Right now, only a few people know that this website even exists (again), so nobody could ask about where or when the sailing bug bit us. The travel bug is a long-time family member, but the oceans? I’m from a land-locked country, my on-the-water experience limited to canoeing on the Moselle river as a kid. Connie’s been brought up close to the North and Baltic Seas, but without spending any time on boats. She did have a seafaring uncle, but, never really comfortable during passages, his tales focussed on his time spent ashore in port cities…
Also, our reputation is rather as land-roving adventurers (see the reports from our 2009-11 tour). So what happened?
One adventure leading to the next
Basically it’s a case of one adventure leading to the next: while stopping over in Seattle in August of 2009 with family of friends (that had hosted us a few weeks before in Canada and “handed us over” to family in Seattle), we were taken along on a short sailing trip from Seattle across the bay to Port Madison.
After two months of our Diesel engine drowning out all conversation onboard Archie, the sudden silent progression under sail on Quintessa, a 36ft (from memory?) Bavaria, was a revelation. It was our first time on a sailboat, and it brought large smiles to our faces!
We obviously had no clue what we were doing, but it was big fun and we would never really forget this experience, even if we wouldn’t get back on a boat until many years later.
Fast forward to December 2017: finally stars were aligned to get serious about sailing – or at least to confirm if our first impression 8 years previously was still valid. The main reason was that we were looking for a common endeavour: flying had occupied so many of my African week-ends, but the many restrictions in Europe (regulatory, but also meteorological) and Connie’s relative lack of interest put a halt to my piloting career.
Sailing could become our common hobby, now that we were close to the North Sea and the Atlantic. Off to the Canary Islands (sunshine and 20°C in winter!) to participate in a week-long “competent crew” course with Canary Sail – a Royal Yachting Club affiliate that we highly recommend.
It was a huge success, but the learning curve was steep and our physical fitness was tested (wiiiinch!!!). Sailing around the Canaries in December is both “the real thing” with strong winds and impressive waves and a very enjoyable environment to learn the ropes: nice weather, deep water, lots of space to make your mistakes in without bumping into anything. And the local bars and restaurants are a nice reward after a strenuous day out on the water.
After a Hanse 400E in 2017, we renewed the experience on a Bavaria 40 the following year. That trip was just for fun, to try and remember what we had learned the previous year and gain some more experience.
After a pause in 2019, we planned to take it to the next level in 2020 with the RYA’s day skipper theory and practical certificates. COVID19 actually accelerated our plans: the March/April lockdown in Belgium was spent passing the theory online; a lull in the pandemic in July allows us to spend a week on C-Masters‘ Wauquiez 40 on the Oosterschelde and Dutch Zeeland and pass the practical part.
Going from theory to practice was again a shock, also because you have to get used each time to the characteristics of the boat (a furling main, for instance). Passage planning on real maps, in an unfamiliar environment full of shallow waters, commercial traffic, buoys galore and tidal currents was definitely a challenge at first. Five extenuating days later, we came back to port where the certificate was waiting: we were now qualified to go charter a boat and go out on our own!
Not being able to travel much during the summer because of COVID-related restrictions, we decided to overcome the apprehension of going out for the first time on our own rather sooner than later. In late August, we chartered a 2019 Dufour 310 called Sisu. The idea being to see if we the two of us could handle a smaller boat and then maybe work our way up to a larger one next time.
I think every skipper remembers the first time they take out a boat on their own: no safety net, you’re the master! Our first sorties were challenging: unlike previous boats we’d been on, this one had twin rudders, i.e. zero steerage without at least 2kt of speed: no fun in narrow, unknown marinas or locks! We had to come back with a flapping jib to fix the broken furler, and to replace an electronic engine starter component that left us w/o an engine. A good test of the crew’s abilities, but no fun at all!
The rest of the trip was a success though: our confidence grew day by day: we can do this! The Dutch sailing community along the way was mostly supportive, suggesting techniques to leave the birth using well-placed ropes, patiently waiting for us to exit the lock or reassuring us that they had all gone through this phase sometime…
COVID still has Europe in its grips, and we’re determined to make the best of it (while avoiding catching that particular bug): I’ve signed up for the next level of theory (working towards a coastal skipper certificate), Connie’s going to study navigation, and hopefully we’ll be on the water again soon to continue what every teacher tells you to do: practice, practice, practice!