Having gone off at a tangent about volunteering, it’s probably appropriate to tell you how that philosophy took me in a slightly different direction at the sailing club.

As I’m on the Speakers Club committee, I’ve made it clear that I won’t join the Sailing Club’s. But there are other ways of helping.

A lot of the duties at a sailing club involve maintenance – boats, equipment, stores – but I’m not good at practical things. In fact, I’m bloody dangerous, so never hand me a power tool or ask me to try and fix something.  I can turn a very simple job into a major problem.

I can rig a sailing dinghy, though. True, I can’t claim to do a brilliant job, but so far I haven’t forgotten to put the bungs in, so no boat I’ve launched has immediately filled with water.  I can de-rig too, although I need help getting the mast down – they’re long, heavy and unwieldy, and I’m not noted for my upper body strength.  Nevertheless, I’m often there late helping to take the boats out of the water and put them away.

There would’ve been a time when I’d have found this a chore. I can drive my car, but have no desire to understand how it works.  I feel the same about another tool I use regularly – my laptop (why, what were you thinking?).  But, with boats, I feel setting them up and taking them down again is part of the experience.

The first boat on the water (and the last off) is always the safety boat, a powerboat that can quickly reach a capsize or sailor in distress. To man this, you have to be qualified.

The sailing club already had a number of qualified members, but their availability was hit and miss, leaving the role filled more often than not by the same few people. So, with limited practical skills to offer, I decided I’d get myself qualified.

When you’re starting from scratch, it takes longer than you might expect. First of all, you need a powerboat qualification, then you need to demonstrate enough experience of using it before you can do the safety boat course.

The two safety boats at the club are ideal for that location: squat and broad, you can easily haul people in from the water, or transfer them from another boat; the outboard engines are powerful enough to cover relatively short distances quickly, and not so noisy that they disturb the otherwise tranquil environment. But when you go on a powerboat course, you train on RIBs.

They’re bigger boats, with more powerful engines, and your training ground is somewhat larger than a glorified pond. I’ve never felt a real connection with Jeremy Clarkson, but my guess is that, if he switched from roads to water, he’d be pretty happy with this for a pastime.  When the throttle’s open and wind’s whipping round your head, you’d have to be part-machine if you didn’t experience a thrill.  If you’re not sure what a RIB is, click here and look out for the two boats chasing Daniel Craig (this isn’t an RYA approved training video.)

The only disappointment on the course was the man-overboard drill. For that, while travelling at high speed (great fun), a kind of floating barrel would be thrown out of the boat, leaving the helmsman to demonstrate their ability to react quickly and safely, getting back to the person/barrel and drawing alongside to retrieve them from the water.  Control is key here, as you need to bring the boat to a virtual standstill at the right moment – and when you’ve got wind and currents against you, that’s harder than it sounds.

Of course, the disappointing bit was that we used barrels instead of people, because I was hoping for a chance to go in. Sadly, this was one occasion where, apart from spray, I didn’t get wet.

Still, at the end of two days, I was qualified to use a powerboat, and that meant I could begin to do a bit more at the sailing club.  I might not be able to perform rescues on my own, but I could with experienced crew.  I was also able to help out when schools visited and some of the kids wanted a ride in a more stable boat.

From a purely selfish point of view, it also gave me more options for getting out on the water.  All I had to do then was build up enough experience to be allowed to take the Safety Boat course.  And that was even more fun.

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