RYA Day Skipper Practical Week, Largs

Nick Stevens

Largs Yacht Haven

Largs Yacht Haven

As we set off on an ominously windy Saturday afternoon from Largs Yacht Haven, I think we all felt a little trepidation at what was to come in the following week. Little did we know what the next 24 hours would bring.

Tony, our instructor, had proudly announced to us a couple of weeks ago in HY Tyne that he had managed to charter a UFO 34 for the week. Being ignorant of yacht makes I had that night searched on the internet for information on UFOs. “Built for sailing” and “not for the faint hearted” were a couple of phrases that I found. It turned out that this was the first time that the 20-year old yacht had been chartered. 20 year’s worth of single-owner idiosyncrasies meant that we never did fully understand the electrical system, which seemed to have been designed using a large bowl of spaghetti as a template.

Within an hour of setting out we had our first experience of picking up a buoy in Millport harbour in what seemed like a force six channelled between two small islands. The wind freshened through the night and we all woke (but stayed in bed!) as Tony went out to check the lines at 2 o’clock in the morning.

The next morning disaster struck in the form of blocked heads. Fortunately Martin (one of the crew) was prepared to tackle the problem. The same crew member had already satisfied his own substantial needs that morning with a bucket on the foredeck, arguing that it was better to be on view to the whole of Millport than to use the cockpit and put up with raucous comments from the rest of us crew. Clearing the heads was a predictably unsavoury job. The final push on the pump handle resulted in a fast release of the blockage all over Martin. He came out of the saloon, peeling a bit of tomato off his face and chastising us for not chewing our food 40 times before swallowing.

Dinghy ashore

Dinghy ashore

After such an ominous start things got a lot better. It was soon clear that we could all sail, although our dinghy-sailing backgrounds showed: there was reluctance all week to cleat off the mainsheet. However most of us needed to work on our anchoring and mooring skills. By the end of the week, needless to say, Tony had ensured that we could all moor and anchor the boat in just about any conditions of wind, tide and hangover. This included a training session in a choppy and blowy Rothesay harbour onto a windward pontoon. Nobody went overboard and the boat remained scratch-free.

Despite my resolution to stop smoking before the Day Skipper practical week I frequently found myself in the cockpit thinking that one last cigarette was necessary. Tony would take this as his cue to throw the bucket (tied to a fender) over the stern and shout “practice man overboard”. After a while the rest of the crew spotted this and every time I lit a cigarette the atmosphere in the cockpit became noticeably more tense. Challenged about this Tony maintained that there was no link between the cigarette and the exercise, it was just that he could never find a moment when I wasn’t lighting up!

Safely moored

Safely moored

For a boat of five men we were all very well behaved on the partying front (although Tony’s suggestion that we each bring two bottles of wine didn’t see us past day 2). However, on a couple of occasions we found ourselves in the same port as the ‘experimental’ all-women crew (apologies to Quentin – all women trainees). On both these occasions we struggled to get to bed before three after having tested the liberal Scottish licensing laws to their limits and having a night-cap or two in the name of guided tours round each others’ boats. No wonder some of us men are stuffy about women on yachts, I thought, we simply can’t keep up with the pace!

The drive back to Newcastle on the final day was a quiet affair: we all had a lot of learning over the previous week to reflect on, but more than this we were all a bit sorry that the week had gone by so quickly.

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