I have no experience of ‘real’ sailing whatsoever. My boating experience goes as far as hiring a few pedalos, a dingy and the occasional sail boat on holiday. I don’t know the lingo, what any of the fancy ropes and pulleys do and I’m pretty sure I was seasick once on a crossing over to Turkey. Nonetheless, when I was invited to spend the day sailing on the Isle of Wight I couldn’t decline, especially upon hearing that one of the traditions is to drink a bottle of gin at the end of every day. “What shall we do with a drunken sailor...” sprung to mind!
My very good friend Libby and I packed up our layers and woolly hats (yes, I know, hats in August!) as bad weather and rain was predicted. We hotfooted it over to the RedJet terminal in Southampton full of beans, excitement and totally curious about what we would be doing. Was it going to be a sit on the deck sipping champagne kinda day…or would it be a full on scrub the decks, hoist the sail adventure?
I had a feeling it would be the latter.
Arriving in Cowes
Twenty-five minutes later with our crossing to West Cowes complete, our extremely experienced (ex Navy Captain to be precise) host, and skipper for the day picked us up from the terminal, took us on a quick pit-stop tour of his amazing home and showed us to our rooms.
The view from the top floor was beautiful, even in grey miserable weather.
He swiftly confiscated our nice woolly jumpers and gave us what he called ‘skins’…Our faces were a picture, but not to be put off in the slightest we wriggled and hoisted ourselves into the not so flattering weird kind of dungarees, accepted the warm waterproof jackets and lovingly made packed lunches and went over to the boatyard where we met with the rest of the crew.
Now the boat we were about to spend the day on is an absolute beauty, and I know from the various conversations with our host over the last couple of years it has been an adventure in itself to get her in tip-top condition cosmetically and mechanically. A fast, furious navy blue Sigma 38 with the ever so bold name of Machismo II was berthed in the marina just waiting to give us newbies a taste of what she could do.
I love a cheesy pun by way, I blame my boyfriend as he’s always influencing his dodgy Dad jokes on me…check out this corker… 😉
I quickly learnt that this wasn’t going to be a case of just hopping aboard and expecting the boat to just go. There was an awful lot of prep work going on and it was really interesting to watch the experienced members of the team just doing their thing. They were clearly used to sailing with each other and all just slotted neatly into their positions and roles. With hundreds of metres of rope out on deck Libby and I stuck to putting the gin, tonic and lemons in the fridge. At this point that was quite rightly all we were trusted with!
Motoring uneventfully out of the harbour was actually quite tranquil and we made our way out into the Solent, a five-mile-wide channel between the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England, where we were given a little more to do as we helped get the sail unfolded and hoisted up. It was huge! I never expected the sail to be quite that big and it was so intricately made too. It was then I heard the words “foul weather gear” so I put my sunglasses on, fastened up my coat and put the hood up!
With the wind and rain in our faces we took turns at being helmsman and at first I was totally thrown with what on earth I was meant to be doing. I couldn’t work out how to keep going in the right direction, even with the help of something in the distance to focus on. With the sails billowing I then started to really pay attention as I did feel a tad scared and out of control, wind speed had increased to 25 knots and then all of a sudden…I was actually fu**ing sailing, like really sailing!
Listening carefully to one of the crew members, Jess, who is an ex sailing instructor herself and obviously knew exactly what she was talking about, pointing out how to spot when the wind would change by the dark shadows on the waves, showed me where to look, how to stand and the exact pressure needed. Jess was incredibly patient and she didn’t even bat an eyelid when I squealed…quite a few times. Sorry Jess!
Although, you knew immediately if you’d done something wrong as everyone would frantically run about pulling ropes, shouting instructions and pushing things we had no idea about.
Libby did fantastically well and when we were not having to deal with any responsibility we happily sat together watching everyone else and admiring the views. I was more surprised about the angles the boat sails at. It doesn’t stay level with the water and it actually tips on its side cleverly adjusting to the wind with the aim of picking up as much speed as possible.
A few hours later we were back at the marina and everyone was in such good spirits; wet, windswept and all eager for a gin! The boat was organised and put back to exactly as she was, with some very questionable knots from me, and we headed below deck for a snack and a drink…or two! We laughed about the day, planned what we were going to do that evening, told stories and shared jokes.
The camaraderie between the crew members and other boats is just lovely. Everyone seems to know everyone and I love how the people who live in Cowes fondly refer to their home as “The Island“. I must have heard that about 30 times over the two days we spent there.
It almost didn’t feel like England and after just 48 hours I completely fell in love with the place. The narrow streets and numerous pubs and restaurants gives West Cowes an almost carnival atmosphere. We left full of delicious food, totally windswept but brimming with freshly acquired wisdom about sailing. I think Libby felt the same too as on the Ferry back to Southampton we were both talking about persuading our boyfriends to pack up and move there. Maybe Lobster, maybe one day (my nickname for Libby is Lobster).
For now lets just look forward to hopefully receiving another invite sometime… 😉
Have you ever spent the day in Cowes? Or even on a boat similar to this? How did you find it? I also apologise for the not so great quality photos. I forgot my camera battery and had to use my iPhone.