RYA Practical Cruise

Mike Farrell

A Competent Crew’s Tale

I should have realised at the pre-meeting that things would be cramped. Tony, the gallant captain casually suggested that his car may not be up to the journey to Largs. I therefore volunteered mine, a Renault Scenic where the seats can be taken out. I saw the glint in Tony’s eyes on divulging this information.

Having picked up Jason with his neck support and fluffy pillow we descended on Tony’s, an interesting property with a large hedge restricting the view. On entering the grounds we were confronted by a large mound of ‘stuff’ outside the front door. One look at Jason, we turned, and two seats were removed from the car.

The car was packed and re-packed. Tony’s main concern was the safety of his breakfast strawberries and grapes. God forbid if they were damaged. My concern was trying to get a large bag packed with what appeared to contain a sail into the car. Why were we taking a spare sail? Who were Jason and I to ask, attempting to obtain our competent crew?

Largs was bathed in sunshine on our arrival. Our boat, Kookaburra looked quite small but I was assured that at 34 feet it was quite big enough for five. Joining us were the would-be Day Skippers Nigel and Trevor. At the pre-meet they assured me they were competent sailors, in their opinion. Could the competent crew be competent enough for these masters of the seas?

Bill, the owner of the boat, arrived to give us an introduction to the boat. Everything in order, we packed our kit and prepared to get under way. Tony had his large bag with the sail in it. He said it was a storm jib but Bill informed us that there was one already on board. Tony had had this one specially made though so he was determined to see if it would work. It was unpacked and fitted. It worked perfectly but alas, if there was one already aboard there was no point in taking it. Back to the car it went. ‘Why did we bring it all this way if we weren’t going to use it?’ Who was I to question it though, not yet competent?

The adventure began with berthing practice in Largs. We started with the prop walk. Which way would we go when in reverse. In and out we went, quite easy I thought. Then it was the turn of the other skipper. This is more like it I thought, a nice bit of speed as we sped towards the mooring. A shout from Tony, ‘Reverse, Hard Reverse’ indicated to me that we may be going a little bit too fast. Never mind.

Off we went onto the high seas. It all seemed to be going fine. Then there was a cry from the back. ‘Practice man overboard’ as Tony with a glint in his eye threw a fender attached to a bucket over the side. Engine on and we manoeuvred the boat for the pick-up. This was the first of many drills. Tony seemed to take a macabre pleasure in throwing that bucket over the side. At least it wasn’t full when it went in – the heads were working.

Our first night was spent in Rothesay berthed alongside Bolero, one of the other RNYC yachts. The gin and tonics were out as Tony prepared the first nights meal. This was his one and only culinary effort as the crew would be cooking for the rest of the week. With only one meal to prepare, it was surly going to be a gastronomic delight.

As we sat under the gathering clouds, the G & Ts going down rather well, our stomachs churning with the smells from below, we heard a few choice words and the opening and closing of cupboards and bags. Better keep quite though. It was so relaxing on deck. If we asked what the problem was we might have to help. Twenty minutes later we were summoned below. The smell was delightful. Tony had prepared chicken casserole surprise. An interesting dish. The surprise turned out to be chicken casserole without the chicken, which was still running around in Newcastle.

A visit to the Black Bull and all was forgotten. Although we had been assured by the skippers that Kookaburra was a substantial size for five, the competent crew had one concern. That toilet, rather small, and well, the thought of sitting on it after hours at sea was not very appealing.

Our lives were saved though. Rothesay had the most impressive, substantial toilets I had ever seen. One could spend hours there. Having spent hours there, you could go back just to make sure, and all for twenty pence.

Off to Millport, motoring and sailing. Over went the bucket again and again. How many times do you need to practise man over board? Still, better safe than sorry, especially if it might be me going over.

On leaving Millport there was a little exercise for Trevor. He was informed that he was to stay below to simulate thick fog and navigate us out. Best keep an eye on the depth gauge. Yes, lifejacket on, know where the flares are. No need to worry though, Trevor, map in hand, did a magnificent job and off we went to Carradale Bay.

Jason up the mast

Jason descending

Beginning to wonder how competent we were, the competent crew were having difficulty with the headsail furler off Cock of Arran. It soon became apparent that it wasn’t just the incompetent crew but a real problem. Whilst anchored at Carradale Bay it was time for somebody to go up the mast.

All that excessive eating finally paid off. One look at my stomach and everyone turned their attention to Jason. Yep, he’s the lightest. So, strapped into the boson’s chair, up he went. What an effort, it felt like his legs were glued to the mast. Eventually though, he made it and carried out an examination. Down he came to report and draw a delightful little diagram. Now it was time to carry out the repair. Tools in a bucket and off he went again. What a difference! This time spider-man was going aloft, poetry in motion.

Repairs complete, it was time for anchoring practice under sail. Why oh why didn’t we have an electric motor to pull the anchor up. Up and down that anchor went, again and again and again. Blisters on hands, sweat pouring, delighted to be there, off we went to Campbeltown. On route we saw a full circle rainbow (reflection in the water). What a sight. It’ll be a long time before we see that again.


Further mast repairs at Campbeltown

Further mast repairs at Campbeltown

With engine fired up we headed off for Campbeltown. Campbeltown was good. Pubs, showers and although not as substantial as Rothesay, good solid toilets – heaven.Just when Jason thought it was safe, Tony decided it was time to make a more permanent repair to the headsail furler. Up he went again, to the delight of those taking there meals near by. At least this time we got a few good pictures.

Tony broke out the laptop to get a weather report for the next day. There was a forecast for gales so we had a brisk sail to Lamlash in a SSW 4/5. We had lunch and prepared to set off again. The wind was really picking up so we broke out the storm jib. Why, oh why, did we leave that beautifully designed jib of Tony’s in the car. It would have been so much more use than the one we had. Luckily the squall passed over.

A long sail north saw us to the Kyles of Bute, with acting skipper Nigel taking care to avoid a rock in the centre of the channel east of Inchmarnock. A pleasant evening meal was had by all, prepared by Trevor. Quite an artist in the kitchen, he managed to use every pot, pan, bowl, cup and implement in his steamy, gastronomic delight. It was nice to have all that steam. It added to the condensation which would undoubtedly start dripping on my head as I tried to get to sleep that night.


Furling the main after the night sail

Furling the main after the night sail

Not that I would be getting that much sleep – we were off for a night sail with Trevor navigating us into the pitch blackness. He was in a confident mood although this could not be passed onto the competent crew. It didn’t help at all when a soulful cry from Tony could be heard ‘We’re doomed, doomed’. There was no need to be concerned though; there were no problems at all. We even managed to have a pudding as we sailed into the night, on to Rothesay again arriving at 0120hrs. Only a few more hours to hang on till those substantial toilets were open again. Safe at last.

Tony allowed us to have a lie-in that morning. There was ample time to use the substantial toilets as well. Jason and I did wonder if it was necessary to have a shower since for days the condensation had been dripping on us all night. Eleven o’clock though, and it was time to practise the use of springs and reversing off. Quite simple I thought but what did I know. As Kookaburra picked up speed, the rudder dug in, throwing the day skipper helmsmen to one side and then the other. Highly amusing for those not subjected to those awesome forces.

Slightly bruised, the skippers practiced picking up buoys under sail. We then set a triple reef and small jib and set off before a force 7 or 8. We hit our highest speed, 9 knots, on this run. Lets hope the skippers had their bearings right with the map (chart). Funny how they kept on referring to the map. Tony was not amused.


Mike, Trevor, Jason and Nigel wrapped up against the Easter breezes

Having battled with the elements it was good to anchor in well-sheltered Wreck Bay, in the Burnt Isles. More practice with that damn anchor again. Down, up and down again. Where was that motor. Tony decided the skippers should check on our position at 0100hrs and 0300hrs. Trevor then had the bright idea of setting the GPS so that if we moved off, the alarm would sound.

Tony then decided it was time for a sing-along. With that glint in his eye again he produced a tape of songs sung by members of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club. We managed to listen to it once but all felt that anchor practice, man overboard or the pub would be more appropriate. With a tear in his eye this time, Tony wrapped the tape in velvet and carefully packed it away waiting for a more cultured crew.

Trevor checked the GPS and we all went off to bed. I can only presume that the anchor watch was done but I have my doubts. One check was done however. At some unknown hour the GPS alarm activated. The skippers rose from their dreamy sleep and rushed outside. False alarm though, we were safe.

Thursday saw a blind navigation for Nigel in the Burnt Isles. “Isn’t that island getting rather close” the competent crew asked Tony. We’re doomed, doomed, came the reply. Later, crossing the Clyde, we seemed to be playing chicken with a container ship. Well, for about 1 minute anyway, before we turned and gave it a wide berth. On to Kip marina for berthing practice. This was my chance for fame. Take it at speed I thought, get it over and done with, lets show those skippers how to do it. Oh well, not too much damage.

The trip was coming to an end. It was Nigel’s turn to skipper a night sail to Rhu. Again the competent crew had to be on top of things. Why was the competent crews port and starboard opposite to that of the skippers?

When we arrived, Tony only said a few words. “Ale, ale, real ale” and off he went at a remarkable pace. We followed behind and all spent a pleasant evening in the pub by a very hot fire.

Friday was the last full day. A beautiful sunny day. It was calm as we looked into Gairloch then we hit a windy spell which soon settled to an idyllic force 2/3 as we headed to Largs. “Look at the sun over the Trossachs” somebody said. Then came the response “Nowt worse than sun on your Trossachs”.

That glint in the eye again, that bucket in the water again, more practice man overboard again, under sail. By now the skippers had mastered it and it was as smooth as clockwork. We beat a steady pace back to Largs where all the crews were to meet for a final meal.

We weren’t quite finished though, the boat had to be cleaned. Might be better to shut the window in the cockpit next time though, before you hose it down.

A great time had by all.

Mike Farrell
Competent Crew.