A Novice at the Helm

Or a salient lesson on why it’s not a great idea to embark upon something as physically strenuous as a dinghy sailing course when you are a knackered 55 yr oldHaving completed a week-long “Competent crew” course on an 8 man yacht in Portsmouth some 15 years before I have been harboring the sneaky suspicion that though deemed “competent” by the “royal yacht association” -and with a certificate to prove it – I seemed to remain somewhat clueless as to the basics of sailing – minor stuff like where the wind is coming from!!!
A trip on the Tall ship Kajama and the sheer pleasure of being out in Toronto harbor on a summer’s evening spurred me quite rashly to sign up for a 4 week “Basic Dinghy” sailing course – 3 hours at a time twice a week, thrown out to fend for oneself in 2 manned dinghy, avoiding:
The kayakers and canoers
The Island airport “no go buoys”
The shipping Lane
The huge Toronto Island ferries
The other ferries
The other yachts and dinghies
The racks if canoes as one leaves and re enters the dock!!

First shock
What! No instructor actually onboard? A two-man dinghy manned by just two women novices; the instructor whizzing around all of us (fortunately just three craft on this course) in a dodgy constantly stalling zodiac. She’s like a plate spinner: picking up one awry dinghy and setting it straight then rushing way to attend to the second only to find the first in trouble again the minute she takes her eye off the plate.
An hour of blackboard theory on “Points of sale”, wind direction (lol) and knots; rigging our own dinghies and how to execute turns during tacks and jibes,
The course contigent consisted of 5 saps: a young married couple who had an old dinghy at the cottage they were keen to learn to use and 3 single women – all at least 20 years younger than me. During pairing up I was devastated when one of the 2 girls quickly latched onto the other. Obviously I looked completely incompetent and I hadn’t even opened my mouth at that point! What a knock to my confidence and not even let loose in the dinghy yet!!
After rigging sounds so easy: just 2 syllables but loads if ropes, clips and loose bits to cock up…and we step gingerly into the craft by now in the water and continue with the sails, centre board and rudder. The married couple are split up and I am paired with the only bloke – Thank God because he looked fearless and capable. One lucky bunny gets to whiz around in the zodiac

Note to self: try not to be out on the Lake during electrical storms; you know the saying “the calm before the storm”: nowhere is this more obvious than when you are sailing – it`s like God suddenly sucked in all the air – such an eerie stillness. It takes skill or an engine to get back to shore and we had neither. But we did have one paddle and paddle like crazy we did spurred on by the initial rainless light show – trust me you do not want to be in a sailboat in a lightning storm


Who designed all the really fiddly attachments like the fine keyring thingamajig for the jib to helm attachment? Why make it so difficult – my crew member managed to rig the whole dinghy whilst I was struggling with this!
Why is the hull always littered with so many detached ropes – bloody deathtrap especially during tack/jibe repositioning – the gzillion bruises all over my legs are testament to this
Why does the Toronto “party” boat always slide by – its occupants jeering and cheering at the exact time you are about to capsize; are actually in the water hanging on for dear life after capsizing; or about to crash into something?
And wind direction………………..

Quick salute to the fabulously responsive 420 symbol class monohull dinghy:Built in 1959 and primarily used as a Youth trainer and racing craft, the International 420 Class Dinghy is a double-handed monohull planing dinghy with centerboard, bermuda rig and centre sheeting. The name describes the overall length of the boat in centimetres (the boat is exactly 4.2 metres long). The hull is fibreglass with internal buoyancy tanks which means it is pretty difficult to capsize – ha
Also the 420 is equipped with spinnaker and optional trapeze, making teamwork necessary to sail it well. Operative phrase “sail it well”.

Stats –
Beam – 1.63 metres (5 ft 4 in) – not very wide if two of you end up opposite each other your knees would touch!

Mast height – 6.26 metres (20 ft 6 in) – that’s damn high especially when you are craning to see whether the mainsail is loughing.

Mainsail area 10.25 square metres (110.3 sq. ft) that’s a lot of sail to de-rig whilst still on the water – the trick is to concertina the thing whilst pulling it down, whilst balancing precariously, whilst coasting to home pier -ha!

Jib / Genoa area 2.8 square metres (30 sq ft).

Several weeks on I sorta “feel” where the wind is and kinda instinctively know how to simultaneously trim the sails and steer.
Got the bug now – next course – basic cruising skills in a “20” a 4 person sailing boat.

And on the subject of sailing check out the “Sail In” movies at sugarbeach@25dockside.com
On 16-18 August. Huge double-sided screen floating on a barge, either watch from your craft on Lake Ontario or for landlubbers get a portable chair and see it from Sugar beach
Anyone got a boat I can sit on?


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