Thursday, October 05, 2006


If you're going to follow a leader - and generally I don't - it's important you pick the right one.

I used to be a keen dinghy sailor, mostly sailing inland or in sheltered inshore areas. I liked 470's - small, two-person dinghies that can be sailed pretty fast. I enjoyed competing, although I wasn't heavy enough to provide the kind of ballast you need to challenge at the top level.

One day I had the opportunity to go sailing offshore in a bigger boat. The plan was to sail from Troon in Scotland to Belfast in Northern Ireland, across the open sea. The boat was a thirty-four footer, a proper yacht and something I hadn't sailed before. I was nervous at the prospect, I admit it. When we arrived at Troon it was pretty blustery, the sea looked choppy, grey and uninviting. It was also bloody cold. Despite my waterproofs I was shivering.

There were five of us as crewmen - all inexperienced, and all apprehensive. We assembled at the clubhouse where we were met by our skipper Richard. He must have been about forty, weatherbeaten, with a broad toothy grin and a straggly grey beard. Just the look of him was reassuring. Although he didn't have an eyepatch he looked like a real sailor.

Richard gave us a brief introduction to what we could expect out on the briny and then assigned to us our respective roles. To my horror I was instructed to take the wheel once we'd boarded and steer the boat out of the marina.

Setting off from the clubhouse Richard led us off along the pontoon towards our waiting yacht which was moored at the far end about thirty yards away. As he walked he explained in precise technical detail the various styles of rigging of the different boats we passed. We all gazed skywards as Richard pointed out the importance of the tell-tales at the very tops of the different masts, vital for showing which way the wind was blowing in relation to the boat. Then he walked straight off the end of the pontoon into the harbour.

As we stared down at him bobbing gently in the murky water with an indescribably sheepish look on his face I remember thinking, "Jesus, I'm gonna trust my life to this guy?"

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:02 pm

    Nearly lost the will to live after reading 'dinghy sailor' but I persevered and was rewarded with a near drowning. Thank you!