Learning to Sail

RYA Yachtmaster Exam

After 5 days Practical and Theory drills and lots of sailing we were ready for our Yachtmaster exam and Nick seemed pretty confident that we would have no issues.  For those of you not familiar with the Yachtmaster exam, it is an intense 12 hour exam run from 8 in the morning until 8 in the evening, with two short breaks for food, which are not even true breaks, as you are thoroughly tested on theory throughout these periods.  The idea as far as we could tell was to keep you flat out and monitor stress levels to see how well you coped.

Our Examiner was a very friendly old boy called Hugh, who had seen and done it all.  One of the first things he said, was that we need to make him feel comfortable with our sailing skills, as if we had his grand kids on board!  After a debrief Hugh told us our first challenge which was to sail to a point without using the plotter/GPS, so basically paper charts and dead reckoning.  He showed us two points on the chart, the first being a relatively simple run out, which with the current wind would take a single tack.  Position 2 was a lot more complicated as carrying on from position one, it was smack into the wind.

Hugh threw a couple of pieces of paper in a hat with the numbers on and gave me the choice to pick one.  Obviously, we were both quite eager to get the first easy run to start the day off and as luck would have it I chose number one, much to Trev’s consternation.  Being up first meant that I had to take the boat out of the pen.  Apart from being a brand new boat, which made Nick and Hugh rather nervous, the pen was very tight and came out onto a rather narrow channel backing onto a row of other boats.  Having spent a lot of time bringing Astro in and out, I am pretty comfortable handling a Yacht under power and proceeded with my normal brash aplomb of reversing it out at high speed to counter the cross wind whilst swinging it around and then moving into forward gear straight up to 2500RPM, which brought it to a prompt standstill about 5 feet away from a rather nice Searay.  It was that this point that I noticed that Hugh was white knuckling it, but he did not say anything and all I got from Trev was a wry smile.

Having easily nailed the first point, it was now Trev’s turn.  Whilst I was planning my run, I’d also done a quick plan for Trev’s and come up with (I think) a rather ingenious idea:  rather than continually tacking and beating to position number two, which for dead reckoning is a bit of a nightmare over such a short distance (approx 2nm), we could take the long route and beat up the coast to a point where a lighthouse and a tower came into line for a perfect stern transit, allowing an easy Beam Reach out to position number 2.  Trev though Poo pooed my idea and spent the next half an hour or so running up and down to the chart desk doing his calculations.  To be fair though he did nail it as well.

The day proceeded with the intensity of the start, running through everything we had trained to do under both power and sail.  Trev was a bit miffed that I missed the fender on his first run at Man Overboard (MOB) under sail, but in my defence, he did come in at around 4+ knots.  Back to an earlier post, about not having enough practice on certain things, up comes the sail onto a mooring.  All (HAHA) we had to do was sail up to a mooring so Hugh could lean over the bow and touch it with a boat hook, but we must not run it over.  Trev was up first and very nicely did it on his second attempt.  This was the task that I was a bit weary off, especially having had so little practice and things just did not go that well to plan.  After the first two attempts where I came up short, Nick decided to give me a few cues as Hugh was at the bow, so 3 more attempts with Nick giving me cues and I was still coming up short, even though Hugh, Bless Him, was leaning out as far as he could to try and touch the mooring buoy.  So sixth attempt, I decided to ignore Nick and come in a little bit hot and harder and Voila, Happy Days.

After supper and a drilling on flip cards about Navigation markers, Lights and horn sounds, it was getting dark and it was time to do the nighttime part of the exam.  Thankfully, Hugh took pity on us an kept this part to motor only.


The task was without GPS/plotter to sail out past the headland and channel markers, then following the leading lights in, down through the channel markers and then further transit lights all the way into the port and then back out again onto a jetty in the bottom center of the bay.  Now sailing at night is a whole different ballgame to daytime sailing around a busy port.  First of all the massive amount of lights on land can make it quite hard to discern the lights you are looking for and just the vast amount of navigation lights can be a little bit disconcerting, especially when adding multiple large and small vessels moving around to the equation.  Fortunately, we had done this run a couple of times, so new exactly what to expect and where to look, it certainly would have been a lot harder if we had never been in before!

I took us in perfectly and Trev matched it coming out and onto the Jetty, at which point, Hugh, having seen enough called it a day and told us to head back to the pen.  As I had brought the boat out at the beginning of the day, Trev had to take it back in and it was now pitch black, although the pen was well lit.  Due to the narrow finger channel where the pen was and boats being moored in the main channel, it was not a simple run into the pen, especially in a bit of a cross breeze as you had to come in quite fast at an angle with a bit of a jink, before turning in at the last moment. So to end the day, Trev gave Hugh another white knuckle moment, coming in nice and hot and stopping it on a pin for me and Nick to drop the lines over and secure the boat.  Hugh in a bit of a daze could only mumble something along the lines of: I can see you have done that before!

Being a decent fellow and not to keep us hanging, Hugh gave a very quick debrief and told us we had both passed YAY 😉


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