The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nick and Hol's guide to sailing: Part 1

Sailing... turns out that can be quite tricky. When we signed up I must admit to a hint of overconfidence. I had won Stoke Gabriel sailing school topper racing trophy (when I was 9), and had spent 10 days on a mysteriously discounted tall ship sailing course in the Canaries. I did learn a lot on this course, but this was because the other 50 or so crew were inner city young offenders from Manchester. 'Watch keeping' skills took on a different meaning when things started going missing from people's bunks and people got kicked off the boat for beating the crap out of each other. Other than that and a day skipper course, I have to confess that it had been more a case of double G&Ts with a twist of sailing. Lista has been a very different experience. Tougher in some ways that I think Hol and I had expected.

We had learned all the practical elements of sailing from our Day Skipper courses this summer, but being in a crew of 5 on a passage is very different in the way you never... ever stop. Our last hop of only 3 nights down to El Jadida in Morocco was our first proper experience and we were just hit by how tiring it can be. You aren't tired from obvious physical exertion, but you are constantly out of your natural land based environment.

You don't sleep properly. You are on watch for 2-4 hours once or twice a night and then again during the day. This means you could be on from 9-12 at night and then up for the 6am sunrise shift. Add to this the way you would be helping out set sails and umpteen other things during the day means you don't get the luxury of the rhythm of night and day we are used to on land. On top of this your sleep is never that good when the boat is rolling through the best part of 50 degrees in the swell knocking my elbow into Hol's face every 4 seconds. With the masts and cleats creaking, slapping and groaning just above your head and the Atlantic washing past your nose separated by 4 or so inches of 80 year old wood sleep becomes brief and snatched where possible. You end up being in a daze the whole time and if you happen to be feeling seasick which all of us have been afflicted by, then you have to imagine doing it all with a steaming hangover. Perhaps the lowest point for me was being 'mum' which involves cooking and cleaning for the day. You rapidly learn that being below decks in a rough sea is akin to skydiving with a hanky instead of a parachute. Fine for about 30 seconds before you realise you are in serious trouble. Preparing canned bratwurst and onion gravy only to feel so rough as to not be able to eat it is just mean.

It also turns out it can be pretty scary. When Hol and I are on watch and everyone else is in bed we're entrusted with their lives for the next 4 hours and if you mess up then it's bad. One moment that really brought this home was coming across shipping lanes off Rabat at 3 in the morning and having ENORMOUS tankers steaming either side of you as you flap around without any wind. 3 lights are all you have to go on and distance becomes almost impossible to judge in the blackness. All you can be sure of is that 10,000 tons of 'abibos' trainers wrapped in Chinese steel wins vs. 18 tons of wood in mid Atlantic top trumps. Weather also becomes very real. When Hol and I were on our first watch and a lightning filled squall came across the wind suddenly doubled. We were sat there in the middle of the night in the pissing rain clipped on to deck with lightning flashing around us pondering what to do. You think the boat can handle it, but you would feel a bit embarrassed sat in the life raft with the rest of the crew staring at you after you just watched it all happen loosening only your bowels instead of any ropes. However, it would also be distinctly un-impressive to take all the sails down at the first hint of serious wind. As it was we rode it out with a little tweaking of sails and unclenched our buttocks about 40 minutes later.

That said, the upsides are incredible. Sailing with a strong breeze through a night sky with stars touching the horizon and phosphorescence swirling beneath. The sunsets and sunrises, the fresh air and also the wildlife. Already we've had dolphins visiting as well as birds hitching rides on the rigging. Turtle fly-bys (as well as some turtle head fly bys from the direct flush mechanism of the loos), and even some fin whales just before we came on board. Moments like this make you forget you can't move from the confines of the 14m length of the boat, you have uneaten your dinner and haven't washed or even changed pants for the best part of a week. It's a real mix, but the people make it all the better. The more we get to know Dave, Kat and Dan the more fun it becomes. Today I found out that Dan lived in a tent on a roof in Dalston for a year to avoid paying rent. I also learned how to make amazing fresh bread from Kat. We also found out that Dave has the patience of saint. He came on deck as we approached El Jadida when Hol were on watch. We were busy away from the wheel making fine and delicate changes to squeeze as much speed from Lista as we could, Dave said well done before politely pointing out that unfortunately we were pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

However, we have now arrived in Morocco and for the first time it feels like we are far from home. Key indicators are 1. you can have a huge feast for 5 people with as much fresh calamari, sardines and conger eel as you could want for under a tenner. 2. There are stalls selling fluorescent orange pants with things like 'homo' or 'man sport' on them 3. You buy your chicken when it can still look you in the eye. It feels great to be here and in continent number 2.

For more info on the boat you can check out which is Dave and Kat's site with more pictures, info on the boat and log and stuff. It's a bonanza.

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