NEWS 7th Feb 2013

Skipper's Report from Teenage Sailing Weekend

Teenage Sailing Weekend
Teenage Sailing Weekend

Keen as ever, the crew and afterguard of "Merrilyn" arrived at 4pm on Friday evening and were ready to depart Universal Marina at 5pm, having drunk tea, eaten cookies, got rid of parents, prepared Merrilyn, learned how to don lifejackets and find their emergency stations, and listened to the Skipper's doom-laden briefing on how to avoid getting into too much trouble. Despite this, by the time Merrilyn left the Hamble, dueling for position with Southampton-bound ferries and other yachts keen to take advantage of a pleasant sailing evening, the sky was darkening, giving a perfect evening and then night sail down to Yarmouth helmed by Elliott with Tom and the Skipper playing with the navigation electronics. Once at Yarmouth we picked up a buoy for the night and set to eating dinner. With perfect skies the afterguard and some of the crew sat in the cockpit, to be rewarded by the sight of a huge, slow-moving meteor low down in the northern sky. (This later turned out to have been one of the biggest sightings in the UK for some years, and as it was generally reported as having been seen only from northern UK, we may well have been the most southerly people to sight it given our unusually clear view low down to the horizon. Astronomers are still analyzing the data to ascertain whether it was a meteor or in fact falling satellite debris!)

Teenage Sailing Weekend

On Saturday morning our grand plan of touring the Isle of Wight had breakfast well underway at 0730. Soon though we sighted our Rona Sailing Project sister ships "Rona II" and "Donald Searle" coming down the Solent towards us. As the definition of a yacht race is two or more yachts heading in vaguely the same direction, we immediately put breakfast on hold, let go our Yarmouth mooring and gave chase out towards the Hurst Castle, hoisting the huge cruising chute and dueling with Donald Searle down the Needles Channel. It was evident that all three of us were planning the trip right around the Isle of Wight - in our case a Sail 4 Cancer / RSP voyage first.

Teenage Sailing Weekend

We had an absolutely perfect set of sailing conditions so we were able to get tight in close to the Needles lighthouse - tighter than the Skipper had been able to get before, giving an excellent photo opportunity, and more importantly, an opportunity to sneak past Donald Searle, who had taken - but were probably now regretting - a wider line. With her so rapidly dispatched we turned our attention to Rona II, who was about half a mile ahead and sailing toward St Catherine's Point. With a north easterly breeze we were sheltered by the Isle of Wight so had perfect sailing conditions - flat water and a solid breeze, letting us carry full sail with which the crew could learn to helm Merrilyn, with a perfectly placed target reference - Rona II!

Teenage Sailing Weekend

For the next couple of hours Merrilyn and Rona II were fairly evenly matched, both close to their maximum speeds, with the gap between the two yachts sometimes falling, sometimes rising. At St Catherine's Point we reached less sheltered water and both Rona II and Merrilyn reefed down and started a tacking duel along the south east side of the island and through the shipping anchorage. With some nifty deck work from the crew and helmswomen Nancy and Zoe we were able to point higher and complete our tacks quicker than Rona II, with the inevitable result that we overtook her shortly before Bembridge Ledge.

With the race over - and Merrilyn, the smallest vessel victorious - we headed in flatter water toward Portsmouth. Below decks the Skipper, Tom and Elliott focused on making the now traditional 10,000 calorie "Death by Chocolate Biscuit Cake", only heading on deck to view the Napoleonic forts built to protect the entrance to the Solent.

Boss

Once in Portsmouth Harbour we were delayed in confirming our berth for the night, giving us an opportunity to take a tour of the harbour, past HMS Illustrious, HMS Warrior and no fewer than three of the latest "Daring class" Navy air defence destroyers, whose virtues the Skipper took great delight in extolling to the crew. Their onboard radars could track a tennis ball travelling at Mach 3 and are capable of monitoring planes taking off in Prestwick... while in the English Channel! An additional treat for Sam particularly was seeing Alex Thompson's latest "Hugo Boss" racing yacht, sitting in the same berth as the previous version that we had seen last year.

When our berth allocation finally came through we were further delayed in crossing the harbor to Gunwharf by the arrival of the offshore patrol vessel HMS Mersey, so once alongside Gunwharf the priority after a long day at sea was to get some shore leave. The crew jumped ashore to take a look around while the afterguard got stuck in to cooking the roast lamb dinner. We were interrupted briefly by the arrival of five race yachts who literally surrounded Merrilyn, moored ahead, astern and alongside, somewhat to the surprise of the returning crew.

Teenage Sailing Weekend

With dinner out of the way, and in the dark, we (actually, mainly the crew) set to winching every single member of the crew up Merrilyn's foremast, partially to enjoy the view, but mostly to get photos of people silhouetted in front of the Spinnaker Tower or standing on Merrilyn's spreaders. A passerby was head to mumble "what a way to spend a Saturday evening", which was considered rather amusing coming from someone who had spent it sitting in a pub!

Sunday morning dawned wet, and stayed pretty wet. Despite the damp Becky decided a Sherbert Dib-Dab was an appropriate breakfast; the rest of us had eggy bread. Luckily, once underway the rain became fairly irrelevant as the breeze was blowing from astern of Merrilyn, meaning only the afterguard needed to get wet faces when they checked astern for overtaking coasters and the like. The trip along the North Channel to the Hamble was mainly marked by the entertainment value of various racing dinghies charging around under spinnaker and occasionally capsizing, and by the appearance on deck of boat-baked cupcakes. ;)

Teenage Sailing Weekend

My thanks to the afterguard for their help, and especially to the crew for working so hard and for throwing themselves into everything needed to make Merrilyn sail smoothly. You're the first S4C / RSP crew to make it around the Isle of Wight, so have not only that but also the record for the biggest mileage covered over one of these weekends, and you've also managed to race and beat two bigger, faster yachts on the way!

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