I decided the best way to get to Gosport was on the train. I could practice my knots on the way. Our electric car was also a deciding transport factor, requiring at least 3 charge stops along the way it seemed like way too much pressure to put myself under. So waterproof bag packed I set off via Euston, Waterloo and Portsmouth then the ferry to Gosport.
I had eagerly read the blog posts from others who had completed their level one training and religiously packed the recommended items. Even so I still managed to take way too much stuff, the wrong stuff and not enough stuff simultaneously. Anyway, I was in Gosport, pack on my back and using my trusty iPhone to guide me to the Clipper office. Doh ! Schoolgirl error number one. Don’t just follow google maps to the office, read the emails properly!
The training office is right by the ferry terminal, turn right at The Castle Tavern into the Marina DO NOT carry your heavy pack all the way to the main office which is a good 15/20 minutes trudge right past the marina. Thankfully I was in plenty of time so I lugged my heavy bag back to the training office and I was in the right place, hot and sweaty but in the right place and ready to start. The training team in the office all are very friendly, an offer of a hot drink and an apple pie soon put me at ease. There were a few forms to sign and then a short wait to meet the rest of my international training gang.
Bruce (USA), Jody (USA), Rory (ROI), Patrick (Swiss), Dennis (Russian), Ellie (UK) and me (UK), only 7 of us but that was cool. After a brief welcome from Ben the training director we were introduced to our skipper /instructor Dave and Kym our first mate. Now it was time to actually get on the 68′ yacht that was to become our classroom and home for the next few days. With only 7 crew the scramble for bunks was easy. For those of you who are yet to do your training. There are pros and cons for each bunk. All of them require a wibbly, wobbly walk on the sail bags which are stored on the floor in the crew area. Aft starboard is nearest the fresh water valves and there is potential for your gear to get wet. Port side is right in the doorway so everyone has to walk past the bunks on that side, the bunks nearest the hatch could also get wet on a sail change but as the weather was glorious for us, this was not an issue. On level one you sleep in the marina or maybe in Cowes marina so no bunk is more or less likely to be affected by motion. So my conclusion is don’t stress about which bunk just pick one and live with it.
Next thing up was a quick unpack and an explore, Dave encouraged us to open every hatch, lift up, peep inside, familiarise ourselves with our little floating home while he cooked our evening meal. Kym was on hand to walk us around and to describe all the exciting little details like how to flush the head, and pump out the grey water tanks, how the gimble on the cooker works and where the gas for the hob shutoff valves are. That brings me nicely to the food, the standard of which was excellent. A well thought out menu plan with good hearty fare. First night was a Moroccan inspired chicken and vegetable curry with rice served up in a large plastic camping style bowl. Everything is served in a large plastic camping style bowl, easy to hold in one hand and eat with a fork or spoon. Tasty hot and filling and it certainly hit the spot. We were then allocated to a watch either Port or Starboard and with our partner we each took it in turns to be ‘mother watch’ for the week. Rory and I were to be up in time to prepare the following mornings breakfast, ready to be eaten at 7am sharp. Anyway I digress, back to the first evening. There is a lot to get through, so on after our meal Dave started with the first of many safety briefings. All really important stuff so we needed to listen up and pay attention. My advice to those yet to do their training is read the relevant sections in your clipper training book online on the crew hub but then don’t stress. Overall the training is delivered professionally, with loads of opportunity to ask questions or repeat stuff you might need more than one crack at. There is a LOT to get through in the syllabus but Dave was super calm and organised and didn’t rush us. After our safety brief it was all over for day one and after a quick dash to the onshore portacabin heads there was time for a quick pint in The Castle. Later when I crawled into my bunk I slept like a baby! Earplugs in and testing out a loaner Ocean Sleepwear sleeping bag I was as snug as a proverbial bug. Merino t-shirt and breathable knickers on ready to leap into my shorts and fleece in the morning to make breakfast with sleeping beauty /Rory.
You quickly realise that privacy is a thing of the past , a wriggle around in your bunk to get into your grundies then just go for it. But please be discreet! no one wants to see a ….. ha ha I will leave that one to your imagination.
Day two and sadly no actual sailing in the morning still lots and lots more safety stuff to get through. Our first of several man over board drills, lowering an overdressed, dry suit clad Dennis onto the pontoon to successfully rescue our unwitting crew mate BOB (Body Over Board). By mid afternoon we had managed to correctly rig and hoist our staysail, we hoisted the main and we were off into a windless Solent. Engines on we motor sailed around for an hour or two. Tacking a few times, it was not pretty! Dave had to use his really really super calm voice on us all more than once. Dave has several levels of calm. Really really super calm means he actually wants to shake you and shout in your face ‘JUST DO IT AS I SAY AND LOAD THE BLOODY WINCH WITH 3 TURNS!!!!!!’ But he never lost his cool even though to be honest at times we were a bunch of buffoons. Anyway it’s all part of the process. I quickly recognised my learning style needs action not just words. So after seeing the process of raising the mainsail, loading a winch, sweating, grinding, easing etc I was able to understand far faster than just from talking about it. Day 2 was nearly over. My brain was full to busting, so much new information, new skills, new words, new friends, new team. Early evening we dropped the sails and headed back to Gosport. No evening lecture that night. We were all exhausted. A great day, not actually sailing, as the winds were so light that the engine was on the whole time, but hey a great day nevertheless. Sat on deck just before heading to bed that evening we had the amazing experience of watching a tiny purple plane with fluorescent vapour trails performing the most incredible 20 minute arial display with barrel rolls, spins, dives and loop the loops. Absolutely amazing. What a day!!
Me and BOB having a post rescue brew.
The rest of the week passed in a whirl. We gelled as a team, our collective knowledge growing each day. We took it in turns to helm, and consolidated our learning, we completed more man over board drills. Next time it was me wearing ‘the pants of power’, code for a climbing harness. Jody was foredeck boss leading the rescue. He coordinated the lowering of the sails and then lowering me, the rescue swimmer, overboard to retrieve BOB. Ellie deployed the danbuoy, Bruce was spotter, Dennis second spotter and he plotted MOB mark on the GPSand retrieved the helistrop and boathook, scramble net and helmet. Rory and Patrick on the winches. It all went to plan and within a few minutes that pesky crew member BOB was safely lowered in through the hatch. I had wet shoes and bum from where I had been dangled into the water but it was exhilarating and satisfying to learn something so vital.
My first go on the helm, thankfully no waves in the Solent that day.
Our knot tying skills improved day by day and under pressure. I realised quite quickly that as a novice sailor it is vital to practice your knots, load 3 turns on the winch, pull ropes with your pinky finger forward and watch out for huge scary ships that can appear as if by magic. Blimy those things can move fast. We visited the Musto store in Portsmouth to try on our team kit and our fouls. Hilarious clothing with rubber necks and gaskets on our wrists, but so vital to keep us safe and dry.
Patrick from the ‘Tall Skinny Team’ trying his foulies on.
Bowline under scrutiny, under pressure, upside down, forming the loop either way, thin rope, thick rope, again and again until it just happens in your hand. That bloody knot became more natural but it took several days. Earlier I said do your pre course reading add to that LEARN YOUR KNOTS. I found a handy app called What Knot To Do on the Appstore.
Bowline – this one is Sir Robin Knox Johnsons favourite and you WILL need to know it.
Double sheet bend
Before I knew it we were having our last night crew meal out. A chance to let our hair down a bit. Share stories, a bottle of wine or two over a meal on a plate rather than in a big plastic bowl. The last supper before our final day of deep cleaning the boat ( which incidentally takes hours and hours and every single movable item on the boat is stripped out cleaned and returned), a rig check where we hoisted Kym up to the top of the mast and also our final individual debrief. We had all completed our crew assessments during the week and this was the moment of truth. Did we have what it takes to make it to level 2 and potentially on to one of the twelve 70 foot race boats in the actual race around the world?
Kym doing a rig check.
Drum roll please ………. yes we did! We all made it. For some it was harder especially those with English not their native language. But we did it! A huge thank you to our fabulous Instructor Dave and his Mate Kym.
Level 1 ✔️ bring on Level 2.
Time to say goodbye to my new friends stuff all my gear back in my bag and get back on the ferry reverse my journey back home to Darren, a shower, and a sleep in my own bed.
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