Competent crew week is done. And it has been another tiring one.
This week has been about the absolute basics of making yourself useful on a boat. The idea of the competent crew course is that you can move from being a passenger on the boat to being able to help sail and maintain her.
We’ve met our sailing mentor for the first time, which has been great. He’s approachable, knowledgeable and authoritative, which is exactly what we needed. His jokes leave a lot to be desired though (“Two cannibals were eating a clown and one says ‘Does this taste funny to you?'” has come out twice already).
With his arrival has come a change of direction in sharing a boat with the rest of the fast track candidates. We had very little direct supervision last week. This week, we’ve had an instructor on board with us every day, eating with us for every meal. Turns out that there are a lot of non-sailing tasks that we haven’t really been doing as much as we should. Cooking has become a much more formal occasion, in that it happens 3 times a day at times specified by the chef and everyone is present for them. The cleaning rota has become more than just washing up, and we’ve been scrubbing decks, bilges and cupboards to catch up. We’ve finally started bunk rotations in earnest, since the duty skipper and chef always have work to do first thing in the morning, so they’re going to be up first, so they get to share the salon.
All together, this has driven home the fact that this boat is not a home, but rather a working vessel. It’s really easy to slip into thinking that this is my cabin (yay for nights with a cabin to myself!) if you’re not rotating, when it really isn’t. It’s just the bunk I’m in tonight. And because it’s not my cabin, I’m having to learn to properly live out of a bag so the cabin isn’t covered in my stuff when tomorrow’s occupant needs to hit the sack.
The wind has been fairly fierce (for a novice sailor, at least) so it took us a few days to get the sails up but there’s been plenty to keep us busy. We spent a morning learning to steer a course under power and finally managed to spend a night somewhere other than Gibraltar’s Marina Bay. Admittedly, Alcaidesa Marina isn’t exactly an epic journey away (it’s just the other side of the Gibraltar airport runway), but it did make me appreciate Marina Bay’s showers all the more.
Getting a boat out of a berth has been interesting. It’s not as simple as getting in the car and driving away. The spaces are fairly tight, and because wind and currents will start the boat moving as soon as it’s untied from the dock, some thought has to go into how you’re going to get out before you start, including which lines to release in what order and how you’re going to position the boat before you let the last one go.
There’s also a fair amount of shore based learning for the course, some of it interesting like knot-work (one of us needs to work on that – we have fewer fenders than we started the week with), how shore lines are arranged and managed, and some of it less so – fire blankets and smoke detectors, how to clean the boat properly, where to store the food, and so on.
By the end of the week, the wind came down to more reasonable levels and we moved onto handling the boat under sail. Raising sails on a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 389 is not as simple as it was on a Topper. Unfurling a self-furling foresail is easy enough, but the mainsail is attached to a massive boom and that takes multiple people and some care to manage safely. From there we were soon learning to tack and gybe, and how to trim sails for various points of sailing, and we gained an escort of dolphins under the bow for the journey back in.
We ended the week with a trip across the straits to Ceuta. Wind speed was going to be climbing again on Sunday, so the plan was to get over there reasonably early to give us a bit of time to explore the town, get an early night, and then do a night sail back to get us into Gibraltar bay before the wind picked up around midday.
The trip over was feisty, but good; an object lesson in how currents and leeway make a mockery of where you think you’re heading. And Ceuta’s a nice town. There’s a really cool castle, and we finally got to go to the Decathlon everyone’s been telling us is the place to buy decent but inexpensive sailing gear.
But it was the trip back that I’ll never forget. Up at 3.15am to slip lines at 4, we left the harbour in darkness and sailed back across the straits under a bright moon. As we left the port we shut down the engine, leaving us nothing but the sound of the sea against the hull and wind whistling through the rigging, poles and cables holding canvas to the sky for the wind to drive us across the sea just as sailors before us have done for thousands of years.
Whatever the next 13 weeks bring, that memory alone will make this all worthwhile.