RYA Practical Cruise – Jay

Caroline Bellerby

The RNYC’s practical course this year was extremely eventful, especially aboard our yacht Jay, a nicely appointed 40 ft Bavaria that, unfortunately, did not handle quite as well as she looked.

There were four of us students on board – Shirley, Keith, Andrew and me – all doing Coastal Skipper – and our instructor Tony. We spent the week doing all sorts of difficult things – navigating in “fog”, navigating without a GPS, fender and bucket overboard recovery under sail and power, sailing onto and off buoys and pontoons, anchoring under sail, circuits and bumps around the pontoons and, of course, night sailing.

In our case the night sail was from Loch Gair (in Upper Loch Fyne) to Tarbet on a very windy night. To start with the steaming light did not work so one of us had to operate a torch. After being surprised at how fast we were going with the boat fully reefed, we learnt a very important lesson – not to leave the engine in forward gear at 2000 rpm at the same time.

Pontoon lifting

The lightest crew member on Jay demonstrating that she could lift the heaviest crew member on Flamingo using Jay’s spinnaker halyard.

Mooring under sail in Loch Ranza was livened up by one of our crew becoming suspended between the mooring buoy and the pulpit. Although the skipper had invented a gadget for picking up the ring of the mooring buoy, it was necessary to replace this with a more secure mooring line for the night. The skipper told Andrew he had once seen someone climb over the pulpit and stand on the buoy in order to thread a line through the ring. Andrew decided to give this a try himself, much to the skipper’s amazement. He actually performed this difficult balancing act but, unfortunately, climbing back over Jay’s high bows proved to be rather more difficult. A spinnaker halyard was led forward to assist in his recovery, but an exhausted Andrew managed to haul himself back on board before this man overboard recovery technique could be put to a real test.

Whilst moored to this same buoy we went ashore in the dinghy to try some real ale – a particular interest of the skipper. More adventure awaited on the return trip when we started the outboard motor and aimed the dinghy at Jay’s anchor light. All seemed to be going well until the skipper noticed our anchor light was unexpectedly coming into transit with that of another moored yacht. The outboard was running in gear but we were not moving through the water! Instead the tide was taking us out to sea. Later we found that a pin had sheared off the propeller. Two crew members then started paddling Indian style, to the amusement of the crew of a second RNYC yacht, Kookaburra, who were taking photographs, not realizing that there was a problem, as the engine was still going. We soon realized that this was not getting us very far and also that the dinghy was deflating under us. Consequently some serious rowing by the skipper against the current ensued and a relieved crew eventually arrived back at the yacht.

Rigging a stern spring

Rigging a stern line at Tarbert

Scattered in with all this practical experience, we were involved with an unusual number of near calamities – not ours fortunately. One was the result of hearing a MAYDAY call while in Tarbet. A wayfarer dinghy had capsized 1 mile north of the harbour in choppy conditions. Not hearing any other response we headed off to the scene as fast as we could and advised the coastguard, who told us to continue and stand by the casualty. When we arrived the dinghy sailors had already been recovered by a RIB from the Tarbet-Portavadie ferry. This was fortunate, as the inverted wayfarer was surrounded by rocks and it would have taken us some time to inflate and launch our dinghy. The coastguard nevertheless thanked us for our offer of assistance.


Springing off

Springing the bows off against a fresh breeze in Rothesay.

More drama ensued when we were in Rothesay, sheltering from a gale. As we were practising take offs and landings at the pontoon, another yacht arrived and attempted to berth alongside the pontoon to windward. One of its crew misjudged the distance to the pontoon and we had to rush across and haul him out of the water.

A third incident concerned one of our boats. The skipper told his crew he required hospitalisation and requested that they advise the coastguard. The crew of would-be Day Skippers did a great job in liaising with the coastguard and in no time a pilot boat turned up and, as the tale is told, two hefty sailors leaned over and hoisted the casualty unceremoniously but efficiently two metres up from the yacht into their boat, which then transported him to a waiting ambulance. In this case we were just involved with checking his crew were OK, notifying relatives and transporting his car back home. I am delighted to say he soon recovered and is now his usual healthy self again, but the experience gave us good practice in VHF procedure and seeing how well the authorities responded to a crisis.

Altogether it was a very interesting week. Apart from the sailing instruction, we made new friends from different walks of life, realized our strengths and weaknesses as members of a team, and had many good meals, which we had to plan and prepare. On top of all that we even experienced the famous Victorian loos and showers at Rothesay.