It was a long but non eventful journey to Lowestoft by train. And when I got there it didn’t get much better. I didn’t see very much of the town but to be honest, I saw more than I would have liked to. Due to my immaculate map-reading skills, I took the wrong exit out of the station and went the wrong way.
I took the first left, then the first right as the map said, but a couple of things seemed not-quite-right. Firstly, I was suddenly on a road with three lanes going both ways whilst the map showed a small road and secondly, I seemed to be walking uphill.And the little common sense that I had made me realise that it was rather unlikely that the sea was uphill. I only noticed this hill because I was carrying a week’s-worth of clothes and offshore sailing kit in a holdall with no wheels. I also had some welly boots (substitution for my broken sailing boots) swinging in a plastic bag hanging off the 40l Berghaus holdall. The strap was rubbing against my shoulder and it was sore.Anyway, once I’d stopped feeling sorry for myself, I decided to ask how to get to the Lowestoft Haven Marina so I stopped two big men driving a Toyota pick-up truck whilst drinking beer.
“I don’t know,” they said in unison as though it was programmed into themSo I asked where the seafront was hoping to get a bit more of an answer. But I wasn’t in luck.”I don’t know,” repeated the one with the ‘Metallica’ band picture printed across his black t-shirt. The other one just smiled revealing flashing white, bleached teeth. This was amusing, but it didn’t help me get to Haven Marina.I took another look at the map and realized how stupid I’d been so I ran back through the station, out the other side and along the less busy road. This time, so as not to make a mistake, I didn’t take my eyes off the map.
I figured that bumping into every five people I saw was better that getting lost again. Finally, I got to a pier with a touristy looking square (I don’t know why any tourists would go to Lowestoft but you’d be surprised. The square had a lot of ice cream huts, a few benches and a little water feature in the middle.This is where the problems started (or rather, didn’t stop). First, you need to know that the map I had was a print-off from Google maps – so it was never going to be too detailed. Anyway, to my left hand side I saw some masts and sails behind a white fence. The tide was low meaning the pontoon was very low which prevented me from climbing over the fence and jumping down. This would’ve saved me a lot of effort.
But I couldn’t jump so there was no point thinking about it. Instead, I did the more conventional thing of following the fence round. It wasn’t particularly big but it felt like a long way when I was carrying so much kit and I was late to get onto the yacht! I turned left, and left again, then found myself at the end of the path. I had gone round three sides of the marina and I was at a dead end.
But the most frustrating thing was, I could see the John Laing (the boat I was planning to stay on for the next seven nights) but I just couldn’t get there! I walked all the way back round (in a huff) and when I got to the square, I saw a huge black gate with Lowestoft Haven Marina written on it in huge letters. I paused for a moment with my mouth hanging open wondering how stupid I could have been. How had I missed it? I could have sworn that gate wasn’t there before.I went into the marina, down the steps, and into the boat after almost dropping one welly into the water. I happened to be the first there which was surprising as I thought I was going to be seriously late! I put my sleeping bag on my bunk and folded the end over because the beds were shorter than my sleeping bag. Then I got a piece of paper out of my bag which I had prepared on the train. I had written my name on it and ‘DON’T STEAL MY BUNK’. I put it on top of my sleeping bag, just for safety reasons.
I’d been on the boat before and I knew which were the best bunks for sleeping comfortably; the ones in which you didn’t get wet or fallen on by the person above.Then, I went back up into the galley (nautical term for kitchen) and helped my watch leader cook dinner. It was the last fresh meal we were to have for a while. I knew how to use the cooker etc so I didn’t make a fool of myself there. Thank God for that.The ‘lot’ came. They were year elevens from a school in Doncaster so they were a couple of years older than me.
Their teacher said “there is another girl coming on this voyage. Her name is Cami. Please include her””Ye, I’m a friendly guy,” said a boy with the beginnings of a beard and an earring in the shape of an anchor. He turned to me and said, “Hi, my name is Brad””Hi” I replied. And after a slightly awkward silence everyone went on to introduce themselves. Thankfully, the kids had been given t-shirts with their names on, so it wasn’t too hard to pretend I knew all their names; as long as they had their backs to me first! There was the odd person who was determined to be unhelpful and had awkward names on their backs such as ‘Gingerman’ for Martin!Once we were all ready, we had a safety briefing. We learnt how to use our lifejackets, what to do in a fire, flood, or in the case of MOB (diM-wit falling Off the side of the Boat). I’d been through this a couple of times before so, to be honest, it was dead boring.
We were then put into watches; these are two groups because we sailed the boat for three hours then slept for three hours alternating between watches. I was in a watch with one other girl, Lauren, and three boys: Scott, Bradley and my bad memory has stopped me from remembering the name of the last one… whoops. The other watch had one girl, Jo, and five boys: Martin, Paul, Matty, Danny, and Chris. As I began to understand later in the week, Danny has an obsession about flying. He was in air cadets and he seemed to live for aeroplanes.
It was an achievement when he didn’t speak about an aeroplane for more than 5 minutes.After the briefing, we got sailing really quickly. We left the marina in Lowestoft and sailed south along the east English coast. We sailed all through the night sleeping in sets of three hours..
. If you could call it sleeping. Outside the wind was blowing rather hard so the boat was rocking like crazy and there was lots of banging noises from people falling off their bunks. We had lee-cloths (plastic sheets) that we tied up around us when we got into bed but Scott, decided he couldn’t be bothered so just as I drifted off to sleep, the boat tacked (turned) and I felt and big weight fall onto me then roll off onto the floor.
I woke up, unsurprisingly, but Scott managed to stay fast asleep!I was woken up a second time at 6.30am to be up on deck by 7am. When I got back on deck, I looked at the horizon and we’d just gone past the white cliffs of Dover. As beautiful as the scenery was, I was disappointed to look behind the boat and I still see the English shore but apparently, we hadn’t got very far because the wind had dropped a lot during the night. The other watch went in to sleep until 10am (lucky buggers) while we continued to sail to France. The wind picked up throughout the day and then suddenly dropped just before we got to the French harbour.
Perfect.The harbour was in Boulogne-Sur-Mer. We had some well deserved showers; the first since we got onboard. We also went around the town and bought some fresh fruit.
Woo! Fresh food is really nice when you’ve been eating freeze-dried mush for breakfast, lunch and dinner.We got a whole night sleep that night. It was my second night on board John Laing but I’d completely lost track of time with the strange, new, bizarre, awkward sleeping routine. On the third day (the 30th of August) we left the harbour at 10am. I prepared breakfast with Martin/Gingerman and we all ate together. Breakfast was great fun despite the large amount of washing up.
After we’d set off, I spent most of the day up on deck because seasickness was a problem when I was below deck. However, I prepared lunch with Brad and that was fine. In fact, compared to my usual cooking standards, it was great!I was amazed at how much I was learning; I was probably asking too many questions. During the first night, when we were sailing in the dark, I was learning about cardinal buoys – what do all the shapes and colours mean again? We were in the English Channel so there were loads of buoys marking shipping lanes and other complicated things.”It’s not often you get all these buoys flashing at you” said my watch leader completely out of the blue. Who was, rather worryingly, male and in his thirties. I decided it was probably best to let that one pass and not say anything.Typically, as soon as we were getting towards France, the temperature got really nice and warm.
The sun came out from behind the clouds like in a cartoon. We all took our oilskins off because the wind had also dropped. We had a very relaxing last part of our third day.
It was a bit like on one of those dream holidays where people are on a boat in a beautifully calm sea all wearing shorts and vests.Due to the calm weather, I didn’t get at all seasick so I did the log book. I did it three times for three hours in a row. Then the fourth time I did it in less than 8 minutes which was the record time all week. I think I can pretty much remember how to do it now (except the tides bit).By now, you might be thinking that we had a pretty tough time on board. But you’d be surprised at the things we got up to. For example, when the wind was down and we had some time to sit back and relax, our watch leader taught us a song.
It went:”Oh Sir Jasper do not touch herOh Sir Jasper do not touch herOh Sir Jasper do not touch herAs she lay beneath the lily white sheets with nothing on at all”And each time you sing it, you take off the last word from the first three lines. Try and sing it and see what happens. We had great fun with that song. All my friends know it like the back of their hands now.We arrived in Dieppe and then did a huge clean up of the vessel.
Our leader liked to call this happy hour. I was upon deck hosing everybody down (accidentally of course). We stayed in a harbour that night too.The fourth day we went along the French coast to Fï¿½camp. We tried sailing at first but there was no where near enough wind so we motored for a while. We had a relaxing day..
.Until just before bedtime. It was 10pm and we’d all finished and I was putting the staysail away with Martin and Brad.
I climbed up the mast and unhooked the halyard which is the wire that you use for pulling the mast up but you have to unhook it so you can put the sail cover on. Anyway, I’m concentrating hard on not falling of when I hear someone behind me shouting, “Would you like a cuppa?” If I’d heard properly, it would have been fine, but I didn’t.”What??” I shouted back turning around and completely forgetting that I was standing on narrow pegs about a quarter of the length of my foot…
. you can probably guess what happened next. I tumbled off the mast dropping the halyard as I put my hands out in front of me. If you happened to have done any sailing, you’ll know to NEVER LET GO OF THE HALYARD.”Hold on!” shouted Brad and Martin simultaneouslyBut it was just too late. I was lying in a heap on the deck and the big hook on the end of halyard was swinging about hazardously. It’s quite big so if it had hit anybody, they would have easily been knocked out.”Oops” I thought to myself.
It turned out that everyone went inside to have their cuppa whilst Martin and I were high up a mast, in the dark, trying to catch a swinging hook. Great.Finally we managed, we missed our cup of tea but we were glad enough to go to bed and we all slept heavily…Only to be woken up early on Monday morning by the skipper jumping on the fore-hatch (the little window above our beds) then being punched by others whilst they shouted the unoriginal “pinch punch first of the month” rhymes.
However, these were tiny compared to the bruises we had from the various falls and tumbles that occurred while we were sailing. I think Paul was the worst off. He was busy getting some Cheddar cheese from the bottom of the fridge. He leant a bit too far and a moment later, he was inside the fridge with his head on the bottom and all we could see were his feet flailing around above it. All we hear was a muffled “help” coming up from the cheddar cheese and butter.
We left him wondering there a bit and then we lifted him out by his feet. Apparently, when people died on board and the yacht was going on a long voyage, people would be preserved in that same fridge.”Nice!” we all thought.Tuesday was our last day of sailing. In the morning we had nice showers then went into Gosport for a while.
We bought a card for all the sea staff who volunteered to supervise us whilst we sailed. We also bought Jaffa cakes from a market and three six-packs of Coca-Cola cans. The sea staff went into Gosport and bought some fresh food for dinner!We had lunch on the boat but in the harbour then had a wet ‘n’ windy sail back to Southampton. It was an extremely short sail but it was nice because the visibility was great so we could see the Isle of Wight.Back at the harbour, we had a relaxing dinner to fill all our hungry tumms. For meals, we sat a big square table with all of us (16 people) around it.
You’re probably starting to imagine what eating was like on board. This meal of Mexican tortilla wraps was actually done to improve teamwork, as there was one bowl of each filling so you had to ask about 8 people just to get hold of a slice of cucumber.After dinner, tea, supper or whatever you want to call it (we had many discussions about what it should be called!), we stayed up a lot of the night and had lots of laughs. We were, however, glad that this was going to be our last night on those awfully uncomfortable beds.
Wednesday morning we had a huge clean up. First we raced to pack our bags and because I was one of the first to finish, I chose to clean the decks. I was up there with Martin and Chris washing oilskins and cleaning the deck; which was another great opportunity to soak everyone with the hose pipe. We went down and helped the others clear the food cupboards of mouldy food.
Finally we had a quick debrief and I was a bit upset to see that I didn’t get Competent Crew (2nd stage of yachting qualifications) but apparently we hadn’t learnt about flares etc. to be honest, I didn’t know absolutely anything about flares!The “lot” soon left so sad goodbyes were said and emails and phone numbers were exchanged.I had to wait on the boat for a bit because my parents were going to pick me up so I couldn’t leave when the others did. I was really glad when my watch leader offered to teach me about flares and then I was even more over-the-moon when the skipper gave me a signed Competent Crew certificate! YAY!