Tour of the South Coast

Birmingham, 15th April 2002
As I write this several weeks after the training sail, I'm both praising and cursing my notes of the week's activities. Somewhere hidden in the hastily scrawled notes are fragments of mental images and memories that I'll try and recreate for this journal.

The weeks started well, meeting a fellow Cambridge based crew volunteers, Ellen, at Cambridge Station mainly thanks to the high visibility of the yellow Challenge Jackets we both had. On the way down to London we compared notes, found we had some friends in common, and prepared for the week ahead. A quick tube ride to Tower Hill then a walk across to St Katharine's Dock. We found our yacht, Norwich Union, looking a little out of place - sitting pretty in renovated central London rather than bashing into gale force conditions. That time would come though... We met some of the crew working on dinner, the skipper Dave and mate Tim currently absent, presumed at the pub. Some time later they and the rest of the crew arrive and we all eat. The tone for the week was set when Dave allowed us out for a quick one at the pub - and Mel's eyes immediately lit up. However, back by half past ten and an early start the next morning curbed our alcoholic ambitions.

Friday dawned with a need to get out of the dock by 8am when the tide was high. We prepped the boat quickly and went around the corner to the lock, and from then onto the River Thames. We paused for a quick photo opportunity of Tower Bridge, and then motored away eastwards. I'd never been on that part of the Thames before, with many new apartment blocks giving way to construction sites for apartment blocks giving way for weather worn industrial areas as you travel further onwards. Past Docklands, Canary Warf and the Millennium Dome, onto the Thames Barrier and under the QE2 road bridge. At this point we raised the mainsail and the yankee 2 once it was wide enough to proceed under sail. With westerly winds as predicted the journey to North Foreland Point was all down wind, so ideal practice for gybing - turning the back of the boat through the wind to the wind changes which shoulder it's coming over. Lunch caused a brief halt to our gybe drills. Following the coast around towards the south we came up to a reach, the wind coming directly onto the side of the yacht. I get to helm for a bit, but then as the wind increases we need to change down from the 2 to the 3 at the front. Apart from a gybe in the middle it goes smoothly. I volunteer for the bowman job, determined after the previous training sail to get more in the thick of it. This involves removing the old sail from the forestay and clipped on the new sail.

As ever in sailing, the wind then drops again - we need to change back to the larger sail. On the drop I'm now fourth from the bow, bringing the free bottom corner of the sail back on board as the sail it dropped. Quite a tussle since the wind is still half filling the sail, but it goes well. Bringing the sail back on the high side of the boat, whilst the other team prepares the new sail for raising, I begin to feel the effects of the lurching boat. It's always worst the further forward you go especially since now we're heading westwards straight into the headwind, and I really wasn't feeling too hot. However with my safety harness still clipped onto the boat underneath the sail we were retrieving I couldn't move quickly enough and I washed down the side of the boat with my lunch. This was immediately followed by a shouting from the skipper about not throwing up on the high side.

My secret weapon for this trip had been to drink lots of water when I was on deck, and it seemed to work well, with me able to help out flaking the sail that we'd brought back. I still got the cycle of feeling okay, shivering from the cold, feeling tired then throwing up before feeling okay again. However this time I was able still to help out when I was feeling okay - a major improvement! At one point I remember looking up at the darkening sky from my internal world and seeing the famous white cliffs of Dover. At least I knew where we were. It was time to drop the headsails, and I volunteered for the snake pit. Not too far forwards, you don't have to move around too much, but still a vital role since you control the timing and the speed of the sail drops. First the yankee goes down, I'm starting the feel a bit dodgy and throw up (towards the low side) immediately after the drop. However on the foredeck they're ready for the staysail to come down. Realising that they're much more vulnerable than I am I manage to drop the staysail halyard, retching the whole way through the drop. I'm pleased that I managed to still play a part in the crew whilst feeling bad, definite progress on previous training sails, but know that this is really the minimum requirement and there's still a long way to go.

We head to bed once docked at Dover and full up with dinner. The weather is predicted to be worse, straight on the nose once more, and we're planning a full night sail the next day. Lots to worry about, but at least my bet to the rest of the crew that I'd be first to barf came off!