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Spring shakedown sail

Skippers and mates practice week 2023

Crew getting ready for departure

Author: Bill Hill

Saturday 15 April 2023

I departed Durham 0600 and made good progress to arrive in Brighton in good time for the crew to muster at 1400.
The boat had just finished her winter maintenance period, thanks to the hard work of our Commodore, and was just about ready for the new season.

The yankee had been in the sailmakers to have a UV strip fitted and needed to be collected and hoisted. This done, the crew split into two working parties: Howard and Graham 'shore party' to collect victuals, Peter and Bill 'working party' to do the weekly checks etc.

By 1700 both working parties had completed their tasks and were joined by our skipper for the week, Bob. First run ashore in Brighton was soon over as an early night was needed with an 0700 call so that we could lock out early on Sunday.

Sunday 16 April 2023

We locked out and departed Brighton Marina just before high water, which gave us a favourable tide to make our way to the Solent for the fun to begin. An uneventful passage, but all under engine as the wind was taking a day off. On arrival in the Solent we made our way past the newly built (for me) breakwater at Cowes and up the Medina to our finger berth at East Cowes Marina. Bob took us in and we tied up for the night. The finger berth looked a bit challenging for the practice we intended to do.

Monday and Tuesday 17-18 April 2023

Bob had a walk to the marina office to negotiate a hammer head berth which would be more practical for us. It was agreed that we could use A1 the outside hammer head, furthest away from the office, which was ideal. The tide was flooding as we left the finger berth, and with a roving fender we made our way into the river without incident. Then Bob took us alongside our new berth, and we were all set to start our practice.

Brighton Belle approaching a pontoon

Peter, who was only onboard until Tuesday evening, started the sessions. Leaving the berth, motoring up river, short and long radius turns, going astern noting the effect of prop walk, ferry gliding and coming alongside was to be the routine for the next couple of days.

The conditions were constantly changing, and as it was coming up to springs the ebb and flow was strong. The wind also went from blowing us onto the pontoon to blowing us off and back again - ideal conditions for what we wanted to do, all arranged by Bob.

We took it in turns departing, motoring away, assessing the situation and berthing. By Tuesday evening we had done about 20 sessions. Not only was the helm getting good practice, but the rest of the crew were honing their skills with the tug rope, the rigging of spring lines, bow and stern slips and lassoing cleats.

Peter left us on Tuesday evening, so with Bob as guide/observer we would have a crew of three for the remainder of the week.

Wednesday 19 April 2023

We spent the morning doing another round of docking and undocking, and after lunch we decided to head out into the Solent to do a bit of sailing and empty our holding tanks.

We put up the main and the yankee, then tacked across towards Lee on Solent. We hove-to to see how she held which proved successful, without the mizzen, then sailed off again and went through the procedure for reefing the main. We then headed back to the Medina and had another round of docking and undocking, had a break for tea and decided we could get another round in before we stopped for supper.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Coming alongside the pontoon 

On our last day of practice, so we spent the whole morning undocking, manoeuvring, ferry gliding and docking, the constantly changing conditions providing a lot of variation to the seemingly repetitive tasks but each time the challenge was different from the last.

At lunch we discussed how we were getting on; we all felt a lot more confident and comfortable handling the boat in a close-quarters situation. After lunch we managed to get another three goes each before we had to tie up and get ready for our gala supper in the Lifeboat restaurant.

I estimate that throughout the week Graham, Howard and myself were on the helm for about 25 docking/undocking manoeuvres. Bearing in mind that it is not uncommon to have just two of these manoeuvres on a week's cruise, we had achieved a vast amount of practice!

Friday 21 April 2023

We left the pontoon as planned at 0530, passed the chain ferry before it was in service and headed out of the Medina towards Horse Sands Fort. With a favourable tidal stream we made good time and at 0800 Howard made a cracking breakfast with all the ingredients we had left, including some rather nice vegetarian sausages.

By 1230 we were approaching Brighton Marina breakwater and Graham took the chance for the last docking manoeuvre of the week which, as expected, was performed to perfection. With the boat cleaned and readied for the next trip, I took an early leave to try and get some northings in before rush hour.

On approaching the M25, the sat nav informed me of major delays on the northbound lanes and suggested an alternative route which took me through the centre of London passing famous places such Kingston-upon-Thames, Kew Gardens and something called the Hanger Lane Gyratory. This diversion added one and a half hours to the journey and taught me to ignore sat nav diversions and be more patient. Once on the M1, things got a lot better and by 2230 I arrived home.

A big thanks to Bob Williams for his guidance, patience and good humour throughout and thanks also to Peter Wales, Howard Goodbourn and Graham Anderson without whom the practice could not have taken place.

About the author

Bill Hill

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