Clipper Coxswain Training

In March I made another trip to sunny Gosport to take the optional “Coxswain” course Clipper offered. The idea is to have at least 2 people on each boat in the fleet who could, in the case of an emergency that incapacitated the skipper, take charge of the vessel and proceed to a safe port as directed by Clipper.  Gulp!

The training was an intense week in the classroom, doing RYA Yachtmaster Theory plus two days of Clipper Ocean Theory, then 5 days on a Clipper 68, running man overboard drills, docking the boat, and then putting our navigation skills to the test. What a blast!

I was glad I had at least some background in navigation before the fast paced course – especially as I managed to catch the norovirus on my way through London to Gosport, and had to leave the class after the first 2 hours on the first day. Fortunately the bug only knocked me out for 24 hours, and I was able to catch up eventually.

The five days of sailing were the best I’ve so far experienced with Clipper – everybody was motivated and involved, and generally just took care of the sailing as we concentrated on the new skills we needed to learn rather than drilling on those darn “evolutions”. We had the best trainers too, with Skipper Jim Dobie and mate Simon Bradley (both former RTW skippers). There was quite a mix of experience levels to deal with, but they made sure each of us could succeed at what we were doing, be it a man overboard drill under sail, or reversing the Clipper 68 into her dock.

The snow even stopped just in time for us to take to the water, though it was COLD and my brand new Henri Lloyd mid-layers got a good workout. I did feel a bit behind on the boat, as the only one who had not yet done level 2, with my level 1 more than 6 months in the past – something to bear in mind if you are considering this course.

Perfect sailing weather?

Perfect sailing weather?

Visit Finland was our home for the practical element. After a couple of days drilling in the Solent, (22 MOB drills and 22 dockings in 2 days) we set sail towards a mystery destination, with Skipper Jim hinting that it might be somewhere “exotic”. We worked in pairs to navigate sections of the voyage, with little “surprises” laid on by Jim and Simon to keep us on our toes.  My team got to navigate the vessel out past the Needles to a tidal diamond marked on the chart.  Shortly after we started, the GPS and other electronics “went down” and we practiced navigating the old fashioned way with hand bearing compass, binoculars, and pencil marks on the chart.  Fortunately we were in a clearly marked channel at the time, and I have to confess I felt quite happy navigating the way I first learned about 100 years ago in the 1970s.  We made it safely out of the Solent, and as land fell away astern the GPS made a miraculous recovery. I was off watch when we actually crossed the tidal diamond – but I was assured it looked like a beautiful crystal tower and was well worth the visit!

We eventually arrived at Bray Harbour in Alderney at about 1am – a little less exotic than we could have hoped for! We all slept for a few hours, then were up again at the unearthly crack of dawn to catch the tide for the return journey. It happened to be my birthday, and I was on mother duty – preparing porridge for 11 at 5:30 am is not my standard birthday celebration.  But the sun was shining, and the skipper was determined that my birthday treat would be a spinnaker run back to the Solent – what could be better than that? It would have been a last chance to fly a symmetric spinnaker on a 68, but sadly the weather just would not cooperate – when we finally left the glassy calm zone to the south, the wind came up from ahead and we ended up with a cold and gloomy beat back home.

But it was still quite a birthday, Natalia, resident Bond Girl for the week, conjured up caviar for a pre-lunch snack, and later we berthed in East Cowes marina and were able to enjoy the luxury showers and a well earned drink in the bar.  My fabulous crew mates even laid on a slice of cake with a candle for me! Next year, with any luck, my birthday should take place somewhere in the Pacific – if we time our dateline crossing right maybe I’ll even get to celebrate it twice.