Things I’ve learnt from seven months of sailing: zero to sailing

Eight months ago I’d never been sailing. I had been on a sailing boat once (on a holiday in Greece, where I mainly read my book and waited for the swimming opportunities), but I’d never pulled a rope, studied a chart or opened a seacock.

Claire's first time on a sailing boat
First time on a sailing boat

I really didn’t think we’d get a boat this quickly. But a bit of luck, combined with us throwing caution to the wind (ha!) meant on the day of our wedding we had our offer accepted on a 30 foot sailing yacht. For our honeymoon we went on a sailing course and ended up completing the sale on the boat a month after getting married.

Sailing on our honeymoon
Honeymoon on Nashira leaning to sail

Ollie’s been sailing for a long time:  he sailed boats as a kid, worked at a sailing school in Salcombe during his university holidays, had his own 23 foot sailing boat moored at Topsham (before we’d met). So I’ve been in good hands.

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt along the way, which might be helpful if you’re just starting off on your sailing journey, or if you’re a seasoned sailor, here’s a few things that might give you a chuckle.

Things I’ve learnt from seven months of sailing

  1. Sailing requires you to learn a whole load of new words. If you need convincing of this, Sea Talk has 136 sailing words beginning with just the letter A.  Try to learn and use these words as much as you can. Start by learning the correct names of parts of the boat.

    Part of the sail diagram
    Learning parts of the sail
  2. Port and starboard. I kept forgetting which way round these were, which is really essential for sailing – so many things rely on this, rights of way, bouys… until I thought PS (as in PS I love you). So I imagine myself sitting at the wheel and say PS. Now I don’t really have to use this, but it helped a lot in the beginning.
  3. Do things slowly. Give yourself time to think. There are lots of things to do on a boat. It always takes longer to set off than you think. But the part you definitely shouldn’t rush is the leaving. Talk to the crew about how you’re going to come off the mooring or pontoon. How will the wind or tide affect your exit? Who’s doing what? Who is taking charge? Take time to put all the ropes to slip (so the rope is just looped once around the base of the cleat on the dock) , then take off ones which aren’t holding the boat. Get on the boat and take off the rest from onboard the boat. Allow the boat to slowly come away.

    Broken furler on head sail
    Looks lovely, but the furler on the head sail broke. In the end we had to lower the sail and stow in the forward cabin.
  4. Stuff breaks all the time. Don’t be surprised by this or think you’ve done something wrong. On our first sail a small pipe connecting the water tank to the rest of the the plumbing broke off. All off the water leaked out of a full water tank into the bilge. For a moment I thought we were sinking and going to die. We were at anchor when we discovered the full bilge. It was only when I turned on a tap, no water came out, that we checked the water tank, discovered it was empty (we’d only filled it that morning) and the sheered off pipe. Other things that have broken: the macerator, fridge handle, outboard diesel tank, water hose, tank cap (okay Ollie kicked that into the harbour), gas hob controls (fixed by stuffing some aluminium foil between the plastic cap of the knob and the metal push pin). The important thing is to fix things. Learn how. YouTube things! It takes a while, but learning how to fix the small stuff when in harbour sets you up well for fixing things when you’re at sea.
  5. Go sailing with other people. I joined the Disabled Sailing Association in Torquay as crew. It’s meant I’ve sailed different boats with different people, who all have a new way of doing things. It means I get to practice and take it back to my boat. Sailors are such generous people, usually so in love with boats and sailing they are only too happy to show and explain how to do things. You can also join your local yacht club – people are always looking for crew.

    Sun hats and sunglasses 🙂
  6. Wear a hat, sunglasses and suncream. When it’s sunny out, but the wind is keeping you cool, it’s really easy to not feel too hot. Later you feel totally over-exposed to the elements, I find I really need to keep covered up otherwise I feel weird that night.
  7. Check the tide and wind. Then check again. I tend to google tide times. For wind I have a few places that I consult before heading out. I use the Met Office inshore waters forecast, Met Office iPhone app (for the land places I’m sailing from and to), DarkSky iPhone app again for ports, and the Predict Wind and iGrib iPhone apps for the at-sea wind forecasts. The important thing to notice – is the forecast increasing or decreasing? You start to learn that if it’s been very windy, but it’s decreasing you might have nice wind, but rough seas. Or if it’s an increasing forecast you might get caught in more wind than you’d like. Consider carefully if it’s the right time to set out for you.
  8. Find other people who like sailing too. Now that I sail, I love it. I’ve always really liked being on the sea, kayaking, swimming, being on the beach. Something you realise is that not everyone will be as interested in your boat and going for a sail as you. Crazy I know. Having a boat is a bit like having a baby. It’s overly fascinating if it’s yours, but maybe not everyone else will want every detail. Best to find other sailors who will be just as excited about it as you. If you are a woman who sails and on Facebook I recommend joining Women Who Sail. It’s full of other lovely people who would love to hear about your adventures, help solve problems and impart handy advice.

    Lady Jo feels like home
  9. Trust your boat. Sailing boats are wonderful feats of engineering. They are made to stay upright and afloat. Even in rough seas. Heeling is normal. If you are scared, or feel things are happening too fast because there’s too much wind (in my boat over 20-25 knots), there are things you can do. Sail on a more relaxed reach. Put another reef in. Take the sails down and motor.

There we go, that’s nine things I’ve rattled off. I’m sure there’s many other things I haven’t thought of or even learnt yet. That’s for next season.

What have you learnt? Would love know. Please comment below.