Day of attrition

Birmingham, 15th April 2002
Saturday starts at 7am with breakfast then briefings on the boat including another tour of the safety features of the boat from Tim. We quickly rig the boat for a sail and prepared beans and pasty for lunch. It's very obvious that people are a lot more aware of how the boat works than on previous training sails, which is great - you feel a lot more able to rely on everyone else. We leave Dover at about 1pm, straight up with the no 3, storm staysail and three reefs. As soon as we're outside the breakwater it's a force 8 with some pretty nasty waves. The plan is for a quick trip up the coast and back, then set out this evening again for Brighton or Southampton if the weather improves. I get on the helm with Dave the skipper stood right behind me - good for comfort in these conditions even though it's fairly nerve racking. What was then worse was him then leaving to get on with something else. You know that he knows how good a job I'm doing just by the feel of the boat. Given the conditions we head along the coast for a bit more shelter and drop the yankee.

A while later I get another go a helming - the wind was averaging about mid 30s with gusts up to 43 knots. Both Dave and Tim then disappear below leaving me to get on with helming. It's an odd job at the minute, helming. Since we haven't done that much of it, you tend to really have to concentrate. You're given a wind angle or a course, or if you're lucky a landmark. If you're sailing by the wind angle, you tend to really concentrate on the instruments, almost like playing a computer game - left a bit, hold it, okay that's a bit too much so swing back, on and on and on. Dave's stood behind you telling you to just look at the waves, steer by feel. Some times you'll just get it sorted - steering just a little, in advance of that wave that will knock you off course. Quite often you can't see the waves too well, especially at night, so you just have to `use the force'. Then all of a sudden you'll just completely lose it, go miles off the wind and know that the skipper it cursing you, and you're making everyone's life harder on board.

So someone else gets to battle with the helm and I go up to sit on the high side to help the weight balance of the boat. About 10 minutes later I'm back to the stern and get to see my beans and pasty again. There were lots of beans - I'm sure more than I ate for lunch. Anyway. I don't feel too bad afterwards: again the water is helping. Quite soon after the hobnobs get passed around and we start the `hobnob challenge' - how long can I keep it down for?!

Since the conditions were better we raised the yankee again, and feeling the cold sat on the rail we sang songs to keep warm. Never has no much damage been done to Bohemian Rhapsody by so few. The plan changes; since we're quite a way up the coast we'll put our nose around Dungeness Power Station that's been shielding us from the worst and see what it's like. We knock the third reef out to the second, and watch the twilight settle in. The moon is again really bright, lighting up the deck quite well. We think about powering up again, bringing out the staysail, but call it off as the wind starts to pick up again. At this point, 7ish, we call watches - I'm with Dave, Rhod, Julian and Geoff on deck, and the other watch goes below for some food; sweet and sour pork. They bring some out for us on deck - I eat my small portion quite slowly to let my stomach know what's happening. I managed to keep that hobnob down though!

Not much to do on our watch, so we take turns at helming to relieve the monotony of sitting on the rail. I'm pretty exhausted by this point, so helm pretty badly, but eventually the other watch comes on deck to replace us. As soon as I'm down below I throw up again - what I was afraid of happening below decks. Still, in bed things are a lot better. It's the first time I've really been below when the boat's been sailing, so a new experience. I don't manage to get the straps holding my in done up tight enough, so when the boat was on port tack I had to brace myself to stay in, but apart from that it was okay. During their watch we got to listen to them putting the third reef back in, since the weather was pretty bad now. A major shouting match between the mate and his watch took place. We felt half sorry for them and half glad we weren't out there as well. Our watch came around again, and I managed to get half dressed before throwing up again. I took some water, but that came up again two minutes later so I called it a day and headed back to bed. Now I was really torn between feeling like I wanted to be out there and pulling my weight and the knowledge that I'd be next to useless and maybe a danger to myself and the crew.

They did some tacks shorthanded on deck and sat through some pretty nasty conditions around Beachy Head before finally announcing that we're coming into Brighton and all hands on deck. I made up it a bit late, but was able to help out with mooring and sorting the boat out. It was about 3am, and I now find out that two other people from the other watch had been in bed since dinner time - I wasn't even the first person to throw up that day! However it's only until the next day we find that the mate, Tim, also had to go to the heads to hurl which made the rest of us feel much better. We get the luxury of a lie in until 10am the next morning, if 6 1/2 hours of sleep is a luxury.