Three sheet to the wind, and some more sayings.
After a few days of not doing so much, beside getting ready to fly to Melbourne with the bicycle, it was time to, quite literally, embark on the next challenge, learning to sail a yacht.
This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time but I never managed to get round to. I remember one day going out for lunch with Tarn when we lived in Northamptonshire and by accident we got to a reservoir where there was a sailing school, she was very supportive of my interest in it but, as often happens life got in the way of it and I never followed that lead through.
I found Sailing Away almost by accident, I was hoping to do the sailing course in New Zealand but I had envisaged it being in Nelson and way earlier in the New Zealand trip. What happened was that as I was going along I started panicking about the weather, what a quintessentially British thing to do, and I tried to make hay while the sun shone, hence postponing the sailing t the end of the trip. I am not sure if I was right to do so but it seemed to work out in the end.
As I said, Suzanne was almost found by accident as I found a different school in Auckland on the web but they were not offering courses and they directed me to to Sailing Away.
The Competent Crew course is the first stage of a progression in the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) qualifications that, in my case, is meant to give me the confidence in taking out of the moorings the yacht I will buy in a year or two. I realised some time ago that cycling 12 months a year while keeping sane is not possible, so I decided that there is a balance that needs to be stricken between riding and being stationary.
On the other hand I have no home to go back to so getting a boat seems the best option for taking time off the bike and have a place that, while mobile, I can still call my home.
I have never sailed in my life before, The closer I’ve come to it has been a one day borrowing of a windsurf board from a next tent neighbour, when I was 15 during the summer holidays. That rather frustrating experience, it took me two hours to learn how to just stand on the damn thing, was enough to assure me that I would have loved this, I I did.
I met Suzanne, Matias and Greg at 12:00 at the Weshaven Marina, just outside Auckland. The first thing I learned was that Auckland was also known as the “City of sails”, what better place could I have chosen to do this course in?
They seemed very nice and we all instantly got busy getting the last preparations to get French Connection ready to sail out of the harbour.
Thursday 7th, May, 2015
The first day of sailing was quite good. we did a bit of manoeuvring in the marina, and then got out into the open sea. I was surprised by how I was trusted to manoeuvre the boat while being the first time I got on a sailing boat.
As we got out of the sheltered bit of the bay we started to pick up wind and by the time it was me at the helm there were gusts of 25 knots coming across the the port side. It was steep learning curve but I loved every second of it.
Friday 8th, May, 2015
We moored on a buoy in a bay of Waiheke Island and had lovely fish for dinner. The morning brought rain and we got into the full wet weather gear. It was going to be a rough day but full of opportunity to learn the craft.
The most amazing thing for me was the fact that the rain did not matter. It was not the first time I felt like that, it has happened to me both on the bicycle and back in the days of my commuting to London, on the motorbike. When you’re doing something you are lost into, the weather is absolutely irrelevant.
The day was mostly wet but we circumnavigated half of Waiheke island and I felt I got the hang of controlling the helm rather than getting controlled by it. Dinner was a lovely steak cooked on the cockpit set gas barbecue, I made a mental note of getting one of those when I get my boat.
Saturday 9th, May, 2015
Sunday started a bit overcast but it cleared out nicely and left us to do a lot of exercises in a good, if not spectacular, wind and in great sunshine. I learned how to recover a man overboard, good news for all of the guests I’ll have on my boat, and how to moor both on motor and sail power.
It was funny as we spent the morning being a bit of a sailing cloths line as we were trying to get both the wet weather gear and most of our shoes dry from Friday downpours. Most of us, apart from Suzanne, who was better equipped, spent the day going around barefoot, personally I thought my grip was better than with the Dechatlon emergency shoes so that was another mental note for the future.
We ancored for the evening, and we went for a dingy rowing expedition, food was excellent again, lamb this time.
Sunday 10th, May, 2015
I woke up just after sunrise, which, by the way, was absolutely stupendous (featured picture at the top) and got ready for what was going to be the longest day of sailing.
The weather was great and as we exited the bay the wind picked us up giving making the three shifts we had at the helm during the day very enjoyable. We went around the north of Waiheke island and spent time in what was the most exposed bit of the sea we were going to encounter in this cruise.
The wildlife was abundant and we even saw penguins feeding offshore, what we did not see was dolphins which means that, despite the plentifulness of them in the New Zealand waters, I only managed to see some of them in the Cook Straight when I crossed on the ferry.
After a long day sailing and another good meal in the early evening we set sail again for the 4 hours of night sailing. This is part of the curriculum of both the Competent Crew course I was on board to do, and the Day Skipper one Greg and Matias were busy completing.
They plotted the route and made notes on all the reference lights we were to follow and all the ones that we needed to use to avoid hazards. Sailing at night proved not to be a big challenge. The wind was quite benign and the sea flat. The backdrop of Auckland made it at the same time easier and more difficult as, while it offered the reassurance that only the proximity to urban development seems to afford to first worlders like us, it also created a lot of luminous noise that made the identification of directional lights more difficult.
We all had a spell at the helm and eventually we tucked into a bay on Rangitoto island where we spent the night.
Monday 11th, May, 2015
Last day at sea was relatively quiet, we sailed back to Auckland and under the harbour bridge where, after lunch, we got our stamped log book and a congratulatory handshake. After that it was just a quick couple of tacks to get to the marina and the sailing was over.
I had little doubt to start with, but I am completely positive now that sailing is going to play a big part of my future. I’m not in a hurry though, as the things I want to do on water are quite ambitious, I suspect it will take me a couple of years of experience and further courses before I’ll start sailing long distances on my own.
To conclude let me tell you a bit about the rest of the crew. Suzanne, the RYA instructor and owner of French Connection was very good. Very knowledgeable and patient and she gave me just enough guidance to get going while allowing me the space to make some mistakes, which are the only real way to solidify learning. Matias was a lovely lad and we are now Facebook friends so I’ll be sure to ping him when I will find myself in or around San Paulo. Greg is an extraordinarily interesting chap. Originally from South Africa he has been living in New Zealand (Central Otago) for nearly 20 years. He is a Physicist who is now involved in climate change research and who spent a whole year in Antartica as part of the South African permanent mission.
I really enjoyed their company over the 5 days and the conversations we had were wide ranging and stimulating. I still think I’ll do the bulk of my sailing alone, much like I do my cycling, but if I had to choose partners for a long passage I think I could not do better than them.
Lastly let me tell you about a strange thing that is happening to me at the moment. While I did not suffer from any sea sickness while on the boat, I am now finding a few problems in readjusting to dry land. Every now and then I feel like I’m still on the boat and the world around me is listing. I looked it up and apparently this condition has a name. MdDS has no cure, but there are two good news: first 50% of patients seem to get better after a few years and second one of the treatments involves cycling.
Roll on Australia!