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Tips from a newbie sailor

Tom Bell from Marisol shares his insights on being a Newbie Sailor in LYC/TSC

I am a newbie, a novice skipper with lots to learn. Having sailed as a young person, basic seamanship, dinghies and yachts, and RYA in Holyhead. I windsurfed before kids and then progressed to flotilla and bareboat in the Med for a few years. Finally deciding to purchase my learning boat a 1979 Sadler 32 moored in Liverpool Marina about a year ago. I have learned a lot in that time, lots of mistakes and the odd sporadic good decision.  This article is to just share in simple dot points the things I wish I had done earlier or different, the bits I learned that would have helped to have known and the odd thing that I did right and would recommend to other newbies. Here goes…

  • Good Decision. Join the Yacht Club. There is a host of knowledge in the club and the people seem extremely happy to share and help new members. Club members have joined me on the yacht for several events and races and accessing that knowledge has been most helpful. But also getting involved in the events, racing and others, have given me things to aim for as well as inspiration to do more.
  • Good Decision. For your first time go through the lock when it is quiet. The lock was a little daunting as it was nothing I had experienced before, so going through the process without the stress of too many other boats about is a good idea. Basically, if you do this on a race day, wait for the race fleet to exit as it can be very busy, this may be one or two locks on opening.
  • Learned. Getting back in the lock when the tide is running is an experience, there can be a strong cross current past the entrance. Ferry glide in, but be ready for ‘the flick’ as the current let’s go you will be driving right at the wall, so give yourself room ahead to turn in. But note there are others with much more experience then me and they may be happy to come out with you to help.
  • Learned. General lock skills and etiquette:
    • The lights on the lock work both ways, ok obvious to some.  Wait for green before entering from either side and wait for green before exiting either way.
    • Call on Ch37 (P1) to let the lock keeper know you are coming.
    • Let the bigger yachts go first. It is easier for them to tie up to the pontoons and for smaller vessels like mine to raft alongside than to do it the other way round.
    • Be prepared to go port or starboard side in the lock, prepare you crew, fenders and lines for either.
    • Watch your spreaders, raft up so they are not opposite the adjacent yacht and avoid rigs clashing.
    • If you are at the front then make sure you have a good angle on your stern line, perhaps to the yacht behind your rafting neighbour. When the gates partially open to level the water there can be a large surge forward.
  • Mistake. Have a contingency plan for not making the lock back in.  This nearly happened one day as the lock broke! Luckily it was fixed in time, but I realised, sitting in 4knots of tide, that I had no idea what I would do in that situation. There are LYC mooring balls south and inshore of the Tower Cardinal Mark (530 26.076’N  030 1.577’W).
  • Mistake. Don’t cut the corner when exiting the lock as there may be fishing lines stretching a good distance off the wall. We picked up a line with 3 hooks, a bundle of lead and a few lug worms. It caught on the pulpit but could have just as easily caught on a crew member, we had to cut it away with a knife. We share the river, so good to let the anglers do their thing and to drive out a good ½ cable before turning.
  • Good Decision. Go Racing! The venture class is a good place to start and with the handicaps changing each race based on how you perform there is quickly opportunity to do well. Its fun, there is good comradery amongst the skippers. It gives you knowledge of the river, the tide flows and give you a great reason to get out there and sail. The Race officer and Race control are very good and understanding of newbies like me.
  • Racing lessons.
    • Get up tide. My first two races I failed to start, ‘engines off’ before I was the right side of the line.  So the fist lesson was to get well up tide of the start line before even putting up canvas, unless the wind is on the nose.
    • Let the IRC boats go ahead, they will soon be out of your way.  But if like me you find yourself rounding a mark to starboard with an IRC Class 1 rounding it to port at the same time, then let them go and make sure they know you are letting them go.
    • Give the marks a good amount of room, they are big, metal and will leave a dent.
    • Keep an eye out for shipping, race control may warn you of movements but with limited VHF coverage they cannot always do so. If you are in the way use the engine in a way to get clear and not gain an advantage, it is allowed.  The large vessels cannot deviate outside the channel, we must keep clear.
    • The racing is always round the inner marks to the Gladstone and Eastham Channels.
    • Get the racing marks off the LYC website as well as the bearings and distances, this really helps when you are new, once you know where they are it get a lot easier.
  • Good Decision. Long Series Races.  The long series races are very rewarding. I did my first in April 2018 and it was a great day out. Also it was a great focus for getting the boat up to scratch for cruising the area.
  • Mistake. On the long series races, check out the sailing instructions before the event and locate and mark all the racing marks on the chart so you know where you are going – obvious one would think – but I waited till the day and then could not get access to the information I needed, ended up being a pain for race control as had to get Lat and Long for each mark over VHF.
  • Lesson. I was warned by Lady Dorothy (thank you), on the long series race and first time heading out of the Mersey, not to stray out of line between the channel buoys where the training walls are. I heeded the advice. Heading back in when there was less water I could see that it would be a serious issue to run in to these, so note to self - keep well in the channel.
  • Lesson. Use the LYC Facebook page. People are very happy to advise but also a great place to find crew.
  • Lesson. Use Bluepoint Marine Chandlery.  It is a great resource and its important that the yachts in the marina support this local supplier. They are happy to work with you and can get anything you need at the right sort of prices and very convenient for pick up. Not to mention that they are more than happy to extend advice as needed.  Tony, who runs the chandlery has been very helpful in getting what I need when I needed it, and they stock all the little things you may need on a weekend.
  • And finally, join the club! They have been very welcoming and without their help and support I would not have been able to realise my ambitions of yacht ownership.
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