Simon Jinks, RYA Instructor, talks about running aground and the need to look at the whole picture...
A bear of a man, with a walrus moustache, and a flat cap with a fondness for the collision regs. That was the way the Yachtmaster Examiner was described to me the evening before the exam by my Instructor as he bid me farewell and left with a knowing grin.
It was early summer and I'd just come back from overseas working on an old gaffer. I was part of a crew of four having a week's Yachtmaster preparation in the Solent, followed by the dreaded exam.
Halfway through the week, after practising hard and feeling smug, the Instructor told us to pull our socks up or we'd have no chance. So we tried harder. Sailing and piloting the yacht into places only a dinghy should go and spending the evenings finding unlit buoys or swotting up on collision regs and weather.
Legs like jelly
The end of the week came all too soon and we waited for the examiner to arrive at 0900 next morning. The waiting was worst. I still have a log book entry, 0800 legs like jelly, then another after the examiner arrived, 0930 jelly melted.
With a thin veneer of outward calm, we quietly slipped the berth to start some circuits and bumps, parking forwards, backwards and sideways around the marina. Calamity free, we then head to sea for sailing exercises in Southampton water.
My task was to pick up a Man overboard then sail up to a mooring buoy for a cup of tea. By good grace of the long armed crew member on the boathook, the MOB went OK. So we carefully dodged across the busy shipping channel towards the moorings.
To save getting tangled up with a mass of other buoys, I opted for a mooring all by itself on the edge of the channel. After assessing wind and tide, and with the crew briefed we started the approach under sail into the tide. The crew gelled together easing and filling the sails to adjust the speed and it started to be a text book approach.
All that time spent practicing during the week was paying off, the boat felt part of me as we inched our way forward under sail pushing against the tide. Judging boat speed by looking sideways at the land, we steadily crept towards the buoy. Looking abeam again, I realised that we'd slowed and needed a little more power.
What control, I thought as I asked for the sails to be powered up once more to ease the boat forward. It was about this time when the examiner tapped me on the shoulder and whispered into my ear, You do know you're aground son, don't you?
I looked at the sounder for the first time that day, and my world fell away. All chances of passing quickly receded as I'd sailed the boat, under perfect control slowly but steadily straight up a sandbank. With a backed headsail and crew weight to heel her, she slowly slid off into deeper water and I sailed her up to another buoy and spent the rest of the day kicking myself.
Did I pass?
I did pass, much to my surprise. The examiner was impressed by the way I sailed off the sandbank. But from that day on, when approaching a mooring I always look at wind, tide and also depth which has kept me in good stead to this day. The bear of a man with a walrus moustache wasn't that bad after all.