By Louise Harney

Sun, Sea and Sea Sickness Exam Nerves

A blog detailing Louise’s adventures and mishaps crewing on a Yachtmaster Prep week and exam with the Marbella Sailing School. Speak to her if you’d like to get involved in some similar sailing, or email the web team. We might even get some winter sun sailing out here. Watch this space.

Leaving the Haar Behind

Sunday 25 August 2019

Standing at the bus stop on Lower Granton Road, only able to see a few feet into the Forth and with no sign of Fife, I was feeling rather smug. I hope the One Design racers could see where they were going today! Packing for this trip was an absolute nightmare; I don’t know how to sail unless I look like an eskimo! Only yesterday, day one of the One Design regatta, I still had my jacket on in the Granton sunshine. With memories of the trip to Inverness a couple of years ago; me wrapped up in a giant offshore jacket while everyone else worked on their tans; I faffed about for a long time working out exactly what to bring (shorts, light jeans, deck shoes) and what not to bring (oilies, big warm boots, you get the idea!). Still at the bus stop, I was checking both bags to make sure nothing was forgotten. Sunglasses – check. Money – check. Passport – check. Phone – check. Keys – bit late now if I’ve forgotten them! Ok, anything else can be resolved later.

On the plane, I tried really hard to get a photo of the club and find the racers, who would probably still be out there, and it looked like the weather had improved. Obviously I failed miserably, but I did get something fuzzy which may or may not be Granton Harbour! Now is probably the time to admit that my geography is atrocious. If someone feels like commenting, it would be great to know if I got it right!

After an uneventful flight to Malaga, we landed in the warmth of Spain. While it is sunny and warm back home in Scotland, this heat hits you the minute you step off the plane, like a warm blanket, only it leads to excessive sweating! I suppose I should have worn something other than jeans … too late!

A 40-minute bus ride later and I’ve reached Marbella, wondering if I’ve packed light enough to fit into the boat …

First things first – a beer at a local tapas bar and a chat with Steve before heading over to the boat. The waiters were pleased to see Steve again; a cheeky flirt or two later and we were on our way.

Before boarding, a quick safety briefing (read: horror story) from Steve reminding me not to fall between the rather large gap between boat and steps. It’s a mooring setup I haven’t seen before and I’m told the boat is essentially anchored by a ‘lazy line’ tied to a large piece on concrete at the bow, while the stern is tied with a mooring line to the shore, accessed via steps. At least it is sufficiently treacherous to keep any brave local kids out of the boat!

Arriving at the boat, the guys were studiously passage planning despite it getting dark, and it rained! Don’t worry, it was only for a few minutes, but it was excitement all round for a short break from the heat. I received my tour of the boat, a very warm welcome, and signed my name on the board to fully induct myself into the crew. The boat is huge. With two wheels (because obviously one wasn’t enough), and no less than eight winches, this will be very different sailing than I’m used to.

Now I’ve squirrelled all my stuff away (and miraculously it fits!) and settled in a cabin all to myself. Lockdown has been performed: a spray of insect repellent to keep the mosquitoes at bay, before closing up the boat to let it take effect. I sampled the shower block, which is a reasonable walk away, but you could easily stop for a couple of beers and a quick boogie if you were so inclined!

With an early start tomorrow to complete the passage planning, we’re bedded down for the night. The Marbella party continues around us, but the music is soft at this distance.

Wow, this boat is great!

Monday 26 August 2019

… probably it’s the instructor (Johnny) who’s a great sailor! But the boat is lovely too.

The guys are looking forward to a reunion in Edinburgh after this blog has made them famous, especially as this photo of Kurt has been voted best of the day. Surely not because he’s facing the other way!

We started the day with completion of the Yachtmaster passage plan that the instructor will ask some quick questions about, after a healthy breakfast of yoghurt and fruit. Our Yachtmasters-in-training gave a comprehensive safety briefing (under instruction not to be too scary!) which included all aspects of the boat from fire in the engine compartment to a gas leak, Man Overboard, illness and how to call distress on the radio. I, of course, gave them a good quizzing just because they joked I needed to know distress calls in case they all went overboard! Johnny must have missed his calling as an actor, as his role play of an office worker staring out of the window at yachts turned into a nervous sailor to test the skipper of the day’s abilities to calm his crew.

We checked the engine and the safety equipment on board, making sure it was all in date (dates on the flares caused some confusion, but that was quickly figured out and they were all in date), in working order and that we knew how to operate it. Satisfied that all was in order and the crew were properly briefed in all safety procedures, talk turned to the plan for today’s sail. Key topics for the Yachtmasters to learn were Man Overboard and manoeuvring of the boat (e.g. entrance into the harbour and mooring).

A great idea for making sure all important checks and briefings are made was to write a checklist, and mark it as complete for each passage; starting at Safety Briefing and ending at Details of the Passage Plan. I must get a copy of that checklist!

We headed out for a short sail along the coast, with plenty of wind and only a slightly lumpy sea. Happily there was no sign of sea sickness, and with the new team working well together, a number of different techniques for recovering a man overboard were practiced. Everyone was given their designated roles. Mine was to be the ‘Spotter’ – don’t take your eyes off a man overboard as it would be so easy to lose them in a heavy sea state. With our Yachtmasters-in-training expertly responding to the challenge and drifting to pick up the flag (we didn’t actually throw anyone in!), the differences in method were discussed. It was advised to always do this under motor, and at first it was hard for me to resist the urge to move sails around.

The cloud soon gave way to hot sun, which was far too much for me – I am certainly a winter baby! Johnny’s first aid was at hand to tend to the dreaded heat rash, but happily not needed for anything else. I even managed not to get sunburnt with my Factor 50 Kids sunscreen regularly applied.

Lunch was a great salad, cold meats and cheeses with fresh baguette, in the calm of Marina La Bajadilla, which was a much quieter area than Puerto Deportivo. I think this is the harbour the Yachtmaster exam will start and end in, so it’s important to get the lay of the land, especially as this is a shallow harbour, making monitoring of the depth gauge extremely important.

After lunch, the studious pair emptied and inspected the contents of the cockpit lockers to ensure all the important items were within easy reach (anchor ball for example). Codewords were established to indicate a forgotten anchor ball (Do we have any peaches left?) or motor sail cone (I really fancy some ice cream!). Once satisfied with the contents of the grab bag, the lockers were repacked in an orderly fashion and the team set about rigging the storm jib.

Using the Pole Up line for the Spinnaker as a stay, and the Spinnaker halyard as the Storm Jib halyard, the bright orange sail was raised and trimmed to perfection using the handy telltales. Johnny arrived to inspect our work from the pontoon and discuss the pros and cons of using different lines for the rigging. I have to admit, some of that went over my head, but Johnny was more than happy to repeat it again at my speed.

Next up was manoeuvring in the harbour. Johnny demonstrated use of prop wash to quickly turn the boat around, of course making it look much easier than it seemed to me in practice! We all got a turn on the helm, getting a good feel for how the boat moves, and after the guys had practiced numerous perfect and near-perfect reversing and nosing (is there a technical term for bow in to the pontoon…?) into the mooring, I had my shining moment to gingerly turn the wheel (while wishing it would magically transform into a tiller!) and reverse into a wide spot at the pontoon. We made it without any incident, helped by the close attention of our instructor, but it will take a while until I’m confident with that!

With so much great food in the fridge, we decided to stay on board and have pizza! Of course we also had salad to balance the meal out. I sampled the showers to remove the excessive quantities of kids’ Factor 50, and they were great. While waiting for the mosquito spray to kick in, the Lockdown Dance (soon to hit Youtube / was invented and practiced to perfection. Filming is pending further practice and coordination of the crew!

What a friendly bunch! After lots of music and sailing chat, some much-desired shorts were swapped for other goodies and Johnny’s space in Louise’s flat for next year’s Fringe festival was booked. RFYC can expect to see more of Johnny, and we’re looking forward to it!

Sailing into the Sunset

Tuesday 27 August 2019

The usual start to the morning included me getting hold of the checklist:

Engine checks followed the WOBBLE procedure:

Look around

The first step seemed very difficult, as the water coolant top was really difficult to get off without the right technique! Putting a finger in confirmed that there was plenty of water. It is very important to properly close the top again. The oil was easier, just to pull out the stick and confirm that the oil level was between the two grooves. The belt tension was less than 1/4 inch of movement so that was also ok. A small amount of oil was found underneath the engine, so we cleaned that up and if it is seen again tomorrow, we will know that there is a leak. Finally for checking of the engine compartment was a look around to confirm no loose cables, etc. Once we start the engine, we can check the exhaust to make sure water is coming out.

Next up was some boat manoeuvring practice, including springing off the bow, which was very successful. Sailing out of the harbour, the next activity was extremely challenging. In Granton Harbour, sailing onto a mooring is usually not a problem (as long as you don’t end up stuck in the mud!). However, the challenge for the Yachtmasters-in-training is to stop the boat directly in front of a buoy, which turned out to be extremely difficult with this 40ft boat!

Whatever you do, don’t slap the examiner in the face with the Spanish flag!

The guys were given chance to get Avatar into her extreme tight berth, and it was another impressive performance.

After all this hard work, we got an hour off and I spent mine in the only acceptable way for this excessive heat – ice cream!

There was time to sail for a bit longer and even get some experience with the emergency tiller.

By lifting a cover in the cockpit, a metal tiller can be attached directly to the rudder shaft, so there is a backup for steering the boat if something between the rudder shaft and the wheels fails.

It’s Johnny’s last day on the boat, but we’ve replaced him this evening by Jessica who will be doing competent crew while also crewing for the Yachtmaster exam. Jessica arrived in perfect timing to join us for a night sail so Kurt and Iljya could practice following lights on shore into the harbour.

There was even time for a quick dance in the evening.

Lovely Day for a Bob

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Good judgement comes from experience which comes from bad judgement, and bad judgement comes from experience – Steve quoting Jason Statham.

Steve’s exercise was immediately scuppered as the wind died! Jessica took to the boat like a natural sailor, asking great questions and getting involved straight away.

The engine start procedure was explained as the boat bobbed about with no wind. First check that there are no lines in the water, then check the throttle is in neutral, start the engine and check that water is coming out of the exhaust (so the engine is being cooled). We put up the motor sailing cone to avoid any confusion over the collision regulations for other boats, as all good sailors should. We reached a beautiful beach anchorage for lunch, which was another good spread.

We did a 360 debrief of Iljya’s skippering this morning, including use of hand signals to look more professional for the exam, even if it’s a simple thumbs up, before continuing with some more manoeuvring practice in the harbour.

Stopping at a Mooring Buoy Part 2

Part two of our mooring buoy challenge was a nerve-wracking experience after the difficulties last time. After the guys had practiced a few times, with great success, it was my turn. With Steve’s expert direction and I managed to actually do it!! Here’s how:

  • Start by the buoy so you know where you’re aiming to get to (sail past our pretend mooring buoy)
  • Bear away to about a beam to broad reach (110 degrees ish)
  • Sail about 20 boat lengths (to give yourself time to practice, but 5 is probably enough) away from the buoy
  • Once you have a good distance, tack all the way through the wind ending up pointing directly at the buoy (furl the jib at the same time)
  • Check whether the angle is right by letting the main all the way out. If it is completely depowered then it will flap and not be filled
  • If not, ‘duck’ downwind so you can turn back up to a closer reach, and repeat the test again once you’re pointing at the buoy
  • If you’re at the right angle then power up by bringing the main in by hand (pull the sheets like you sail a dinghy)
  • Decide when you are close enough to depower by letting the main go and use the forward momentum to drift onto the buoy
  • Take it on the windward side so you don’t drift onto it as you may end up on top of it with its lines around your prop!

This is a similar manoeuvre to man overboard recovery under sail, but you would take a man overboard on the leeward side to protect them from wind and waves, where it is easier to bring them back in the boat on the lower side and you can slowly drift onto the man overboard.

If there’s tide you have to get down tide of them, turn around and come back into the tide because regardless of the wind direction, you won’t stop unless the tide is against you. This means that if you are downwind and against tide, you need to drop the main, use the genoa and gradually furl it in.

We also got chance to see a special mark up close, which indicates an area used for a particular purpose.

Debrief over beers at the local beach bar included a detailed discussion of the man overboard procedures, where Steve helped me understand the manoeuvre using his phone as the boat.

Dinner was another home-cooked speciality courtesy of Iljya with a stunning sunset (shame about my face in the pictures!).

Man overboard!

Thursday 29 August 2019

The GoPro was set up on deck to capture some sailing action. This was a day for man overboard practice, with the crew operating seamlessly in their defined roles. Once we’d decided which line (and which end of the line) to rescue our man overboard (an old danbuoy) with, we were able to pull in our casualty. A key learning point was to make sure that the ‘pointer’ has no other tasks to do because that may mean they take their eyes off the casualty and lose sight of them.

The danbuoy was ‘rescued’ by the nearby dinghy safety boat, so Kurt had to sheet in and catch them to request they throw him back in!

The Man overboard drills were really helpful for the competent crew course because it was essential to know where the wind is coming from and to be on the right point of sail. You can see we’re all constantly looking at the windex and sails in these photos.

There was time for some parking practice at the visitor berth in Bajadilla.

Putting the boat to bed in our allocated berth involved two stern lines and the ‘slime line’ to the bow.

There was even time for a beer at one of the many beach bars.

In the evening, Johnny’s missing Port Flip Flop was located in the bilges!

Call a Fashion Mayday!

Friday 30 August 2019

After some discussion in the harbour around mooring techniques and the order in which it is preferred to slip the lazy line and two stern lines (we used bow first (lazy line) and then leeward stern line, followed by windward stern line), Kurt and Iljya took us to three waypoints each using bearings to landmarks marked on the chart and the depth contours. As Kurt began his sail to the first waypoint, there was a Fashion Mayday as Jessica’s hat went flying off the back of the boat. The guys were asking for more surprise man overboards! There was a quick hove to, tack around and drift back towards the floating hat. Rescued by boat hook by the shrouds, in a perfectly controlled manoeuvre by Kurt, the soggy hat was left on deck to dry.

Now to continue with the exercise…

We were able to see the beaches of Marbella from our lunchtime anchorage just outside the swimming area (marked by yellow buoys).

I embarrassed Alastair by filming his explanations to Jessica, but they were just too good not to share! Firstly the use of tell-tales:

The boat was rigged for ‘goose-winging’ downwind, including the important pole out for the genoa and a preventer to avoid any accidental gybes. Alastair explains:

Incredible Paella from Alejandra (Steve’s wife) was delivered right to the boat before we went out for a night sail, practicing pilotage into each of the ports, including Puerto Banus where there are huge luxury yachts. Louise’s bearded man (long story involving nightmares and terrifying the entire boat! Feel free to ask for the long version in the bar!) showed up again but probably as a dolphin swimming past the boat in the dark, which caused some excitement. There was very little wind, so it was a gentle motor around, looking at the multitude of lights on shore, searching out the navigation lights such as harbour entrances and lighthouses.

Final Preparations

Saturday 31 August 2019

Today is the last day before Kurt and Iljya are put through their paces in the Yachtmaster exam. We started off with Alastair talking through all the knowledge and skills they will need to demonstrate, and he still made time to explain points of sail to Jessica.

After a short motor, interrupted by imaginary engine failure, and a short sail over to Bajadilla, the guys had time to practice mooring up alongside the visitor berth and springing off the bow in light winds.

Iljya expertly reverse-lassoed the mooring bollard

More man overboard exercises were interrupted by a school of dolphins!! Our attempts to concentrate were completely out of the window, but Mr Professional (aka Kurt) continued regardless with just one functioning crew member. Despite my distraction, I still failed to get any good footage of the dolphins! Here’s my best attempt:

It is was an early finish for the final preparation day allowed plenty of time for the team to have a lavish Moroccan dinner in town, making a new friend, a fellow sailor, along the way.

Time to Shine

Sunday 1 September

Steve gave a condensed RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) course in the morning, including a couple of examples using plotter sheets, which showed just how much information can be gained from only a few plots on the radar display. I found a similar explanation in the set of slides here.

There was enough time to clean up the boat, have fro-yo followed by a tomato pasta lunch (food is important when you’re sailing – remember it is a grab bag essential!) and for me to check into the hotel for next week, before the exam would start.

The exam start was delayed until 15:00 because there was insufficient wind to see the guys sailing. The examiner arrived and after some quick introductions, immediately began checking their application forms. Two passport photos were required, details of first aid certificates, payment details (£220) and details of their five qualifying passages over 60NM (at least two as skipper and at least two of with overnight passages).

The examiner gave a briefing on the plan for the exam, starting with theory (e.g. rules of the road) and then boat handling including parking and springing using the engine. The plan will then be to go out in the evening, and to sail early tomorrow morning as some wind is expected and it is essential to see the guys sailing.

Starting with the theory, Kurt explained his passage plan to the examiner, including detail around the hazards, tides and navigational aids. Kurt changed course in his passage so he would be closer to a contingency port and spend less time fighting the tide. Some anchorages dry out, so Kurt explained his pilotage plan into the port. Wind against tide may make things choppy, but it would be difficult to tell the leeway as you could only use a leading bearing, as the other shore is too far away. The examiner seemed impressed and the whole process was very fast. It looks like Kurt is already ahead in the exam! The examiner double checked details with Kurt, such as that this boat (Avatar) has been used for the calculations. I even heard the word ‘perfect’ muttered!

Iljya’s turn… he also seemed to do well, starting with a detailed explanation of the roles of the crew, the tides and the areas that should be avoided. The examiner confirmed that the reason for staying at a heading 90 degrees from a restricted area is to ensure your aspect is clear for other vessels so it is the heading that matters rather than the course to steer. Tidal diamonds were used as well as information in the almanac, and dangers were marked on the charts as needed. The wind direction was important to understand, as well as ensuring tide had been accounted for.

Briefings were assigned to Kurt and Iljya, so the examiner could assess their knowledge of the boat and ability to brief the crew. Kurt got the cooling system for the engine, lifejackets and radio. Iljya got the fuel system, flares and life raft. First aid briefings were not required at this time, as the guys already need a first aid certificate and the first aid pack is standard. The guys were given a short break to prepare for their briefings.

Kurt began the engine briefing by showing the examiner the different controls. Kurt managed to get his engine questions correct. If the smoke is white, the engine is overheating, fuel combustion would be black smoke. Kurt also talked through diagnosing the engine, checking the sea cock, then the coolant available etc. (Start from easy to harder because harder may be something more technical wrong with the engine itself rather than just someone has forgotten to turn the sea cock the correct way).

The fuel briefing included detailed questioning on how to bleed the whole engine, which requires use of the hand pump. Disconnecting the return pipe, putting it in a bucket and using the hand pump ensures that you have bled the whole thing so there is no air left in the fuel system. Bleeding of filters is very important.

Lifejackets: Kurt opened up a life jacket to show how it operates and some of the safety equipment provided on it. It was noted that the mouthpiece is really for deflating to make the lifejacket more comfortable because usually they inflate automatically very tight. The lifejacket should be fitted with a fist in between the lifejacket buckle and the person, so it’s possible to breathe with the lifejacket inflated (i.e. it’s not too tight to breathe). The crotch strap is important to stop the lifejacket going over your head when inflated.

Radio: firstly it’s turned on. There are two radios: one fixed with a speaker also in the cockpit, which is also connected to the GPS; and a handheld VHF radio. The emergency procedure was explained for calling mayday, which is already covered as part of the radio certificate that the guys have completed before the exam. Kurt covered pressing the distress button to alert the authorities to a life-threatening situation, and showed the card which gives instructions. On this system you press once to get to a menu to select the type of distress (e.g. sinking, fire, heart attack) but to just send an uncategorised distress message, you must hold down the alert for three seconds, as a countdown is displayed on the radio. Around this area, CH16 is for the coastguard and this includes weather forecasts, the harbours around here use CH9. For other channels, then check the almanac for which channel. You should monitor the local channels to have relevant information on traffic in advance.

Iljya then covered flares to be used in a distress situation which are stored in the starboard cockpit locker. The flares canister includes gloves (not rubber!) and safety goggles to protect hands and eyes of the user. This boat carries orange floating smoke canisters, red rocket flares and red hand-held flares. The instructions are clearly marked on the side and should be reviewed in advance, along with confirming the flares are in date. The distance at which the rocket can be seen will depend on how high the rocket goes, so the angle of firing and wind direction is very important (launch the smoke with your back to the wind, or your boat will be a new colour!). It is important to differentiate between long (rocket flares) and short range (hand held flares). Hand held flares are useful in coastal waters to indicate the wind around the boat for rescuers who are approaching. Smoke is used in the daytime as it will be easier to see.

Iljya then covered the life raft usage. It is usually safer to stay on the boat than to use the life raft so it is really a last resort. The painter is tied to the boat and then the life raft is put in the water, the painter pulled out completely and then either take off the knot or cut the painter. The life raft is automatically deployed, but there is a manual back up if necessary. The life raft is attached to the top of the boat, but it should be considered whether the raft is attached to a very secure part of the boat (e.g. a cleat). In a fire, it would be better to deploy the life raft off the stern, as this is likely to be downwind and avoiding the smoke. It is also easier to access the life raft from the stern rather than needing to reach the life raft from the bow of the boat. You would also take the grab bag, flares and other essentials such as food and water (if there is no list on the raft itself, then a list of essential items to take when abandoning the boat should be kept with the boat papers). The examiner was happy with the briefings and we moved on to exercises, although the wind is lacking still. Everything will be done with the engine unless the examiner says the engine is not working.

After quickly preparing the boat to go out, the examiner took notes of the briefings, and some exercises were performed. A couple of stern-tos were followed by a short motor out to the other marina to show some side-tos. It was very much an atmosphere of ‘show me how it is on this boat’ rather than ‘show me absolutely everything from beginner level’. The guys navigated to waypoints using bearings to landmarks on shore. All seemed to be going extremely well. Kurt was given a short task down below, while Iljya took us close to the harbour entrance.

The challenge of our home berth parking in a tiny space was scuppered by the next door boat being out for a sail! Iljya went out for a second try after we dropped a fixed mooring line in the water, and keeping his cool explained to the examiner what went wrong and succeeded in another attempt. Kurt also had to complete the task, and then straight away take us out to a waypoint using two bearings: one to the lighthouse and one to the starboard marker on the breakwater. The same again for Iljya with an attempt for perfect precision on the depth contour was another successful exercise.

Now over to an anchorage spot East of Puerto Banus for a quick dinner stop. We even remembered the anchor ball without using any of our codewords!

After dinner, the guys received individual quizzings on collision regulations in different conditions and other essential theory knowledge while we waited for it to get dark and observing another stunning sunset. Afterwards, it’s time for a night sail.

But I kept trying!

The guys each used lights ashore for bearings to avoid areas with sharks and dragons, which was a fun game, taking us back into Bajadilla for 22:30. Can you spot the lighthouse in this picture?

The following morning we motored out (remembering our motoring cone!) and reefed the main to demonstrate how well the crew could work together under Kurt’s instructions. There was time to relax and enjoy the stillness of the water in beautiful sunshine, with perfect breeze from our forward motion, the temperature was ideal. Can I just stay here?!

The team shook out the reef with good coordination, and then Kurt and Iljya switched places so Kurt could be quizzed by the examiner down below.  

Iljya was sent down below to find out the depth of water in a specific location close to Hamble at 10:00, testing his ability to use the information on board (charts, almanac) for navigation.

The wind has arrived exactly as forecast and there are some man overboard drills under motor and sail! Iljya did a great job of keeping his fender in the water motivated, while recovering him on the leeward side using the boat hook. In reality we would likely need to give them a halyard with a loop in it and winch them back in at the cockpit. 

Now the man overboard drills have been successfully completed, we’re heading back to Bajadilla to demonstrate sailing into and back out of the harbour, and the skipper is given the choice of using both sails or just one.

Iljya sailed us over to Deportivo, and there was a surprise engine failure on the way out of the harbour, heading downwind, the team very quickly got the genoa out and sailed out seamlessly.

Both Kurt and Iljya were challenged to park up in the home berth in Deportivo, but since the wind had picked up, the space seemed to have disappeared!

After all the hard work and fun, it’s all over. Both Kurt and Iljya passed, getting individual feedback on their performances, and we all had an amazing week. With numbers exchanged and wine consumed, it was time to part ways, but not before Paul checked out the boat straight from the plane!


This blog is dedicated to my Dad, whose sailing trip was kindly ‘gifted’ to his daughter when he was struck down with cancer. I hope this blog keeps you entertained while you’re stuck in the hospital.

With thanks to Steve and the team at Marbella Sailing School.