I've been sailing for about ten years, since being dragged into it by my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Jen. Throughout that time, my skills have progressed and I'm at a point where I don't mind telling people that, yes, "I can sail". I've seen my share of problems, bad weather and equipment failure. However, its one thing going sailing as part of a crew and another being the person that's responsible for making sure that those crew members reach their destination safe and sound - particularly on a large vessel like Honu.
Historically, I've acted as Watch Leader or First Mate; I've even tried skippering from time to time, but always with the safety of knowing there was either Jen or her Dad down below if the going really got tough. But, for the first time, it was agreed it was time for me to "solo". . .
After three weeks sailing in and around the Isle of Mull, we had got the boat to Croabth. There was the promise of strong winds, so it made sense for us to get going rather than hanging about and face the possibly of getting stuck in Croabth.
It felt very odd putting the motor astern while Jen stood on the pontoon with Kyle, both waving. Although I had thought long and hard about my departure, the excitement and nerves of what I was about to undertake got in the way a bit. I reversed out of our mooring okay, but rather than continue backwards, I stopped a little too early and began my turn to leave the marina. The wind began blowing us down onto the pontoons that we had just left and I was faced with a terrifying moment of wondering if I was going to crash the boat within minutes of my first trip as skipper! Thankfully, I managed to get my nerves under control and I think to some extent, the pending doom helped focus my mind on the task in hand! I put on more power, pushed the boat's bow back into the wind and made a clean getaway out of the marina! Phew!
Once out of the marina, I took the opportunity to have a chat to the crew about the trip. I explained that the trip was no doubt going to be very different our usual journeys. Because none of the crew were experienced enough to lead their own watch, I was going to have to stay awake for the full length of the trip - some 20-30 hours. Mixed with the added stresses of skippering "solo" for the first time, it was likely that I wouldn't be my usual happy/chatty self.
So, with the ground rules set, we raised the sails in a steady Force 4 and began the long trip to Troon. I decided that it might be fun if, as part of our regular ships log, the crew asked me for a single word to describe my mood. Rather than bleat on about the trip, here's what they recorded:
Tuesday Aug 3rd
- 15:15 - "Panic" leave Craobh (Force 4)
- 15:55 - "Relaxing" (Force 4)
- 17:05 - "Snoozy" at the Sound of Jura (Force 3)
- 18:35 - "Pensive"
- 19:00 - "Impatient"
- 19:30 - "Settled"
- 22:00 - "Content"
Wednesday Aug 4th
- 00:00 - "Cold" at Ireland (Force 3)
- 01:30 - "Snoozy" at Mull Of Kintyre (Force 3)
- 03:00 - "Happy" at The Ship (Force 3)
- 04:30 - "Interested" (Force 3)
- 06:00 - "Argumentative" ... Ailsa Craig spotted (Force 3)
- 08:30 - "Apprehensive"
- 09:00 - "Tired" ... Troon spotted (Force 3)
- 10:15 - "Thoughtful" at Lady Island (Force 2)
- 11:20 - "Elated" at Troon (Force 2)
As you can see, it took me a few hours to settle in, but once I realised that I had enough knowledge and experience to what needed done, it was just a case of getting on with it! Towards the early hours of Wednesday though, tiredness really started to kick in and by late morning as we got closer to Troon with every minute, I began to get nervous about my arrival. Usually arrivals and departures are the most stressful part of sailing. Its somewhat akin to parallel parking a car on a steep hill covered in ice. The only problem is that the car is the length of a double decker bus and doesn't have any brakes; its also not yours and its value is measured in hundreds of thousands - so, you know, no pressure!
Thankfully, the nasty weather that had been forecast didn't arrive and by the time we arrived in Troon's outer harbour it was a beautiful sunny day with just a very little breeze. Unbeknown to me was that waiting on the pontoon was Jen, her parents, and of course my wee boy Kyle. There were baloons, congratulations, and a traditional 'skippers hat'!
After getting the boat all tied and tidied up, we headed up to the local restaurant for a late lunch. Having been awake since 6am on Tuesday morning, its safe to say that my pint of Guinness went down very well and that I was pretty much ready for my bed by the time my main course was delivered!