24th June 2019 – Yachtmasters, at last

Well, this chapter could be titled “How I nearly failed my Yachtmaster Exam” – but instead we’ll settle for “We passed!!”

It’s been a very hectic few months – we completed our Sea Survival course in May – it was really excellent and I can’t recommend it enough. No one wants the first time you see a life raft to be when you really need to use it, so the course was a brilliant addition to our preparations. I hope I never need to see the inside of a life raft again, but if the worst should happen, we’re definitely as well prepared as we can be. Huge thanks again to Kenny and the team in the INSS – a really valuable and worthwhile course. 

The big (for us) news for this post is that we both managed to (just about) pass our Yachtmaster practical exam – and I can confirm that it was as challenging as everyone ever said it would be. The exam itself was a two day affair, starting from Dun Laoghaire on a Friday night, and finishing some 24 hours later on Saturday evening. After a slightly last minute panic when our third candidate pulled out of the exam at the 11th hour, Kenny and the INSS team managed to secure us a new crew member and we all met on the boat on Friday afternoon. Our examiner was flying in from the UK, and due to a slightly delayed flight, we had an hour or two to kill – during which I slowly wound myself up into a mild state of panic. When he arrived, he asked us to do the safety briefing – I offered to do downstairs, and Marty would take the deck. For some reason, everything I’d ever learned seemed to evaporate out of my head, and while I managed to calmly talk my way through most of it, when I got to talk about the flares, I fumbled over everything – not the start I’d been hoping for. 

Shortly after that, we headed out to do some sailing – thank goodness! I took us off the dock in text book style and without incident (and earned myself a little compliment from the examiner, which was badly needed after “Flare gate”. I did a few manouvers bringing the boat alongside the pontoon, and then we went out into the bay and did some sailing – all went well. A few man overboard drills, and a few windward leeward laps, and things felt a bit more relaxed. We went back to Dun L, where Marty brought us alongside (incident free), and we had some food, and talked through my passage plan. I’d elected to plan a passage from Dun L to Kilmore Quay – which in hindsight probably made life harder than it needed to be! However, this was where the hard work and extra effort paid off, and I think I scored a few brownie points for a detailed and comprehensive passage plan – fortunate really, as I would need those later on! More on that later.  While I was doing this, Marty was planning our passage to Malahide, in the dark on a falling tide.

Later that evening, we headed out again after sunset to start our trip. I was at the helm for most of the trip, which passed uneventfully for the most part – we sailed along nicely, Marty handled the navigation and I had a good chat with Examiner Richard, who quizzed us on a few lights, and navigational questions. However – just when you think it’s all going well….Richard asked me to explain what I would do if the steering cables broke. Usually a quick explanation and showing the emergency steering would suffice, but not tonight – so I duly put the emergency steering equipment in place, and continued towards Malahide using our rather heavy emergency tiller for a while. 

We eventually were allowed to go back to wheel steering (much better) but our next challenge came not from the examiner, but by a sticky genoa that refused to furl. So here we were, careering towards Malahide in the dark, on a falling tide, with a stuck jib. Examiner delighted – how would we manage this little gem?! Luckily, everyone kept it together, and set up a solution that would suffice to get us safely into Malahide. Marty had tense few minutes where the depth sounder read 0.0m fairly consistently, but we made it in without nudging the bottom, and I managed to get us tied up to the dock cleanly. By this stage it was about 2am, and we were all ready for bed.

6am rolled round fairly quickly, and after a quick shower to wake up, I set about my own calculations and passage plan to get us back to Dun L. I’d done a few notes in advance, so largely this involved plotting a course, inputting the various waypoints onto the GPS, double and triple checking my calculations for the timing of getting out of Malahide with enough depth, etc. I then had to re-do it all when examiner Richard woke up and asked if we could go to Howth before heading home – a bit more quick maths and some adjustments to my plan and we were all set. The only problem being – we couldn’t get out for another 6 hours! 

And here’s where the not so good bits came. Examiner Richard asked some very tough questions on Radar – especially tough because I think we may have had the “lite” version of that module, and didn’t answer the questions particularly well. Next up was ColRegs – excellent! All that study was going to pay off here – or not so much. Due to what I can only assume was exam nerves, all of the sound signals I’d learnt evaporated from my memory like the morning fog. Not a good start to the day. Following this, now well and truly flustered, examiner Richard asked a few questions on the engine – I manage to breeze through my standard checks (Water, Oil, Belts, Bilges, Electrics, Exhaust), but absolutely froze when questions about the water system in the engine came flying my way. Now absolutely certain I had failed, I took myself for a quick walk up the marina, resisted the urge to fling myself into the incoming tide, then went back to the boat to try and solve the mystery of the non-furling headsail. 

A quick shimmy up the rig for Marty revealed that the furling gear at the top was well and truly broken – and it looked like there was some damage to the forestay itself – no more sailing today.

For a bit of entertainment, examiner Richard asked us to put up the storm sails – storm jib, and the storm tri-sail. Relieved to have a bit of practical activity to do while we waited for the tide to rise, we pottered about setting these up, brought them down, answered a few more questions, and packed them all away. We took a quick walk up to grab a pain au chocolat and commiserate our certain fail, and before long it was time to “suit up” and head back out for the trip home. 

I had taken a slightly cautious approach to my passage plan home, which meant we had a more relaxed exit then entry, and with Marty at the helm, I got us safely out of the channel, past the safe water mark, and gave Marty a course to steer to get us to Howth. The passage passed reasonably quickly, the sun was shining, and I was able to plot our route back without any difficulty. As we approached Howth, I took the wheel again, navigated my way through all the harbour traffic into Howth harbour, picked up a mooring for the fun of it, and then did a quick spin to head back out – directly into the Saturday afternoon racing. Fortunately for me, this provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate that despite my earlier performance, I did in fact know the rules of the road and managed to not crash into any one, and brought us around Howth Head and set a course directly back to Dun L. 

Once safely back in the harbour, boat all packed up, examiner Richard sat us down for the chat I’d been dreading – and to my (great and huge) surprise he said he was recommending us both for a pass. He was very honest, and said that we had come within seconds of failing over the sound signals – but had managed to redeem ourselves elsewhere – but we really need to spend a bit more time on this!

After the debrief and the thank -yous etc, a quick pit stop at home to shower and change – we went straight to the sailing club, where I promptly demolished 4 (large) G&Ts, a large pizza and went to bed for 12 hours.

Until next time….

R&M xx

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