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Sunday, 30 May 2010

First sail by ourselves

We began this perilous adventure some nine months ago when we bought ourselves two pairs of full length deck boots from a chandlers in Bowness on Windermere. Since then, as you know if you've been keeping up with this tale, we have undertaken various courses both on and off the water. Up until yesterday all of our sailing has been with instructors on board big yachts, 36ft plus.
We felt it was time for us to go solo, or should that be duo. Although our ultimate plans are to sail the oceans we have decided that as we live just a few miles from two of England largest lakes, Coniston and Winderemere we would hire a 20ft sail boat and get the hang of sailing. We won't be calculating tidal vectors, or charting a course over ground, and we won't be looking out for Cardinal bouys, we'll just see if we can handle a small yacht on a lake.
Low wood boating centre has a Hunter that has a similar set up to most of the larger yachts we've sailed, it has a main sheet and traveller, a jib sail, although not furling, a kicking strap, main halyard and tiller steering. So all in all a mini version of what we've been sailing.
The forecast on Friday was for rain in the morning but clearing after lunch with winds up to 20 knots. I booked us a two hour session for 3pm on Saturday. It's still pouring down at 2pm as we drive up to Windermere and looking at the trees there doesn't seem to be a breath of wind.
When we pull into The boat yard the lake is devoid of even the merest of ripples and the wind sock hangs limply on it's pole. There doesn't seem much chance of sailing, but on talking to the guys in the boatyard they assure us that there is enough wind if we take the boat across to the west side of the lake. OK, we've pre-paid and were there, so off we go on our first sail without an instructor. There's no questions asked as to our ability, but as it's not exactly blowing up a storm maybe they assume we'll be fine, or maybe we just appear confident that they don't need to ask.

We motor away from the jetty in reverse, do an awkward manoeuvre to turn around and without hitting any other boats and glide out onto the lake. There's hardly a breeze but we cant wait to get the sails up, and although the main momentarily jams we're soon under sail and the engine is killed. We trim the sails and crawl westward at about half a knot towards the distant shore as the drizzle starts to fall. Hey but do we care this is our first time sailing alone and we are skipper and crew of our very own vessel, well our own hired vessel. As we approach the other side of the lake the wind increases to maybe force one and we go for a tack. READY ABOUT cries Jackie, READY, says I, LEE HO, says Jackie and we turn through the wind and head back across the lake. The Rain gets heavier but the wind comes in tantalising bursts of force two back down to zero. At some points we can almost perceive a wake behind us, but who cares here we are sailing and we know what to do with the lines and how to handle the sails, all the training has paid off. We feel quite confident that we know what we're doing, if only there was more wind, but perhaps this is the best way for us to begin, as a force six may have been a bit much in an unfamiliar craft.
After an hour and a half we're both getting a bit chilled and wet through. The wind has almost disappeared and it's time to head back to port. We make a textbook approach to the jetty and tie up the boat chuffed with our efforts. OK so it wasn't the exhilarating sail we had expected but it was enough to wet our appetites to come back and do it again soon. We know what we're doing, we know how to sail. I even said to the guy who came to tie us up that I thought the topping lift needed to be released and he agreed that somebody had tied it off wrong. How about that, hey, maybe we're well on our way to being sailors.
The Lake is not the ocean but if we can gain confidence in handling the sails here then applying that to a larger boat out on the seas will be a great confidence booster so we'll be back to do this again. Hopefully next time without the curse of Jackie and Colin, we don't need still waters, next time we'll be looking for at least a force four, five or six.
So that was it, a soggy and slow start to our cruising life but on the drive home we both wore the smiles of accomplishment, and a knowledge that our mad adventure is not a pipe dream, we really can do this.