The Knitting Sailor

Thunderous applause required
December 11, 2012, 7:59 am
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , , , ,

So after 5 years of trying…. I finally won an actual proper bona-fide sailing series in a proper club event and at prize giving on Saturday got a real life proper prize.

This is significant as I have frequently received the pity prize at the club.

Now I appreciate the understanding that I am an achievement junkie and like to have prizes to keep forever and ever (yes, I still have all of my Brownie badges and certificates for every half assed training course I go on – I mean who actually keeps these things).  But it had been getting a little ridiculous.

My first full year of Sailing I won the Best Improvers award.  I was very proud to have won this award.  It was voted for by the club.  I might not have won anything, but I was IMPROVING.  Having sailed a club Comet for the year I thought this was a good start.  And I got a funky pottery bowl to keep illustrating this important point.

Second year, I raced a lot in my hubbys Laser (I say it was his – he bought it, refurbed it and then didn’t even put it in the water once – his type of sailing) but wasn’t getting so much better….. in fact I had made a season out of getting capsized and not being able to get the boat back up.  This was not the case when sailing other people’s Lasers.  We sold the boat – it was obviously not me, it was the boats fault and that it was 100 years old and very heavy and therefore I wasn’t very good.

The Nelly Afloat.  It was a little prophetic.

The Nelly Afloat. It was a little prophetic.

The club obviously thought I was doing good too.  I got the Best Improvers award.  Again.  At this point I was still suitably touched about the fact that people cared.

Third year I got a new Laser.  It had go faster Orange and yellow stripes on the bottom of it.  It had a pimpy sail with lots of patterns on it.

InternatioNelly - being sailed by my brother.

InternatioNelly – being sailed by my brother.

This was going to be my year.  Sure enough, third time lucky….. Best Improvers award.

Now by this time I have to admit to getting a little peeved.  Just how much better did I have to get to actually win something??  Or even just get a place?!?!  GRRRR!

So that was the obviously the reason that I made the thoroughly sensible decision that what I needed…. Was a faster boat.  I took this decision over a long period of about three hours in the pub and promptly went home and bought a faster boat off E-Bay.  The logic was impeccable.  Now there was an itty bitty little problem with this.  I bought an asymmetric boat.  I have always wanted one, and in fact had previously owned a baby one (no PY though, so couldn’t race it).  The itty problem was that pretty much no one who was racing regularly had an asymmetric, never mind anything of the same class or type.  So no one to learn off.  And it turns out, handicap racing round the cans, well not so great for asymmetrics.  A lot of fun, but no cigar.  At committee last year I was one of those who thought it would be great to encourage those who were racing, but not being very successful, so we came up with a new prize – the ‘Doing lots of racing but never coming 1st, 2nd or 3rd’ award’.  I thought this was a great idea.  Until come prize giving, I won it.  On the plus side at least it wasn’t the Best Improvers which, let’s be honest if I had won would have had to be renamed in my honour.   This was all particularly embarrassing as series’ were by now being won by people I had been involved in training in the first place.  You know, people who couldn’t sail at all six months ago.

So that brings us to this year.  I haven’t raced much.  This is in some ways down to truly horrible weather which means we haven’t stayed at the club so much, and also due to truly terrible performance putting me off a little.  But I did take part in a few events, and triumphs this year include ‘Not being last in the May Open’ and coming third in the Little Americas Cup.  That’s right I got an honest to God third.  In a Topper.  In the rain.

I rock.

So at the prize giving on Saturday I dressed appropriately and proudly received my first ‘proper’ award following five years of sailing prowess.

Worth winning or what???

Worth winning or what???

It needs a little plaque to put it on now – I have yet to add my previous triumphs…

The moral of this tale?  I’m just out to buy a Topper…..



Oh – and in case you are interested my brother won this year’s Best Improver.





Something to write home about
August 29, 2012, 8:54 pm
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , , , , , ,

So this weekend was packed at the sailing club – we had visiting T15 windsurfers, cruising, racing, BBQing and the clubs Little Americas Cup on Monday.  It was probably the busiest weekend the club has seen for a while – despite appalling weather – veering from no wind and sunshine, to torrential rain with anything from no wind to really strong gusts coming in.

Now the Little Americas Cup is one of my favourite events – in homage to the original yacht racing in which our Olympic Gold Medal winner Ben Ainslie is competing at the moment.  Sorry – promised I would drop the Olympics didn’t I.

You’ll notice I said ‘Little’.  So don’t think this

think this

It’s a one day series ran in those infamous Toppers…… yep we’re back to those again… and the whole club match races against each other in these tiny craft, all on the same course in back to back races ran really close to shore for maximum jeering.  It can be a long day as you need to race everyone in your group and then there are semi’s between your group and the other groups and then up to a finals.

Having not done enough sailing this year I really felt this would be a great idea – especially in the sheeting rain with promises of big winds and gusts of up to 38 knots.  What I actually thought was ‘what the hell, I’m always knocked out early doors and at least I’ll have shown willing and with any luck I’ll be able to justify some cake if I’ve been sailing’.

So after an evening of preparing in the bar we were all ready to go.

Race preparation well under way

Following my recent posts about Ood’ing it’s also a really complicated one to run.  This year our Rear Commodore was back in the chair having ran this for a number of years.  And he did something I have never seen before.  Set up a course with a running start.

What this means is that the start line is DOWNWIND, round a P course and then a beat UPWIND to the finish.  I only worked out what this meant as I wasn’t in the first race, so I could watch how to do it, but the course looked a little like this –

I’ll have a P please Bob

Actually the wind and rain were a bit more wonky than that, but you get the gist!

So the clubs six Toppers were rigged and tied to the jetty and the racing began.  Each race is between two people from a group – and three of these races take place on each start.  So you get a hoot to start the countdown – which is two minutes and at the end of this two minutes the first pair set off, followed a minute later by the next pair, and the third pair go a minute after that!  Added to which to keep it fair you must change boat every race – so that there is no tactical advantage from one of the very high quality boats being set up better than another (i.e. having all its bits in working order).  The boat to avoid has usually been Jester – with a slow leak, but after some remedial work prior to last years race he went from zero to hero becoming the most favoured boat due to his racing orange colouring.

It’s not confusing at all.

On top of this watching the adults trying to climb onto these ridiculously light boats from the jetty is a sport all of its own… I wasn’t the only one who had my only capsize while trying to swap boats between races.

But the unusual course and start were not the only oddity.  This year we had the tightest racing the club has seen in at least my time.  People were doing tactical maneuvers, ‘covering’ people on the upwind leg, positioning themselves for mark overlaps, stealing wind on the downwind and generally doing things you would not expect to see.  And as its so far into shore and ran from the jetty – there are always lots of spectators waiting for their next race – cheering – and it turns out… taking notes.

So what started as a few people who had worked out some tactics, became a few more people who had also got tactics, followed by lots of people who had tactics and the tightest racing we have seen for ages.  Both the semi finals and finals all went to sail-off’s the results were so close.

Watch and learn

So why am I telling you all this?

Well firstly because I thought you would be interested in what is in our club an unusual and fun event, secondly to tell you about an exciting downwind start, thirdly to share what a great way of running racing this is for raising the standard of racing across your club and get more people involved, and lastly

Thunderous applause from the crowd

I actually came third in a proper race event.

I still don’t believe it.

And as the sun goes down
June 3, 2012, 6:14 pm
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , ,

Last Saturday was the last day of training (apologies for the late post – some problems with the ‘tinternet site!) and it was glorious sunshine, but was too windy to sail.  I think the worst of this was that this meant there were many childers in too hot sailing gear getting grumpy.

So what did we do? Did some random theory –

  • Tying knots (anyone know how to do a Clove hitch?  Nope – me neither – let’s get the book and find out.  Is this a clove hitch?  No idea – lets go and find another instructor to check)
  • Boat buoyancy (lets go kick the tyres of lots of people’s boats and then experiment by trying to get stuff to float off the side of the jetty.  Who knew marigold washing up gloves would make such good buoyancy tanks)
  • Man overboard (don’t worry – only the THEORY – which I totally understand, although can’t perform myself – we’re back to that slowing down and stopping thing…)
  • Boat Balancing (tie a load of topper hulls to a big rope off the end of the jetty and then get your team to do YMCA while standing on one leg.  I’m sure falling in cooled them all down)
  • Safety equipment (got wrong for doing some of this in a rib)
  • Capsize Recovery (my team rock – whole team in, out and victory dance on the bow before being picked up in 17 mins – so proud)

So could have been worse.

I’ve learnt heaps – probably more than the students.  In fact I feel a bit bad about that.  The biggest thing I have learnt is you need to really think about different things you can do to keep kids engaged – ALL THE TIME.  And the problem is you don’t know what you are actually going to do until you get there and see the weather and the kids you are working with – by which point in time you don’t have much time to think or plan.  So between now and my next course I am going to try and come up with things so I can pull them ‘out the bag’ when required.

I can’t wait to do it again… but have to admit as I sit here watching the sunset – I’m shattered!

Five go Sailing
May 16, 2012, 7:51 am
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , , ,

I don’t have kids, but I spent Saturday with other peoples. That’s right five of them.  Just me and a rib driver. And they were all going to be in boats. On the lake.
As I was teaching  RYA stage three this means that at least they could all sail – and I even knew some of them (advantage – I know their names / disadvantage they all know me too and are wondering what exactly I am doing teaching them to sail).  My issues started before I even left the clubhouse as on getting changed I realised I had brought my husband’s dry suit – so was going to have to wear my wetsuit.  It felt a little like gym class at school where if you forgot your kit you had to do PE in your vest and pants. Especially as some of my students helpfully pointed out the couple of holes in my funky attire as we walked down the foreshore – nothing like a confidence boost to start the day.

So this was where I encountered my first problem.  To start the day I had thought we would have a little chat (and I mean little – tiny in fact – I was planning it would go ‘what is your name and what have you sailed before’).  This took almost twenty minutes.  This was because five kids all with a limited attention span, distracted by other groups around us messing on with other boats, a bit of wind and a lack of interest in the chatting.  But this is good!  Less chat more sailing I thought – so off we went onto the water – first group out despite the torturous amount of time it seemed to take to rig the boats (Toppers). I thought I had briefed where we were going to be sailing very carefully.  As five kids set off in five different directions….

I reiterate – I don’t have kids, so I can’t tell you how surprised I was when this happened.  And Kielder is a big place for what suddenly seemed like very small children on their own in little boats.  I have to admit to a moment of blind panic.  Literally.  I just stood in the rib wondering what the hell I was meant to do.

At least I finally came up with an answer.  Count the sails. Four and a half.  Ok – so despite having spent longer than I thought possible on rigging boats, one of the sails has actually fallen down.  Fortunately with a sailor who quickly got that probably the best idea was just sitting there while we went and got her.  All the while frantically trying to keep an eye on the other four kids and checking they are ok.  The number of things I am now worrying about for these childers is getting terrifyingly long.

  • That they fall out of their boat and I don’t see
  • That they fall out of their boat and are eaten by a monster
  • That they fall out of their boat and I forget they are even there and we all go home missing one child
  • That they all fall out of their boats at the same time and I don’t know which to go after first
  • That they fall out of their boat, I go to rescue them and make things worse (for example the noise of the rib attracts the monster I am subconsciously sure lives in the reservoir which then eats the child)

I don’t know how I am going to explain any of this to the parents.

Having unceremoniously dumped the topper and sailor back on the jetty we dashed back out – just in time to catch up with one of the boats as it capsized.  Good news though… I saw it, we are on our way and there appears to be no monster about (sorry I get that it is highly unlikely that a prehistoric Nessie-like monster that eats people is living in a manmade reservoir in Northumberland.  I also have a blind irrational moment every time I hit the water that says otherwise however.  Admit it – I bet I’m not the only one….).

So this is where my training kicks in – and something I have lots of experience in.  Unfortunately the small person I have been trusted with not drowning (henceforth known as SPIHBTWND) involved doesn’t.  Nor much inclination to get in the water and right the boat.  Fortunately due to the mast head floats (phew – did something right!) the boat has not inverted.  So having yelled gently encouraged the SPIHBTWND into the water and round the back of the boat it quickly becomes obvious that there is no way this boat is coming back up with the VERY VERY SPIHBTWND on the centreboard.  After two attempts at picking up the mast to right the boat from the rib have failed, said SPIHBTWND now at risk of hyperthermia rather than drowning I am getting a little worried.  So I jumped in.

Well to be fair, I got the boat righted, child back in it and myself back onto the rib.   This now means every single time I have been sailing this year I have ended up in the water – even when I haven’t been sailing myself.  It’s not getting any warmer.  Fortunately the monster hadn’t seen me.

Well after this high drama and a bit more sailing about it was time for lunch.  I got ashore and all I could think was “I still have a whole afternoon”!  I don’t know what to do.  Like at all.  Mind completely blank.  And so far it’s been a shambles of random sailing around without them learning anything.  And they are all at different levels – some are out of their depth, others are bored – I would be bored – WHAT DO I DO!

Over a luxury lunch of a tin of Pea and Ham soup I came up with the answer.  Competition and chocolate.

Well we seem to have the same attention span, so maybe we have the same motivators as well?

We had THE BEST afternoon.  We discussed the sailing area and why it’s important in about 3 seconds – and then we scrapped all the boring theory (they are as bored with it as I am – its turning out me + kids with limited attention span = perfect match!) and shot back out to do a tacking competition.

It was glorious!  All of a sudden there was some real focus and motivation.  There was earnest concentration.  There was sailing where they were meant to sail.  There was no woosing out.  Those who weren’t so great improved immeasurably, those who were more experience were entertained and working harder to be successful than in the morning.  I actually did some half decent coaching!  And they had big sailing smiles.

They enjoyed it so much that when the wind came up we even got though some boring theory (sorry – really useful, relevant and improving your sailing theory) at the end of the day when other groups had given up.  And of course a ‘Britain’s got Talent’ style award of a chocolate bar for the winner of the competition.  It was great.  I loved it.  They loved it.  When asked how they had found the day one of the girls said “It was really good.  It wasn’t like a course though”.  At this point a note of fear and dread struck me as I dared to ask why.  “It was more fun” she said.

You know what – I’ll take it.  So it might have been a bit disorganised and they might have spent more time sailing about enjoying themselves than doing some of the things that we should have been covered, but surely the point is to improve their skills and keep them engaged?  Well I managed that for at least some of the day.  I have two Saturdays left – and I am planning FUN.  And I reckon if they are enjoying themselves then maybe they might just learn something along the way.

I was flushed with success.  Until somebody asked me – “Did you check they didn’t have a nut allergy and were allowed chocolate?”


In which I am very nearly swept away
March 15, 2012, 10:24 am
Filed under: the Captains Cabin | Tags: , , , , ,

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.

%d bloggers like this: