In which I am very nearly swept away

Last Saturday saw the North East Instructors conference… it may horrify you to find out I am actually an assistant instructor so I was actually invited and didn’t just sneak in the back way! This was held at Sunderland Yacht club which is a great venue…. but is on the sea. Given the title of this post you may note that this could be significant.

I have to admit I was somewhat nervous about attending, primarily because I know lots of these people can actually sail, take it seriously and would be likely to discuss things I didn’t understand while I stood on looking nonchalant. Can you tell this has happened to me before? Also my brother also came along, and he actually understands a lot of this so there is sibling rivalry to contend with too. But it was actually a great day – opened with some presentations – some of which went so far over my head they were out of sight (and let’s be honest… I get bored easily), but then we got down to the actual activities! In the morning I had signed up to do both conventional and asymmetric spinnaker sessions – which I hoped would equip me with vital tips on how to do it (never mind teaching it!). The best bit about these sessions was meeting some other guys from Tynemouth Sailing club that I actually knew and one of the coaches who had given me some valuable tips while at the club last year (foremost amongst them being ‘get your arse out the boat’) – I am not alone!

But the highlight of the day was yet to come with the water based sessions in the afternoon. There are a few things you should know about before we go on.

  • I have never sailed on the sea, believing it to be a big scary wobbly thing
  • I have not sailed at all since last November
  • I am not in – shall we say – peak physical condition after a winter spent eating cake
  • I am not about to admit to most of the above in present company

It was also blowing a force 5-6. The bottom line on this was that very few people wanted to go out!

But myself and two others decided to take to the water in Toppers (small single handers) and do some start line race training. I was not about to show fear. No way was I going to back out. So after some sitting around talking about it off we went down the beach with our Toppers. It was at this point a few things started to slightly concern me.

  1. When you leave a boat on a beach, a few minutes later it will have moved – what’s all that about! Note to self – must investigate this ‘tide’ thing.
  2. The Toppers were rear sheeted – I haven’t sailed a boat like this for some time
  3. It really was VERY WINDY and REALLY GUSTY
  4. Other more experienced people were looking at us a bit funny

But not to be deterred, I launched and quite literally shot off the beach. It was fast. It was exciting. The sea spray in the face was actually really nice and atmospheric. I had no idea how I was going to stop this thing. However feeling very proud of myself I managed to get slowed down and practised a few tacks – this is fine, I can do this – as another gust hit and I flew back across the bay. I felt a bit sick – but kind of in a good way. By this point the other two guys were out too and the Instructor in the patrol boat was desperately trying to get us all into a line behind the boat. No chance! But that was OK – I was actually having the time of my life whizzing around, ineptly tacking with rope entanglement due to doing it the wrong way, nosing into the waves and getting a face full of water as I was sitting too far forward and nearly falling out at least once due to poor use of toe straps. But I was LOVING IT.

Right up to the moment the biggest wind gust knocked me over and unceremoniously dumped me in the water. This was not as much of a disaster as it sounds – the water actually being a lot warmer than at Kielder, and in an optimistic frame of mind I started to move round the back of my rapidly inverting boat. And it’s over. And the centreboard has come out. Not a problem for your intrepid Knitting Sailor – a feel underneath and a wriggle and its back, I’ve got the boat back up on its side and… it’s stuck. I mean literally. It is taking my entire cake-ballasted weight to keep it on its side. It WILL NOT come any further up. This could be due to

  • Massive wind that is still blowing from behind me blowing against the bottom of the hull and stopping it from coming up
  • The mast is caught on something
  • I have miraculously turned into a tiny and petite fairy light person

As I know the last to be incorrect, it must be one of the first two. Equally I seem to be moving rapidly towards the mouth of the bay. Looking around however – one of the others is also over and having similar problems. But hark! What is yonder sound? It is the motor of a patrol boat – hooray!

Well that didn’t work. My boat is still not upright and now we are both being picked up by the patrol boat and going to be taken in. I am very sad because of the lovely time we were having. And also due to the naive belief that if my boat would just come up then I would be able to sail back myself. It is now being disassembled on the water. Poor boat. So with 5 people and two toppers all rafted up on the patrol boat, we are ready to return and ignobly hang our heads in shame.

Well we were. But the boat wouldn’t start. And the mouth of the river and the open sea is getting very close. The wind is pushing us ever closer… and no one is responding to the increasingly frantic radio calls which we can barely hear over the wind which is howling around the boat.

Fortunately some of the people on the boat were also instructors (proper ones, who actually know stuff) and at what was starting to feel like the last possible minute – we found and dropped an anchor. Great. We were stopped. Within spitting distance of the pier and people out for a Saturday walk, who were enjoying the spectacle, unaware we were only minutes from certain death. By this time with my usual oblivion I was waving back.

By this time the bay was deserted, everyone in their right mind had gone in for a cup of tea…. when racing across the waves was a rib! Hurray! Driven by my brother – great – mocking ahoy, and the Principle from our club – so no shame there! Now in a great stroke of luck, not only does Chris instruct on Powerboats, he is also in the RNLI – so who better to perform a rescue! Well there was much shouting and passing of Topper hulls about the place and eventually between Chris’s rib and a second rib that was sent out once they had radioed back to base the boats were all returned to the beach and a tow commenced. Or would have if the anchor we had despatched was not now holding us fast. So after hacking the rope free and calling goodbye to our pier-based audience we were finally released and returned to the club.

Picture from Google Earth – that’s right – the whole drama was caught by satellite....

Well I’m no expert on these kind of things, but I suspect that it’s the first time a rescue of five instructors has had to happen at a conference such as this. To their credit, nobody mocked, not even my brother.

I had a fab time and can’t wait to get on the water again, just maybe not in the sea on a Topper.


  1. Sounds like a perfectly normal day of dinghy sailing.

    I think your only mistake was drawing attention to this post by commenting on Tillerman’s blog, which attracts an unusual number of unbalanced readers like me who have trouble focusing on the subject of a post and thus leave distracting comments.

    I’ve long felt the problem with most sailing blogs is that they don’t devote nearly enough attention to knitting and I’m heartened to learn that you’re working to remedy that.

    Welcome to the lumpy sea of sail blogging. Please be careful out here.

  2. You’re far ahead of me, anyway. Not only am I loathe to sail on the ocean – not only tides, but currents, too! – but I’m afraid (in a manner of speaking) that I don’t have enough of a life to even blog about. So there.

  3. I’m not sure I have enough of a life to blog about either!

    However I am hopefully that I can start a whole new trend in knitting sailing – after all there are so many similarities – both hobbies include sticks and string……

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