Maybe you’re like me – a middle aged guy (or gal) who used to sail but then let it lapse “for a year or two”, due to work/redundancy/babies/children/elderly parents/other (*-delete as appropriate!) – always with the intention of returning soon! In my case, I’ve had all of these reasons/excuses and was horrified to find from my old sailing logbook that “a couple of years” was actually a couple of decades and that I was last on a yacht in the last century (1996). Whilst still vaguely familiar, my RYA Day Skipper evening class theory and practical handbook made me realise that I had now forgotten most of the essential details!
My last sailing holiday was bareboating as crew with old friends in the Med. with my (then) very new girlfriend, Paula. She wasn’t a sailor at all, but was persuaded to come on condition that she only had to learn how to put the fenders away in the morning, sunbathe on deck all day and place the fenders back out (with perfect clove hitches) at dusk. Easy peasy! Unfortunately it was Turkey in late September and, not only was the sun in short supply, the sea was to say the least – very choppy! It was a bit scary at times (even for me) and Paula made me promise that, if we ended up staying together, I would never make her go on another sailing holiday!
Fast forward 20 years. We’ve been married for 18 of them and now have two sporty, teenage but land-locked daughters (coming up to 18 and 16). Somebody suggested a flotilla holiday with a couple of other families. “Dad – you used to sail didn’t you?”. “Err. kind of”. Before I could say anything, the holiday had been booked and I was expected to take charge! I clearly needed to gain some modern competency and I quickly trawled the net. I now live many miles from the coast and most sailing schools seemed to be somewhere off the Solent or in North Wales. However, I stumbled across Northumbria Sailing with a view to a refresher of some kind. Suffice to say, a quick (and typically robust) exchange with Melvyn soon put me in my place. He, quite rightly, pointed out that I would be a liability on the waters and should not even consider taking my family out to sea. I would have forgotten most things and those things I could remember had probably either changed or been superseded by technology! Too true – my old RYA books didn’t even mention satellite navigation or GPS! Melvyn suggested, for starters, a day trip with him on Lian to see about “getting back into it”. It was advertised as a kind of “taster day”! If I was serious about getting up-to-speed, I would need plenty of self-study to bring me up-to–date on the theory. He recommended suitable books and that I sign up for his 5 day RYA Day Skipper Practical Course – with no guarantee of being “signed off” at the end, unless I made the grade.
Now, I like a challenge. Ideally, I would have re-attended theory classes, but I had no time for that. So, my rusty dividers were oiled, my 2B pencil sharpened and the dust blown off my old RYA Training Chart (about the only thing that seems not to have changed!). I scoured the internet for training videos and found several good sources. For example, “Westview Sailing School” has an iPhone app and shore based tutorials (some free on YouTube, others for a modest charge) that are great for learning/ revisiting course-to-steer, tidal heights, position fixes etc. Melvyn recommended the book “Pass Your Day Skipper” by David Fairhall and that has become very well-thumbed together with “Reeds Skipper’s Handbook”.
The day trip (with a lovely couple – Sarah – a lapsed sailor – and boyfriend Steve – (a recently passed Day Skipper) showed that Melvyn was right about the twenty years. I was rustier than an old fishing trawler! No! No! Locking turns on a cleat are now frowned upon. Anchor chain is now called “rode” and you need a different approach with these self-tailing winches. “Forget how you used to do it!” But where was slab reefing and why wasn’t I constantly being barked at “topping on/ kicking off”? I was exhausted by the end of the day but had regained the “bit between my teeth”. Train journeys and wet Sunday afternoons saw me revising my theory (tip: learn your lights and know your ColRegs!) as I prepared for the week’s practical.
I’ll leave it to others to review Melvyn’s Day Skipper Practical Course. Suffice to say, it was hugely memorable, highly recommended and a week that will stay with me forever! We were a multi-national group. All male (as it turned out). There was German sales engineer – Ralph, Chinese PhD student – Yuan, Northumbrian vet – Roger and a Yorkshireman (me). We all quickly became good friends and, needless to say, coming from God’s own county, I was the butt of most of Melvyn’s dry humour! Now, if you’re looking for something to “get you by” just to “get your ticket” then this week is NOT for you! I’ve read of other sailing schools that seemingly skimp a bit on the RYA syllabus to sign you off. Rest assured – Melvyn won’t do that! Instead, he offers an intensive, 5 days, 5 nights course where, from first thing in the morning until late into the evening (and sometimes even later!) he will be constantly switching between an extensive range of topics, including subjects that are not in the basic Day Skipper syllabus, but really useful to know! For example, we had a tour of the local dry dock area looking at yachts with different types of keel and propellers and methods of construction. Melvyn seemed to have a story and to know the history of each one! ‘Lian’ herself is a great yacht. You’ll get to know her well, from the tip of her mast (optional climb!) to the bottom of her bilge!
Melvyn takes pride in his yacht but isn’t precious about her. He recognises that she is a training vessel and may get into the odd scrape (she did!). He is always happy to answer questions including the ones you’ve never dared ask, for fear of sounding silly! You’ll be encouraged to try your hand at everything – from engine maintenance to galley food prep, from taking the helm to changing sails and from plotting a night sail to conversing with the Harbourmaster – all under the watchful, firm, but always kindly supervision of Melvyn. The course may seem expensive at first glance, but you get real value for money with Melvyn wanting to impart as much knowledge as he can, backed up by great homemade food, frequent mugs of tea and the odd pint ashore at the end of the day!
I passed my Day Skipper Practical and now feel confident in my ability to take my family on a relaxing (ish) summer holiday as well as to meet up again with the other guys later in the year. Of course, there is still much more to learn and I now want to take things further. It’s down to Melvyn’s knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for sailing that has made this possible, after that gap of twenty years.
We had a great sailing holiday on a 33ft Jeanneau. Doing the full Day Skipper week with you was absolutely central to the success of the holiday. It’s all the manoeuvring and mooring that can catch you out and the constant practice on the Tyne made a big difference – fighting a dozen yachts to back onto the fuel point in gusting winds for example!