around like a toy duck  in a busy swimming pool.

Many times I found myself leaning at around 45 degrees, while trying to maintain balance and having to push the tiller away from me. Imagine a surfboard travelling along on its left side while you try to sit sideways, with your legs flat across the back, your feet are nearly in the water on the left of the board and you're having to lean towards your toes in order to turn the board towards the right. Now, imagine doing this while the 'surfboard' is leaping up ten feet in the air and then back down ten feet, all within a few seconds, and this happens non-stop for 4 hours!!!

It's making me feel sea sick writing about it but somehow I was fine and loving the thrill on the day, albeit with busted ribs.

Coach Taylor & The (weather worn) Everyman Olympian
Thankfully on that return leg along the world's most expensive strip of water (the Solent), Coach Taylor managed to judge a few good times for me to practise tacking the yacht; an experience I'll never forget.

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