Lifted clean off my feet, Level 4 training

This past week seems to have lasted a lifetime, we’ve accomplished so much. It all started, driving down to overnight with Stephanie in order to arrive in time to snag a parking space in the Clipper car park, as crew for nine Clipper 70’s descended on Gosport marina for training. Dorset is beautiful this time of year with the roads lined in red poppies with occasional fields splashed all red. The car performed well at last without squealing belts and I really began enjoying her as we crossed the mill race near the George Inn on the river Avon near Bathampton. The narrow single lane toll bridge extracted 80p en route. The roads that followed are all hedge lined and really fun to drive down, with surprises round each corner. An old timer shouted his abuse and shook his fist at me for not stopping as I drove by him in his mobility scooter. (Well, he didn’t own the road and should have kept to his side.)

Waking soon after the sun and leaving by 5:00 am I arrived well before the required time of 8:00 am. My kit had been packed hastily into the boot which I now treat as a mobile suitcase which gave me time to repack into dry bags for the boat, killing time.

The first day’s training involved towing and being towed by a sister yacht, we’d trail two ball fenders on our anchor warp like a pair of testicles to be hooked by the following yacht’s boathook. We did mock casualty transfers back and forth using “Bob” in a dingy strapped to a spine board and did man overboard drills. Larry the assigned swimmer amusingly landed in front of the twart and the next wave filled the dingy with water. The bobbing dingy and taught halyard lifting him aloft in each trough. These errors, all duly noted, make for the best learning experiences. The new spinlock lifejackets are a major step forward, pack neatly and leave your head a great deal more comfortable at the neck. And the buckles…what joy.

The next days were spent going over white sail drills and practicing Le Mans starts (simultaneously raising both yankee and stay sails) with the crew all lined up behind the primary winches waiting for the start gun. The spinnaker was in use the next day and the dreaded task of wooling them below decks in the heat and repacking into their sail bags much more than once needed to be endured. The power in those sails was brought home to me following a wrap around the forestays. I was pulling on the sheets from the foredeck as the wind snapped it into shape rapidly inflating as it came free. I was lifted from my feet and if hadn’t let go would have done a neat parabola into the ocean.

We anchored twice off the Isle of Wight, both times stern to, using a mooring line as a bridle to centre the warp. Anchor watch is fun and neatly divided by overlapping crew with which to spend time, the hour quickly shrank, returning us to our bunks.

Three of the crew, Iain, Louise and Graeme will be sharing the Start Leg 1 with me in addition to the skipper Guy and our mate Hugues. All the crew are a fine bunch and work really well together. I still make mistakes and Louise and I rolled about giggling, uncontrollably at incorrectly rigging the spinnaker letterbox downhaul during an electric storm, quite dry in our foulies in the rain as we watched the lightning illuminate the night sky, revealing silhouettes of shoreline, buoys and other traffic. This was during our 24 hour race competing with the other yachts which was huge fun. The yachts jostled for position at the start like racing dinghies.

During my off watch we crash gybed, dipping alternate rails. I was awake at the time listening to the banging and crashing on deck securely closeted in my coffin bunk. The lee cloth worked which is comforting to know. The little ship’s bell in the saloon rang out the occasional “ding ding” as it’s clapper swung about like a pendulum. I recorded the sounds on my phone as I was using it at the time. Hearing them back did not bring about the emotions of the time.

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