Sailing. The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill
while slowly going nowhere at great expense.
A simple question maybe (albeit rhetorical) but even so worth exploring. What is the purpose of a sailing dinghy? The purpose is to place it in the water and allow a mixture of wind and human ability to propel you in the desired direction. This would seem to a reasonable answer without getting to the technical or indeed the philosophical aspects.So why did it take us around two years to finally launch our craft?
Well maybe I should start at the beginning. Andy, a good mate of mine, had floated (no pun intended) the idea of purchasing a sailing dinghy between us. The thinking being that living on an island, Hayling to be precise, and having sailed in our respective youths it was time once again to climb aboard. Eventually Andy found us a bargain and we set off to collect it. Upon arrival at the then current owners house we were rather surprised to hear that the road trailer for the Enterprise that we were soon to own was squirrelled away behind the garden shed. This we considered to be somewhat strange. In my mind I had visions of this galvanised multi roller dinghy trailer and a growing concern of how we were going to remove it from its curious resting place i.e. sandwiched between a shed and a fence. Not only this but also how if we succeeded with phase one how were we going to achieve stage two, namely extract it via the garden gate, an aperture that was woefully inadequate for the task. All was soon to be revealed. Stage one, other than a shoe full of stagnant water from an old plant pot, was relatively easy. This was because the trailer fell slightly short of my expectation. Actually I’m being kind. It actually fell short of being a trailer. It was three scaffold poles and a set of wheels welded into a sort of trailer shape. It was as much trailer as it was legal. We eventually hooked it onto the car and, in a bid to lessen the multiple of motoring offences that I was about to commit as I pulled it along the Queen’s highway, gaffer taped a warning triangle to the rear in order that other motorists might have a chance of seeing it.
With Heath Robinson’s very own contribution to nautical tailoring we set off to pick up our Enterprise. It came with a relatively new launching trailer and it was securely strapped to it. So we elected to lift it up and strap the whole bundle on to our trailer. Defying physics and metallurgy the scaffold poles remained resolutely defiant and accepted the burden we demanded of it. As we proceeded out of the sailing club our purchase shifted and wiggled around a bit in order to get comfortable and soon settled. However the mast was having none of it. Like a dog in a convertible car it was everywhere. As soon as we got it secured one side it decided it wanted the other and set this rhythm for the whole journey home. Eventually after a slow and nervous drive back under a cover of darkness we arrived back on Hayling. Unhappily when we reached the sailing club all nautical types had gone the way of bye byes and locked it all up for the night. We ended up stashing it around the back of a garage block for the night with a plan to return once again in the morning and deliver it to the dinghy park, which is where it would stay for two years. Foiled by a mixture of weather, experience and tides it rested until finally, having become very experienced at the ‘standing at the bar talking about boats’ side of the club we thought the next progressive step of sailing membership was perhaps to actually sail the bloody thing!
A beautifully hot July day and we had arranged to finally launch the boat. It was more used to rain now than seawater but after its two-year rest all that was now at an end. We turned up equipped with wetsuits and buoyancy aids and really looking rather competent and boaty which just goes to show how deceptive looks can be. Our vessel having been removed to the furthest most spot in the boat park (presumably having been considered abandoned) now bore witness to our return. The first thing we noticed upon arrival was that, despite an absence of anything to perch upon for at least a hundred yards, our boat cover which had started off in very good condition was now crap central for the local and indeed visiting seagull population. Not to be thwarted by mere guano we hoisted off the cover and finally let in the daylight. This, we thought, was it. Something great. Not of course for the seagulls who had now lost their toilet but good for us. Luckily for us the mast was already stepped (don’t I sound all nautical) but that was as far it seemed as fortune was prepared to venture. I looked at the collection of ropes and poles in the bottom of the boat with a look on my face that must have been similar to the one I wore when first presented with algebra. We put the obvious bits in the obvious places but soon started to run out of steam. Fortune, clearly recognising desperation and hopelessness when she saw it, momentarily returned with a final gift. Another Enterprise pulled up alongside us complete with a Grandfather showing a Granddaughter the 101 of how to rig it. Via sneaked observation we managed to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. It now looked like a sailing boat ready to take on the oceans. Of course if the sport of sailing consisted of standing around boats in proprietorial manner then we could have aced it. But it doesn’t and we hadn’t. There was no putting it off. The next step was water. Screwing up in sailing is exponential. There is only so much to go wrong on dry land. This multiplies dramatically when you add water and we were now going to seriously up the stakes.
We stood just for a moment at the bottom of the hill to the slipway that would soon liberate us on our maiden voyage. With due diligence we wheeled the boat up and then down the slip to the waiting body of water. With a making tide and a gentle wind we floated the dinghy off of the trailer and while I retreated to park it Andy held the painter and stopped it drifting off. Upon my return it was decided that I’d be the first to climb aboard and would attempt to balance the boat while my shipmate climbed in.This would’ve been a great plan if we hadn’t nearly capsized in the process. Being made of sterner stuff we blundered on, hoisted the sail and let it fill with wind. Far from elegantly slicing throughout the water we lost control, turned 180 degrees and smashed into the side of a yacht that was worth around the same as a nearly new Bentley with a couple of matched Holland and Hollands in the boot. Far from threatening legal action and mobilising a lynch mob the man was very understanding. He untangled our ropes from his cleats, gave us a shove and watched us drift back to where we started. Not to be thwarted by mere bagatelle, we made ready for another launch. This would normally be done by once again employing sails. However most of what we do cannot really be considered as normal. This was no exception so, in order to avoid Mr posh yacht, out came the paddle. It was agreed that I’d paddle us out 50 yards or so from the shore which would hopefully result in potentially less damage and reduce the entertainment for the small knot of people had gathered to watch us. They had obviously having smelt disaster in the air. We would then hoist the sails. So off we set towards a relatively uncluttered patch of water. As we neared a green marker post (marking what we were unsure of) we hastily hauled the main sail skywards swiftly followed by the gib and proceeded to go backwards. At this point as Andy had the tiller and I was nominated paddle man, I paddled. We were rewarded with a gentle breeze and I once again put down my paddle. Again the green post crept up on us from behind. Eventually we found the wind and managed to fill the sails which seemed to take delight in blowing back towards the post which seemed we seemed to be inextricably tethered. Needless to say the crowd had grown by a couple. We decided on drastic action and elected to dump the jib. Our logic being that we’d have less to contend with and this would ease our problems, how little we knew. So we did and it didn’t, we just got unceremoniously dumped on a mud bank. It was dawning on us that the jibs usefulness although alien to us maybe have been significant, this was reinforced by a member of the crowd hollering “put your jib up, put your jib up”. We of course just pretended not to hear. Eventually, due to Andy’s persistence, we left the post behind and managed a sort of tacking, often to fast and perilously close to moored boats but some progress was managed. We actually started to feel like sailors. Of course in essence we looked like a pair of pillocks but momentarily it was coming together. That was until we had to head for home. This meant dealing with an entirely new direction. Andy, who was now ignoring my whimpering, kind of aimed it towards the slip the plan being that we’d keep going until we came close to the slip then pull down the sail hoping we didn’t run short of forward momentum. If this occurred we, by which he meant me, would paddle until the craft was landed or fatigue/unconsciousness overtook me. With the sail luffing, Andy steering and me paddling we completely overshot the slip and with a weary resignation pretty much downed tools and gave in to fate. This, to anyone observing took the shape of being dragged down the creek to get dumped on a very muddy shoreline that was going to be something akin to the Krypton factor to get out of. After a walk back to the club to retrieve our launch trailer (easier than trying to sail it back) we battled bushes ducked below trees and eventually walked it back to the club. The day produced an interesting mix of emotions. There was fear, anger, shock, humour, paranoia more fear and euphoria, albeit a minuscule amount. Generally though, a scream was never very far from my lips.
So what had I learnt? Well I now realise that sailing isn’t called sailing out of a sense of irony. They are definitely the things to use if you want to control your boat (other than an engine or maybe a crew). How to maximise their efficiency still escapes me. Spending money on lessons may have been more worthwhile than spending it a boat and when someone who knows says “I wouldn’t if I were you, it’s a bit too windy” you’re better off taking their advice. We had returned wiser and indeed more bruised than when we left. We will undoubtedly return.