Thankfully for everyone who knows me, you can’t just enter the Great Pacific Race and set off from California in the direction of Hawaii and hope for the best. The organisers require you to undertake a number of courses, designed to help you learn how to appropriately navigate, communicate with other vessels and know what to do should you end up in the water rather than on it… One of those courses is competent crew, a 5-day, yacht sailing course designed to make you, well, competent crew.
But what does Yachting have to do with Ocean Rowing? Well… not a lot really, for starters the yacht was considerably bigger than our boat and had a shower, fridge, oven, and even a microwave for christ sake. It took a reasonable amount of explaining to the others on the course that our boat didn’t even have a toilet and we would be on it for around 50 days. But what the course does do is prepare you for life at sea, things to look out for, understanding charts and weather, tying knots, being out on the water at night, getting really close to cargo ships and deciding the number one tactic for the Pacific is to stay as far away from these as possible…
My sailing skills leave something to be desired, having spent most of the time propping up the back of the fleet in instructor races and capsizing the dinghy consistently more times than most of the kids I used to teach. Let’s just say I never quite got the point of sailing when you could windsurf. Yachting is a more fun version of dingy sailing though, and once I had got over the initial confusion of almost every rope and sail having a different name to in a dinghy I concluded that perhaps sailing could be fun. Paired up on the boat with another competent crewer and two day skippers, we got stuck into everything, raising and lowering sails like pros, sailing a set course, and a personal favourite of using waypoints to navigate. Turns out, being able to see helps with this and remembering to bring glasses would be key… Having expected England to live up to five days of wind, rain and cold we were infact faced with five days of no wind, relatively warm (for November) temperatures and no rain. Luckily, yachts have motors, so we spent a fair proportion motoring under sail.
After spending five days of proving my competency, I unraveled it all in asking why a rope wouldn’t release despite everything being open for it to run. Turns out I was just standing on it. School boy error. Luckily ocean rowing doesn’t involve sails, and I certainly feel more competent getting on a boat having done the course. Tides, currents, winds, ships, knots, sandbanks, maps, charts, pieces of navigating equipment that I can’t remember the name of don’t seem quite so daunting now, and as everyone on the boat told me… It’s just a straight line between Monterey and Hawaii right ;)