I’ve had some very nice people say some very nice things about my site recently. This chap Simon has sent me the story of his first day sail in his first small cruiser… uncannily similar to mine! Perhaps this sort of thing happens to all of us when we first venture forth on our wobbly way to becoming “sailors”. Anyhow, as a problem shared seems to genuinely make things less embarrassing, I thought I should put his story out on here. Hope that’s ok Simon. Thanks.
I love hearing stories of people’s first adventures at sea. Especially when it’s done on a shoestrings budget. It gives great encouragement and confidence to those of us with limited means wishing to join in and do the same. You can be forgiven for thinking that sailing is only accessible to the retired or wealthy when visiting harbours, as I did for years.
Your first tentative journeys are very reminiscent of my own adventure aboard my first boat back in 2003.
As most of us have done, I would lean on the railings watching the boats from the harbour wall and think “that must be fun, and really, how hard could it be?” So after the usual soul searching that besmirches all first timers, I dived in and bought a boat. An Achilles.
After purchasing all the missing necessary’s (so i thought!!!) and pottering up and down the harbour for a few days getting used to handling the boat, with a big smile, raising and lowering sails etc I got ready to push out further afield. Confident in my preparations, I headed out to sea for the first time in great weather.
Porthmadog harbour is a few miles from the entrance to the estuary (and bar) and you only have one and a half to two hours either side of high tide to get in or out. Added to this the channel is constantly changing throughout the season and my newly acquired drying mooring only allowed us to head out safely two and a half hours before HW. This meant that if I wanted to make it back to the mooring on the same tide I would only have an hour or so at best out in the bay beyond the bar.
When I think about it Porthmadog really isn’t the ideal first timers safest choice to set sail from on their own. I’ve seen so many people high and dry over the year and it’s a wonder that given my level of seamanship at the time that the only damage done on this trip was to my nerves.
After you’ve sailed in and out half a dozen times or so it becomes a matter of routine, but this was my first time (for everything!) I got such an adrenaline rush in those first few miles negotiating moorings, rocks (real and imagined) buoys, other yachts and the dreaded jet ski’s. Plus whist this was going on I was struggling to control and sail the boat against 3 knts of tide. By the time I reach the fairway buoy I was absolutely stressed and knackered and now the wind was building. (Not forecast!)
As we had made slow progress and this was a maiden run with no intentions of heading further afield. I had to spin her round and do it all again. Immediately!
This is when I learnt what “wind over tide, lee shore, engine failure and out of your depth” means. All at the same time! As my dolphin inboard started, revved, spluttered and died. I had a few rants and raves, and a couple of why me’s, and a bit of a bottom tremble, and then I pulled myself together and got to work.
Luckily I had a mercury 4 HP as back up. I started it, dropped the main, reefed the Genoa and headed for home, buttocks clenched! As I reached the bar the sea grew lumpy but not as bad as I had expected and we soon pushed through into calmer water and safety.
In reality it was a perfect day for sailing even with the unexpected change in the weather and engines fail from time to time. I was struggling because I was at the limits of my ability and experiencing the unknown.
I made it back safely to my mooring, no dramas or notable incidents, but before I locked up and headed for the pub I had made a list of lessons learnt and equipment needed. A very long list. Number 1: autopilot……. Number 2: book a day skipper course…… 3: sailing is a bit harder than I thought……etc.
I’ve found over the years that this is usually the time when a surprisingly large number of novice sailors find an excuse to either sell up or turn their beautiful pride and joys into floating static caravans.
Not me! I grew a bigger pair and set out again weekend after weekend until eventually I “unclenched” and had lots and lots of fun.
My advice to anyone on a shoestring budget is to sit down with a pen and paper and calculate what you can reasonably afford and go for it.