About 2 weeks ago I was sailing in the Greek islands, with JC and several other students who where attending a bare boat skippers course. The sailing school 'Athens sailing academy' regularly runs 10 day live aboard sailing courses that cover most licensing requirements. Today's charter companies require that you have a current charter skippers license in order to qualify for taking out one of there yachts on a bare boat basis.
Now there are companies that will let you charter with a note from your yacht club etc.. but the more serious companies and the ones with the better yachts want to see a real qualification... after all they are giving you a yacht valued at €150.000 to over €300.000 depending on the size, for you to go and crash around the Greek islands or where ever ? makes sense that they want to see something that indicates you have had some kind of training....
So I enrolled in the 10 day course that the Athens Sailing academy runs. Its a live aboard course, you have your own cabin with head,(bathroom), shower,etc...think of it as luxury camping with high quality linens and towels... the course is based out of Poros Island, and its here that you spend the first 3 days of your time learning about all the basic skills of sailing. JC has a selection of small yachts that are available though his friend Richard of "Greek Sails". This time we took a nice Jeanneau 32i for 3 days. Every body takes turns working the sails,learning how to tack and gybe the boat in the bay of Poros. A full day just doing that and then the next day its your turn at the wheel to skipper and repeat the first days tasks, the final day is spent practicing motor handling skills and emergency skills.. Man Overboard, Heaving too, stopping the yacht quickly (Crash Stop)...
It was a great 3 days playing around with the little boat I think every bodies confidence levels where boosted 100%... after that first night boarding K3 and looking at the size of everything, the winches are huge, the lines are massive 18mm genoa sheets. I was think to my self how the heck where we going to deal with all this on this monster yacht..
Now it all seems so rudimentary and straight forward, size just means more power, more power is more speed, which is good and like in a car more speed means more respect for the car/yacht and what you are dealing with....No problem..hmm
3 days into the course it's time for the first exam, ASA 101.... endless definitions , language questions, rules of the road... I found it a breeze mostly because I knew some of the stuff from reading novels about sailing... CS Forester and the Hornblower series, Although it seems the ASA does not use the Cat of Nine tails any more, they just train and hire instructors like JC....(that one will get me in trouble!!)...
So on the morning of the 4th day we weigh anchor (actually slipped mooring lines, but weighed anchor seems more nautical)... and head out to see on K3. The training yacht is a 57ft ketch, fully optimised and ready to ocean race any where... her training sails where a fully battened mainsail with carbon fibre battens, a new hydranet fabric genoa, 135% or No.2... the mizzen and down below a selection of spinnakers and staysails which according to Jc we would be working with when the wind allows.
The plan was to head over to the Cyclades and find wind so that we could continue with sail training. Now that we where away from land it also gave us and opportunity to keep navigation watches and learn ore about the basics of navigation... starting with my easterly DR line and hourly position fixes using nothing more than compass and speed log. Course was set for Kithonos Island and off we went... a good wind out of the NNW had us reaching along under full sail at about 8.75 - 9.35, wind was a steady 18-20 knts with gusts to 22+...
Todays leg was going to be around 50/60 miles, and what you do not realize is that steering a large yacht by hand at speed takes alot of concentration and constant watching by crew members to sail trim and wind speed. In the gusts the K3 liked to lean over slowly and absorb the wind into her forward motion, as it became too much for her she would hint to the helm that she wanted to round up into the wind. The best trim adjustment was to give a little weather helm and easy her genoa first, followed by easing the mainsail traveller, before easing the mainsail.
Result more often than not was a jump in speed of 2-3 knots, all of which was very satisfying.
Our arrival at Loutra in Kithonos was some 6 1/2 hours after leaving Poros, fortunately it was early enough to get a good spot in the tiny harbor here. Later in the afternoon by 1800 the harbor was full, 3 large Lagoon cats doing a very effect job of blocking and filling 6 monohull spots with 3 cats... not what one may call effect use of harbor space..
Our stay in Loutra was short but very enjoyable Micheal from the Sofrano's "yacht Club" made our stay worthwhile with great draught beer and excellent food, his free wifi also made life easier for those of us wanting to skype home. The next day was going to be more of the same good winds and great sailing, heading down to Paros island and a rest stop as well..
We left the harbor and headed out into the bay to hoist sails, the wind was a clean 18 Tw out of the N-NW, which made it a great opportunity for us to hoist one for Chutes. That morning while waiting in harbor we had folded and tied the red 1.5 Asymmetrical red spinnaker, as well as the 2.2 storm chute and the mizzen spinnaker. Jc had already given us instruction on how to hoist and control the sails, it now remained to see if we could do it ourselves.
Once clear of the island effects on the wind we set course for Paros entrance. Jc called for spin pole to be rigged low and for us to get 'Big Red' up on deck and ready for a hoist. Once she was all hooked up, Jc ran K3 off down wind and we hoisted the sail in the shadow of the mainsail. He slowly brought K3 up to course and we trimmed chute so that everything was drawing correctly. Boat speed jumped straight into the low teens, well before we had hoisted the mizzen. Once she was up the boat speed continued to climb, holding steady at 13.3.
Paros is about 45 miles south from Loutra and that morning the wind perfect for some downwind sailing and yacht sailing skills.
The NW had strength and we where now sailing in 25tw, with alot of canvas up and slowing down this wagon train would be a challenge....
end of Prt1
Now it's not often that a novice sailor find's himself with a group of like minded
individuals, sailing full bore before a big wind on a yacht with all the sail possible
hoisted.. folks it is a sight to see, I would have thought that it would have been quiet
almost sirene. It's noisy wind really howling, it whistles around the bar tight lines, the
noise of the sea is immense as the yacht surfs and pushes mountians of water out of her
way as she scoots between the waves..
It was not long before the skippers voice was shouting at me, "Tom are you going to star
gaze all day or would you like to join us and help sail this bitch...trimmmm.!!
I grabbed the two handed winch and start turning the drum, it was the main spinnaker
sheet and fully taught, Vic was pulling at the business end of the line as he watched the
main spinnaker leech curl and come back into shape.
JC was behind the wheel now, having replaced Mike who was sitting and looking aft as
he watched the waves chase K3, while JC skillfully placed the yacht on each crest to
maxize speed and stability... The cry of 'Trimm" came again from Vic as the main
spinnaker started to collapse, the mizzen chute was already soft and had collapsed, I
glanced down at the boat speed, 15.4,16, 16.6, we had caught a wave and where
surfing, it was a big wave as we stayed on it for over 2-3 minutes before we slid off the
back of it. All I could feel was my wet feet and the fact the yacht was now at a crazy
angle, I was gripping the handle tight and winding like crazy as Vic was endeavoring to
control the spinnaker, we had sailed into our own sails basically, and as we slid off the
back of the last wave the yacht started to cork screw to windward. JC was fighting the
wheel, trying to a-line her stern with the next incoming wave.... it was like a crazy dance,
everyone scrambling to hold on as we rolled, others desperately trimming sails to bring
her back under control... all played out in a matter of seconds....
The old girl started to come back under control as JC forced her nose down the next
wave,he was screaming to dump the main sail and trim on the chute again... the mizzen
crew did the same.. we had both sails spinnakers back under control and off we went
again...only this time things seem a little more controlled...I turned again to look at the
helm,.. be dammed if the skipper was lighting a cigar, and smiling...
The next few hours saw us knock off miles quickly, we where approaching a critical point
where we had to gybe the boat and re set the spinnakers on the opposite side of the
yacht. The wind had eased somewhat, but the seas where still up there 2-3 metres...
boat speed was still high with spurts of 15-16 but constant 12-14 knts... the crew looked
ragged and tired, I could feel my arms ache and I was starting to feel cool, after sweating
so much earlier on now we had settled in to a routine with the sails and things seemed
more controlled. The coming gybe would I'm sure create a little tension and excitement..
Lex the Crew boss was going around talking with us about what our role would be in the coming manouvre, he went over what would happen and how timing was most important... first things was to take down the mizzen spinnaker and the spinnaker staysail on the foredeck... once those where bagged, JC started to slowly turn the yacht down wind and the main chute was brought back square with the yacht ready for the gybe.....