Katy Stick­land joined an RYA Com­pe­tent Crew course to find out why in­struc­tion can make life as a sail­ing cou­ple more en­joy­able

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words Katy Stick­land Pic­tures An­drew Sy­den­ham

Why the Com­pe­tent Crew course can pre­vent mutiny and keep you on course for cruis­ing har­mony

Be hon­est. How con­fi­dent do you feel in B your crew? How many of you have thought your sail­ing part­ner could ben­e­fit from more train­ing? Per­haps you have tried teach­ing them your­self, only to find it didn’t go ac­cord­ing to plan. Maybe you started to­gether but now one of you sails more than the other, re­sult­ing in you al­ways tak­ing the lead, skip­per­ing and mak­ing de­ci­sions, while the other in the part­ner­ship crews and de­fers to your judg­ment.

While this might work for some, for oth­ers it can leave lit­tle room for con­fi­dence build­ing, re­sult­ing in them feel­ing un­sure about tak­ing to the wa­ter and even won­der­ing why they should sail with you at all. Worse, it could re­sult in the ugly scene that we have all prob­a­bly wit­nessed – a skip­per frus­trated with a crew mem­ber, ber­at­ing them pub­licly.

The ma­jor­ity of peo­ple who sail in the UK take to the wa­ter be­tween one and five times a year. Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als rep­re­sent three times the num­ber of peo­ple who sail reg­u­larly. It is clear that if sail­ing is to grow as a sport then th­ese types of sailors need to be en­cour­aged and not dis­missed.

I have never done any for­mal sail train­ing, and like many be­fore me, I have re­lied on my more ex­pe­ri­enced hus­band, John, who has ocean cross­ings and more than 30,000 sail­ing miles un­der his belt, to teach me. This, to be hon­est, has not al­ways been the smoothest of learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, with the oc­ca­sional cross word from both par­ties. If I ever wanted to feel more con­fi­dent about sail­ing then it was time to take con­trol and look for an

al­ter­na­tive teacher. John was 100% be­hind me in this, as ul­ti­mately, a more con­fi­dent crew would make his life eas­ier and make any fu­ture cruise as a cou­ple a much more en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

With all of this in mind, I ar­rived at Uni­ver­sal Yacht­ing at Mer­cury Yacht Har­bour on the Ham­ble to join an RYA Com­pe­tent Crew course. With blue sky and the sun shin­ing down, I met up with Chris War­wick and, once all of the pa­per­work was com­pleted, he took me down to the pontoon to meet the rest of the par­tic­i­pants who were al­ready on board the Du­four 365, An­hinga.


Our in­struc­tor for the next five days was Clive Vaughan – a vet­eran of the 1981-82 Whit­bread Round the World Race and the 1979 Fast­net. He in­tro­duced me to Do­minic, who was also do­ing a Com­pe­tent Crew, and Paul, who was plan­ning to com­plete his Coastal Skip­per ahead of a fam­ily char­ter hol­i­day in the Adri­atic Sea.

Hav­ing said our hel­los, brought all of our sail­ing gear on board and had a thor­ough brief­ing on liv­ing on board An­hinga for the next five nights, it was time to head to the lo­cal hostelry for a chance to get to know each other.

Chat­ting over a pint, Do­minic re­vealed he had sailed as a child, but had done lit­tle since. Along with a friend, he was plan­ning to buy a 50% share of a boat to cruise the UK and Europe with their part­ners. Do­minic was al­ready look­ing to step up to Day Skip­per.

Paul had mainly skip­pered boats dur­ing fam­ily char­ter hol­i­days. His wife and chil­dren had al­ready done a Com­pe­tent Crew course, which had given them and Paul con­fi­dence afloat. As for me, I had not done much sail­ing since re­turn­ing from the Caribbean sev­eral years ago, where John and I had lived on his Spark­man and Stephens 34, and jointly run our ma­rine ser­vices busi­ness for five years be­fore the lure of home fi­nally saw us sell up and re­turn to the UK.

The prom­ise of fair weather sail­ing to ease us back in dis­ap­peared quickly the fol­low­ing morn­ing, with rain and a Force 6-7 fore­cast. To beat the worst of the weather, we left early. Af­ter a thor­ough brief­ing from Clive, Do­minic and I helped put in a third reef into the main sail be­fore we each pre­pared the bow and stern lines so they were ready to slip. With ev­ery­one on board, Paul is­sued his in­struc­tions and we pulled the lines in be­fore mo­tor­ing from the pontoon and out into the Ham­ble river. It wasn’t the smoothest of starts but that was surely why we were on this course – in or­der to brush off our sail­ing cob­webs. It was great to be out on the wa­ter again, de­spite the tra­di­tional UK sum­mer weather. Keep­ing to port, An­hinga made her way to the river mouth and out into the So­lent, where the Force 7, now gust­ing Force 8, meant we got a bit of a soak­ing while sail­ing to the shel­ter of Os­borne Bay on the Isle of Wight. Here, Clive talked us through the tech­nique for an­chor­ing, and as­signed us our roles, with Paul at the helm. Once the hook was se­cure, and the an­chor ball tied onto the rig­ging, it was time to go down be­low for lunch.

A quick check on the web to get the lat­est weather up­dates meant it was time to weigh an­chor. Again, Clive gave clear and con­cise in­struc­tions, and took Do­minic and I up to the bow to give us a de­tailed demon­stra­tion of the best tech­niques to use to lift the an­chor (thank­fully we had an elec­tronic wind­lass: I have pre­vi­ously been used to haul­ing up the an­chor us­ing my own brute strength) and com­mu­ni­cate with Paul at the helm.

Once un­der­way, we hugged the coast of the Isle of Wight to give us the best shel­ter be­fore tack­ing hastily to­wards Portsmouth.

Hav­ing a con­fi­dent crew would make my hus­band’s life eas­ier and any fu­ture cruise as a cou­ple more en­joy­able

Once in the Small Boat Chan­nel, we mo­tored un­til we saw the Mary Mouse, Haslar Ma­rina’s well­known large green light­ship, to port. Clive called the ma­rina to be al­lo­cated a berth be­fore di­rect­ing us to pre­pare lines, tie on plenty of fend­ers ahead of Paul ma­neu­ver­ing An­hinga into her berth.

I stepped ashore first, line in hand, and made a turn on the cleat near­est the bow, while Do­minic did the same with the stern line. Once along­side, we se­cured the lines and set up a bow and stern spring and tied off more fend­ers to pro­tect the yacht against the surge, which was push­ing us to­wards the pontoon.

A look at the weather fore­cast con­firmed that we would not be go­ing sail­ing for at least 24 hours. This did, how­ever, leave plenty of time for the­ory, such as points of sail and rules of the road. It also al­lowed us to tie knots, my own par­tic­u­lar de­mon which had often re­sulted in mar­i­tal dishar­mony when, un­der pres­sure, I strug­gled to tie a bow­line at speed. Thank­fully, with Clive’s sim­ple steps, I was ty­ing bow­lines with cer­tainty in no time.


The next three days saw me in­crease in con­fi­dence as we sailed up and down the So­lent vis­it­ing Cowes, Yar­mouth and the Beaulieu River. The Force 3-4 and blue skies meant hours of fun and en­joy­able sail­ing. Do­minic and I got plenty of prac­tice helm­ing, gy­bing and tack­ing, se­cur­ing lines af­ter com­ing along­side and pick­ing up moor­ing buoys, ei­ther by las­so­ing or us­ing a boat hook. Both of us also got a chance to helm dur­ing our night sail from Ham­ble to Cowes, and learned the finer points of man over­board drills. This, for me, was one of the high­lights, hav­ing pre­vi­ously only prac­tised as a crew mem­ber. When you sail as a cou­ple, cop­ing with a man over­board sit­u­a­tion does weigh on your mind. Would you be up to it? We all suc­cess­fully re­cov­ered the ‘man’ dur­ing our ex­er­cises. Hav­ing a clear un­der­stand­ing of what you need to do cer­tainly made me feel more re­as­sured about do­ing it for real, al­though more prac­tice would cer­tainly be re­quired to make me 100% happy.

I found learn­ing with­out John re­ally quite lib­er­at­ing, and feel much more con­fi­dent about go­ing sail­ing as a cou­ple again. It had been a while since I had done more than the odd day sail, so five days of cruis­ing al­lowed me to re­learn skills that had grown rusty and re­dis­cover why sail­ing re­ally is such a won­der­ful pas­time.

With thanks to Chris and Me­lanie War­wick and Clive Vaughan at Uni­ver­sal Yacht­ing.

01243 697274; www.uni­ver­saly­acht­

ABOVE: Cour­ses can help sharpen skills, es­pe­cially if you are not sail­ing reg­u­larly LEFT: A re­fresher on the points of sail

Above: most sailors in the uk take to the wa­ter fewer than a mere five times a year

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