I did quite a bit of work travel in the first weeks of February including a stopover on Holbox in Mexico. The Hobie Cat in the beach garden was tantalising, sadly unseaworthy amidst that beautiful environment with nice even onshore winds.
And this past week back in the UK I did a RYA Dinghy Instructor course (yep, passed 🙂 ). We were super lucky with the weather which was mild and apart from one day had enough of wind.
The DI course week was pretty intense with very packed days and homework in the evening. It feels a meaningful qualification to me, you can’t fake time on the water and sailing experience.
Apart from learning to teach sailing itself, the RYA instruction methods are excellent with much attention being paid to different learning styles, session planning, communications, feedback and everything else that goes into teaching effectively.
Not to mention learning new sailing and power boat skills, a lot on safety, protection of children and vulnerable adults, organising your training fleet and conducting sessions on land or water. All good stuff and also a nice consolidation of my own sailing skills where more advanced manoeuvres need to be at demo level and work every time.
As always, especially with sailing there is so much still to learn (it’s endless) and this stage still feels like the beginning. I’m grateful to Swanage Sailing Club for sponsoring the course and our great instructor during the week and coach/assessor on the final day.
If you’re in the UK and want to learn to sail check out the RYA website. It’s a great scheme to learn with, consistent in method across the country and you might be surprised to find a training centre not too far from where you are be it sea, river or lake.
So this was a first, taking the boat cover off with actual frost on it and going for a sail.
Observations; fingers were cold and I need better gloves, particularly in light conditions where I’m not working hard and warming up. I switched to skiing gloves half way through which were good, though of course they would be useless if wet. I kept them dry.
I’ve added some more instrumentation to the boat in the form of extra tell tales and added leech tell tales where they’d worn out.
Looking at tell tales is nothing new to me, but having these extra ones really helps see airflow over the sail better.
I’ve made a good start to the year so far with sails in my RS Vareo on New Year’s day and January 6th.
Since I go out on my own I’ve become more safety conscious and am taking out more gear, some items are on the UK’s dinghy cruising association page and it’s good common sense stuff. My boat isn’t designed for cruising but it’s certainly roomy enough to take out some safety gear and luxuries (coffee) including:
Handheld VHF radio + backup phone in a waterproof pouch.
Dry bag with different lengths of string, rope and shock chord, carbohydrate snacks, tape.
I’ve experimented paddling a single handed and it works fine centering the rudder with a piece of shock chord tied to the toe straps. The knife is tied to the pocket of my buoyancy aid, the paddle further tied to the boat with a length of string. The other bits of string and rope should enable recovery from a few breakage scenarios I’ve imagined.
Correct clothing is an essential part and I have the choice of a drysuit and wet suit layers. The drysuit plus over trousers is less fiddly to put on and dries quickly but I prefer the wetsuit set up which is very comfy on the boat. If you have cold feet, I can recommend Rooster’s polypro and thermaflex socks.
Another obvious safety aspect is to choose the right conditions, so I’m choosing wind and tides which reduce risk and avoid overly gusty conditions to reduce breakage risk. I also avoid crazy actions in the chop, so take care to sail up and down waves rather than let the boat slam down. If more of us go out it’s fun to go out in stronger conditions, and generally if I had a newer boat I’d push it much more 🙂
We’re super lucky in Swanage to have a National Coastwatch station looking over us and I’m very grateful to have them there. There’s an RNLI station next door also overlooking the bay, but obviously no sailor wants to cause a call out.
My two hour session yesterday looked like this:
this was my first GPS tracking test, winds were light and I covered about nine miles.
It’s curious how shallow the downwind angles are and it looks like I might be beating better on starboard than port, it gives me more ideas for things to work on. I need to get better at working with wind shifts and choosing the right angles downwind. And I’ve started in earnest with off water fitness.
Frostbite sailing continues and I’m choosing windows between the storms to get out. It’s interesting to see how different the bay is at this time of year, days of persistent wind lead to curious wave patterns, some good for surfing, others not. It reminds me of school physics lessons exploring wave interference but now actually sailing through it.
I’m paying most attention to downwind sailing now and trying to make the most of waves. Upwind seems to have a good routine now.
I’m now much preferring the wetsuit gear over a drysuit. It is surprisingly warm and comfy on the boat.
I’ve had my drysuit repaired and bought some new Rooster kit in preparation for the cold, also being a wiser and more cautious sailor I went for a red spray top and red buoyancy aid. It would be foolish not be visible.
Rooster’s layers system is terrific and I’m also using the gear for sea swimming. It’s a significant upgrade over my old now falling apart wetsuit and tired Gill PolyPro™ base layer. I truly love the Rooster Thermoflex and PolyPro™ layers.
My last weeks of sailing have all been about practising; the beat, gybing, spinnaker work, tacking and generally making the boat go! On my own – since it’s an old boat – , I only go out in force 3-4 which is fine to practise at slower more controlled speeds, though it’s fun to push it a bit when more of us go out.
The video above was in slightly breezier conditions. I’m discovering that the key to making it work in stronger winds is (simply and not surprisingly) to keep the boat dead flat and well trimmed at all times, and convert the wind energy to boat speed as quickly as possible. The faster the boat, the more stable and easier to keep upright, you just have to go with it. Any heel slows the boat considerably adding more pressure to the rig.
Gybing seems easier at higher speeds – broad reach to broad reach – but it takes concentration to c0ordinate properly. After a while on the water, if I’m tired that’s where it fails.
I’m also finding that clothing is super important in being and feeling connected to the boat. I was wearing Rooster hiking pads in the session above which reduced my connection the boat and made me more unstable downwind. I’ll give them another go but perhaps the Vareo doesn’t need them, the boat isn’t really uncomfortable.
Something’s working anyway, I’m pointing better, keeping the boat flatter, sailing faster and managing higher winds more easily. 🙂