There are first times for everything. For Aleksandra, the stopover in London en route from Kraków to Gibraltar for our RYA Competent Crew/Day Skipper course was her first visit to the English capital; fish and chips, Buckingham Palace, the Tube, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Baker Street – amazing how much can be packed into a single day. Early next morning, we’re on a plane to Gibraltar for another first time – the first time either of us will have been on board a sailboat.
April 14 2018
We’re met by Trafalgar Sailing representative Cathy and instructor Amy near the marina in Gibraltar, and shown to our training boat, Jambo. She’s a 10-metre Bavaria who seems seaworthy enough, but what do I know? I’m still kind of amazed that sailboats have a big space under the deck where you can sleep, cook and generally go about the day to day business of living. There’s no time to hang about though, as Amy’s keen to begin our training. We’re soon out on the water for a two-hour session in Gibraltar Bay. Returning, we meet our shipmate Dave. He’s doing the RYA Yachtmaster practical exam preparation week, and we’re both awestruck by his depth of knowledge and supplies of disaster stories.
April 15 2018
Back out on the bay, to try to remember which line is which, while we’re taught how to tack and jibe. The commands ought to be simple enough, and they’re almost the same for both manoeuvres, but it takes me all of the four hours on the water to get them fixed in my head. More new shipmates when we moor up in the marina, as we’re joined by Jonathan and Nicola. They have their own boat in Cornwall and, like Dave, seem to have been sailing forever. I wonder why they’re on a Day Skipper course, and Jonathan later explains that they want to cruise the Baltic and need some kind of official document to prove their competence. We’ve now got a crew of five plus instructor Amy, and in terms of sailing experience and know-how, we’re like children during the first week at nursery.
April 16 2018
When we’re not out sailing, we’re being given theory instruction on board Jambo – officially, by Amy, and unofficially by Dave, Jonathan and Nicola. We may be newbies but we’ve got a massive advantage in being surrounded by crew whose combined knowledge of all things sailing is encyclopaedic. Good thing too, as I’m discovering some holes in the Day Skipper theory that I obtained over the winter. Today’s time on the water was spent with practical lessons in anchoring and man overboard procedure. Good to know that if anyone falls in they won’t drown; whether they get brained with the anchor as I’m attempting a rescue is another matter.
April 17 2018
Now we’ve got the skills to be useful on a sailing boat, and we can make our first real passage – from Gibraltar to Sotogrande. It’s an eight-hour sail in reasonably calm daytime seas, and just thrilling to actually be going somewhere that isn’t round and round in circles. A real sense of achievement as we step off Jambo onto the pontoon in Sotogrande. There was even pilotage involved!
April 18 2018
And back we go to Gibraltar, after spending the night in Sotogrande. Portuguese man-o-war jellyfish sighted on the way (disappointingly, no dolphins. We were promised dolphins in Gibraltar and around, but so far – zilch). Arrived back in the marina, and in less than five minutes had an irate visitor who noticed that we’d forgotten to lower the Spanish courtesy flag. In this part of the world, a Very Bad Thing, and possibly even a diplomatic incident. After dinner we’re out again, to practise night sailing around Alcaidesa. At first I can’t tell lights on the water from lights on land, but it only takes about an hour for my brain to start sorting things out.
April 19 2018
Another day of manoeuvres in the bay, and around Alcaidesa and Gibraltar. Mooring alongside particularly frustrating, not helped by Amy yelling “bring her around Anthony, let’s try that once again”… for about the eight billionth time.
April 20 and 21 2018
Everything is orange. That’s not a mobile phone advert, but a meteorological observation. There was a storm somewhere south and it brought sand up from the Sahara, to cover the marina, the boats, the walkways, me…
The storm means we can’t get the boat out today, but it’s still productive. Because Dave is preparing for Yachtmaster we’re on the edge of revision lessons that are way above our competency but useful all the same. Most of his stories today begin “During the Fastnet disaster…”
We are definitely never going anywhere near that diabolical rock.
April 22 2018
Jonathan and Nicola have gone home with their Day Skipper certificates, and Dave it about to switch to another of Trafalgar’s training boats for his Yachtmaster exam. But before he leaves, he’s there to crew for us on our Day Skipper practical. Both the weather and Jambo behave beautifully, and after a tough few hours on the water Aleksandra and I are both signed off as competent Day Skippers. It’s official, we’re sailors!
April 24 2018
We’re winding down in Benalmadena for a couple of days before flying home to Kraków from Malaga. I decide that we should charter a powerboat to make use of our Sternik Motorowodny certificates, and we spend the day zipping around looking for the promised dolphins (of which there are still none). I’m having a great time at the wheel, while Aleksandra is holding on for dear life and bouncing around at the back. I think we’re going to stick to sailboats in the future. Or at least, Aleksandra is…
See Aleksandra’s films from our training here: