You, Me and the Sea by Anna Row

(Impressions from a newbie Illusion sailor)

It was a chance text from a lady Illusionist that found me on the water on a flat calm day in the broad October sunshine: a very deceptive but wonderful introduction to Illusion sailing, as I can testify after last weekend’s racing where the wind hit 26 knots at one point.

There is definitely something magical about that closeness to the water and the rush of the sea past your ears: I had so not expected to become hooked on sailing what I had always considered to be a freezing coffin, but there we go.

Two weeks later found me fighting with a hand pump in lumpy seas, the honeymoon definitely over. If it was not for the enormous encouragement and unfailing support of numerous members of the class, I would probably have called it a day, but apparently that was not an option: I was encouraged to make full use of the Loaner boat (I thought it was actually called the Loner boat as I was so far behind the others).

I found myself being introduced to a whole new world:

  • the value of lead in the boat (the good news being that I have licence to put on 35kg over Christmas to bring the boat up to weight, unless I choose to retain the bags of shot)
  • how to crane the boat into the water, and more importantly how to reset the crane it when the battery trips
  • do not sail a boat without an elecric pump
  • remembering that there is no forestay, so you have to use the spinnaker halyard until you have bent on the jib: you only make that mistake once, although the sound of the mast crashing on the deck brought instant help from everyone around me
  • when the salt is in your eyes, probably not a good idea to let off the backstay instead of the jib sheet: another mistake I won’t repeat.
  • it is tremendously satisfying being allowed to hit the marks as you round – unfortunately this did mean I got a bit trigger happy with my handbrake turns on the bottom mark – there’s not always a lot of room to go in wide, out close

So, back to last weekend, top wind 26 knots.  In retrospect, I should have smelt a rat when my mentor said, as I was debating whether to sail in the Bailey Bowl, ‘don’t worry if bits fly off the boat, it happens.’.  , and then: ‘do come out, it means I won’t be last’..

And then from a very senior member of the fleet: ‘Just give it a try, you can always come back in’.. – completely bypassing the fact that this would involve making sure I dropped the mainsail in the right place and instantly, that the jib would furl first time to depower the boat, that I would drift gently towards the quay on the northwest wind, that the crane hook would be down… And of course because it was expected of me I did manage it all. Never have I been so pleased to see another sailor at the top of the crane.  Memo to self:

  • cold hands can’t open split pins to stow the boat
  • things sartorial: thermals below your thermals are a good idea
  • more things sartorial: you need someone else to unzip the back of your drysuit
  • and on this subject, don’t drink more than one cup of coffee before racing
  • you know you are resetting your relationship with the cold when the Club hosepipe appears to be running warm water

Nevertheless,  sailing these wonderful boats is definitely addictive.  I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive group of sailors, both on and offshore. A lot of tinkering with rigs goes on in the dinghy park before and after races, and there is a great camaraderie. At least five different people helped me set up my new vessel, the highly inaptly named Merry Weather (you can tell it did not start life in Bembridge), including setting the mast, putting in a last minute Cunningham which appeared to be missing, lending me an old set of sails, loading appropriate lead into the boat – the list goes on.  Everyone seems to have an instant toolbox under their boat (mine so far only contains talcum powder to help the dry suit pull over my head without removing all my hair), and more to the point, they are happy to share their expertise.  It remains to be seen how long they will tolerate an amateur in their midst.

I think you could safely say that an Illusion is not a boat, it is a lifestyle, or as my friend said, the third person in her marriage.

And of course, none if this would be possible without the unfailing professionalism of Mike Sam and his dedicated team of race officers/lifesavers: I suspect it might well be colder on Sea Breeze than in the hull of an illusion with the adrenaline pumping.

Do come and try it: you never know, you might even enjoy it

Laid back sailing – it’s an Illusion…

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