RYA Practical Cruise, Clyde – Jay

Hugh Stephenson

Yacht Jay, a Bavaria 38

Most things these days start on a Web Site. This was no exception. The course notice on the RNYC site gave a glowing description of the Clyde as a sailing area and, if you couldn’t resist, you downloaded an application form. When you got the invitation to the pre-course get-together you knew you were accepted. There, you found out who your instructor was going to be and who would be your fellow students. It was nice to meet them, but you don’t learn much about people while arranging transport and deciding on which night you will be responsible for providing dinner. In my case they did seem to be a good set of chaps and we had enough laughs to anticipate a very pleasant week socially.

Andrew, who had been on a previous RNYC practical course, kindly transported Roger, a fellow student from the RNYC theory course that had been held over the winter, and myself to Largs. By the time we got there we knew each other much better. On arrival, we looked for our nominated boat Kookaburra in vain. After some exploring we found fellow student Brian who told us we would be using Jay, a Bavaria 38, instead and that we didn’t need to search for her because she was right in front of our noses. He also told us that our instructor, Don, was around and might be found in the café. So from car to yacht we transferred our gear, food and wine. Clearly each of us had independently decided we should not run out of wine! Then we found Don. He told us that we would soon have possession of Jay and could then go aboard. It seemed tactical to stay in the café and eat some lunch.

At last, after a safety tour of Jay we were ready to start. However, there was a strong breeze blowing us on to the pontoon in our constricted corner of the marina. We couldn’t move back to make more room because Tony’s boat Skua was behind us. It seemed only right that he should show us the way out. We followed, having then been able to move back, go hard astern on a back spring, and then stylishly miss the nearest boat by a clear three inches. As we left, the wind dropped and it rained. The sail to Rothesay Bay, where we picked up a buoy, allowed each of us to get the feel of the boat. Brian was chef for the night and produced an excellent hot dinner, served, not surprisingly, with wine. After dinner, stories revolved mainly about what each of us had done wrong in a boat. It was a good exercise in team building!

7-00 a.m. Sunday. Surely, no one could want to get up at this hour! Breakfast passed quickly. It was decidedly cool despite the sunshine so thermals, as well as wet gear and lifejackets, were the order of the day. Don said it was good place for exercises like motoring in figures-of-eight round two buoys again and again. Then do it backwards again and again and again! We found it was easier backwards! Next task was to follow a contour, blind round the corner to an old pier. The hardest part was calling out the depth to the navigator every ten seconds for twenty minutes. A lovely sail up the East Kyle of Bute, through the narrows, to anchor off the Burnt Isles was completed in time for dinner.

Unfortunately, the wind dropped so the night passage to Tarbert required the motor. While entering the harbour, great care was taken checking off the lights before picking up a buoy in the dark. Brian, acting skipper, swore that the Eilean a’Choic rocks had been moved closer to the quick flashing starboard hand light since he was there last year!


(L-R) Brian, Andrew and Roger plotting

Monday, and this will be the last day I shall single out for special mention. A quick move to the visitors’ pontoon after breakfast allowed us to take advantage of the showers. If you can come in to a pontoon once, why not do it twenty times. Well it seemed like it after all of us had more or less perfected the dead stop and gentle touch insisted upon. By now the wind was gusting strongly. The next challenge was to see how slowly each of us could motor up the harbour against the wind and then, when everyone had had several attempts, to do it again backwards. After lunch the wind was strong but Don persuaded us that we needed some practice manoeuvring under sail in open water. After reeving a third reefing line as best we could, we left the shelter of the harbour with a little genoa unrolled and what turned out to be a very baggy main. Away from shelter we all agreed that this combination was not compatible with gusts of 40 knots and crept back to the comfort and convenience of the pontoon. Later we braved the rain and joined the crews from two other boats from team RNYC in the pub(s). Apart from tying up at 2a.m. in Campbeltown on Wednesday night, then leaving early next morning, that was the last time we stood on terra ferma until the end of the course.

Passage planning

Brian passage planning in the warmth of the saloon.

Over the rest of the week the weather got better. The wind, usually stronger than forecast, gave excellent sailing. The sun shone most of the time. Challenges were surmounted. We sailed figures-of-eight, gybed and tacked more and more smoothly. We picked up buoys and practised recovering fender and bucket overboard , but only when those on the foredeck remembered the boathook! We dropped the anchor and recovered it, sometimes with enough chain to stop it dragging – but not when anchored next to the sharp-eyed observers on Skua. We planned passages and executed them by day and night. We fixed our position using three bearings and even once using a running fix. Socially we got on very well, although we were rebuked for tending to make ‘committee’ decisions. Domestically, we added to the planned three meals a day essentials like morning coffee, afternoon tea and a nightcap. (The latter was only after a night passage.)


Friction wars – Mainsheet v. Vang
Near Buttock Point, Kyles of Bute

We did things for Jay too. We re-rigged the mainsheet so that it ran almost freely and re-rove the third reef in the main so that it set better when reefed in stronger winds. However, we resisted taking a knife to the slots in the sail provided for the third reef lines, although we might not have done so if a strong wind had made it desirable. Thus we reached the end of a most enjoyable and educational week surrounded by wonderful scenery, cheerful company, good sailing weather and plenty of sunshine, but I don’t think any of us will forget the cold nights! There was one last touch of good fortune. On Friday, while waiting at the fuel pontoon, we saw another boat take the berth that we had earmarked for ourselves, it being perfect for an easy, soft approach with a gentle head breeze to help us. However, on returning from the showers before the post-course dinner, the naughty boat was seen clearly to be rising out of the water as the tide went out!

Photo Opportunity at Dusk

Photo Opportunity at Dusk

Heartfelt thanks are due to RNYC and to all involved in the organisation of the course. To those readers who are looking at this part of the website and wondering whether to sign up for the RNYC Practical Course I can only say “Do it”. The worst that can happen to you will be that you are asked to write a report for your boat. I was the obvious victim as during the week instructor Don called everyone else Hugh at least once, so any other ‘Hugh’ would just have passed on the task!