5 things I’ve learnt about sailing

Beachy head and the Seven Sisters

It’s two weeks into the adventure of sailing around Great Britain and I’m adjusting to being on the water and living in a 28-foot space. 

I’m a newbie to this sailing game so it’s been a full-on introduction to the rigours of sailing. 

Here are five things I’ve learnt so far: 

1) Patience is a virtue

On the water with a sailboat, the weather and tides are king, and they don’t always play ball.

There can be an immense amount of frustration waiting on land for wind to blow or waiting for the gales to ease. It’s particularly painful when you’ve set sail and the wind dies and you end up drifting.

At times like these it’s not worth getting worked up and irate. Practicing patience and finding something to be grateful for is the only way to get through. 

2) Sailing is mentally intense

I thought walking the length of New Zealand was mentally intense – always being careful of where you put your next footing, thinking about logistics, the mental challenge of not giving up when the going gets tough.

But sailing takes mental intensity to a new level.

Like driving a car, you have to focus and be on the lookout for hazards. But with sailing you need multiple sets of eyes, plus a pair in the back of your head. You’re also needing to stay on a compass bearing, keep an eye on the wind and its position to the boat, and watch the depth. If, like Mark, you understand the technicalities of sailing then you’re also “trimming” the sails to improve the efficiency of your sailing and speed.

Then on top of it all, you’re dealing with the constant motion and bracing against bumps. All together it’s intense and exhausting. 

3) Your sense of distance is distorted

The sea (apart from the waves) is flat and you can literally see unimpeded for miles. A border force boat sailed past us when we were near Dover. It was a mile away according to our radar but it seemed so much closer. It’s a weird feeling trying to figure out how far away things are and realising you’re further away, and smaller and more insignificant than you realise.

It’s also made slightly more challenging as sound carries on the water. We’ve been two miles offshore on a calm day and can hear the road traffic. 

4) Sailing is an abdominal workout

The other day the boat was bouncing around like billy-o and by the end of the day it felt like I’d done a thousand sit ups with all the bracing against the motion. The next day my abs were sore – I’d given them a proper workout. Definitely more fun than holding a plank! 

5) Don’t take things personally

When things happen on a boat, they happen fast – this was one of the first pieces of advice Mark gave me when he started to teach me to sail a little under a year ago.

In the past two weeks I’ve learnt to try and not take things personally when Mark yells “not that rope, the other rope” or asks sarcastically “what course are you on?” when I’ve veered off course and struggling to get the boat back under control. Or reminds me to “sit down when you clip in” or signals “Port. No, the other left”.

I’ve also learnt it’s best to not answer back and wind him up, even if I think I’m in the right. That gets us nowhere. In fact, taking things personally and responding as such can make the tense situation worse and can also be a safety issue.

Having a bruised ego is irrelevant when the wind is blowing.

Don’t forget! Mark and I are fundraising for the UK Charity SafeLives, which works to end domestic abuse. You can still donate – details here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/markandkatrina

Welcome to the boat!

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