On board "L'Artemis" sailing in Martinique

On board “L’Artemis” sailing in Martinique

I'm the one to the left in both pictures

I’m the one to the left in both pictures

All the basics I learnt by osmosis; complete immersion.

The correct angle to trim the sails for example was just “Obvious” and needed no explanation. Sail trimming angles is something that only much later did I study the actual why and wherefore of.

Where the wind comes from for example is something that is so obvious that when I first met someone who was genuinely baffled as to how to tell which way the wind is going I was in shock. Even with one’s eyes closed one just feels how the air is moving across one’s body and head and knows without any further analysis, just like you know which way is up and which is down. Later my father did refine on this, because for a sailor knowing how the wind is moving is not enough; he needs to know exactly from where it comes.

He said to wiggle my head from side to side a little until you feel it just the same in both ears so you are looking straight at the wind. Then he said «There is another way too. You see the smallest of the waves riding upon the other less small riding upon the bigger ones and the way the smallest of them all go is how the wind moves»

He did not explain to me that there was in fact a fundamental difference between these two though, and I will never know if this was by accident or design. Eventually I noticed the difference myself and asked him about it. So he then explained what apparent wind is. I had never thought about it, but it made perfect sense right away.

Which way the tiller goes to turn the boat likewise was completely self evident and again I was surprised when I discovered it was not actually at all obvious to everyone.

How to steer a sailboat to windward high as possible while keeping the sails full and keep good way on also hardly required belaboring.

Indeed the first time I steered was the “L’Artemis” all 15 meters plus considerable appendages into a crowded anchorage. Due to a sudden and extremely unfortunate situation he needed me to steer, while he dealt with the sails, something I certainly did not have the strength for yet. It can’t have been too big a deal for me because the memories of that are kind of indistinct, like it was not very important.

I remember much more clearly the first time I sailed a boat all by myself. I guess the “All by myself” part must have been quite thrilling because this I do remember very well. It was a friend and neighbours’ sailing dinghy. There was very light wind and father called out to me that I was sitting on the wrong side! Slightly embarrassed, I quickly shifted around as I knew better than that. I guess being so used to sailing bigger boats I forgot about the importance of weight positioning in dinghies. The light wind allowed me to get away with it that time.

And so that is it really. How to operate a sailboat just comes down to knowing how to steer it and understanding the correct relationship between boat/sails/wind. You got that, you’re sailing. The rest is just refinements, old tricks to keep you alive (seamanship) , and of course not getting lost or ending up aground, otherwise known as navigating.

Once I was 11, I was rapidly given more and more responsibilities as far as sailing the boat went, from watch keeping to extended stints at the helm, and tending the jib or steering when manoeuvring in harbours. Eventually, as my father’s heart got tickier it became my job to get the anchors up, especially the last one.

Getting under-way in an engine-less sailboat things are very different to in an auxiliary. Once the anchor rode is straight up and down and enough pulling has made it lose its grip on the bottom, (loudly announced: “We’re free!”) the boat will fall off on one tack or the other and start sailing off. Which tack it falls off on is normally deliberately chosen beforehand and making sure that this is so is part of the art of sailing, and I will write more about the details of this in the future.

Having the anchor hang under the boat creates a tremendous drag though and severely hinders the boat’s handling, thus it is imperative to get the last bit up as fast as possible, a task much more suitable for a young teenager than for someone with a bad heart.

At 13, I discovered another branch of sailing; sailboards. I was hooked! My thing was to try and find the perfect combination of smooth water and strong winds so I could tear back and forth as fast as possible, delighting in the sensation of flying at fantastic speeds inches above the water, the board clattering like a drum over the wavelets.

I suppose it must be the same with most anything. If you grow up with it, it rubs off on you so deep that you would not be able to forget it no matter how hard you try.