01 October 2012 By Billy Hawkins
Life on the Ocean Wave with the Alitex Team.
It’s been a massive sporting year for the UK and perhaps in homage to that, Alitex’s company day took a similar physical theme with our Tall Ship Sailing day on the Solent. Aside from a couple of forced absences (Tom had managed to injure his knee, for example) the whole company turned out; even Christian from Germany was there.
The day started early and drizzly, with everyone (almost) on fine form, eager to kit ourselves out like Findus Fishermen, learn the rules of the ocean wave and then compete in the Alitex racing challenge.
Since we were already allocated teams and Challenger boats, we were able to board quickly and get started; the teams were a mix of people from right across the company, mixing everyone and their skill sets, the lack of sailing knowledge proving to be a great equaliser. We were kitted out in full wet weather gear plus life jacket which we were assured would inflate as we hit the water; the problem with that is you just can’t tell until you hit the water whether it’s going to...After an initial briefing and sailing safety talk we settled down to the perfect bacon butty before sailing out of Portsmouth Harbour into the glorious sunshine and a good breeze.
The wind then started whipping up and suddenly we were zipping along at 11 knots in Force 7 winds, the boat tilted onto its side and the water lapping the decks. On Challenger 1, we had our captain Neil, a first mate and navigator (Chris and Trevor) and then it was up to us. What that meant was a lot of pulling on ropes and tying off and leaning into ever fierce winds. As we tacked and gybed the boat swung to the left and right with the less confident sailors quickly realising if they sat very still with their eyes closed they might get to Cowes sooner! However our captain had other ideas and we were the last to tie up alongside Challengers 2, 3 and 4 and then had to do lots of hopping over boats to reach terra firma. The sweet embrace of the rolling wave had not enamoured all my team mates but with true British grit, the decision was made to stick with the crew, enjoy lunch and prepare for the team challenge in the afternoon.
Post lunch – which was a very lavish buffet style affair, we got kitted back up and set out into what was now a grey misty gloom. It felt a bit Scott of the Antarctic, going sightlessly where man fears to tread etc, except that there were three very large boats all in front of us and also the Isle of Wight ferry was a massive beast right next to us – so Scott, but with friends. We settled into our crewing positions and prepared to battle with the elements but the wind had totally died off and we had a gentle and easy afternoon sail (quite a few relieved people on Challeneger.
The “race”, seemed to begin without our boat as we seemed to be on a different corporate day out entitled “get to know the Solent”, however we were fortunate to be on boat load of banterers and the rolling cabaret that is Kenny. The donuts came out with the sunshine and we had a very enjoyable sail back to port, where the rest of the company had already arrived and were on hand to mock our late entrance.
In all, an excellent day out hanging out with a whole different group of Alitexians and having a laugh. From all accounts, the other boats had a good time as well and whilst Challenger 2 appeared to win, we felt the moral victors on Challenger 1, as we missed the start and therefore were owed loads of minutes.
Key lessons learnt:
- Cross your legs and wait until you can go to a proper loo as wet weather clothing a ridiculous nightmare to take off and pumping the loo a squillion times is hard work.
- Do not volunteer to carry the heavy ropes downstairs if you have tooth-pick muscles. You’ll drop it and have to do the whole thing again downstairs where you will roast. Ditto pulling apparatus into the front hold – it gets hot below.
- Don’t put your tissue/phone/gum in your trouser pocket – it’s so hard to find again underneath all your wet weather layers.
- When you’re winching the rope in near port and everyone’s watching you, get someone really strong (Chris) to pull it at the same time as you’re turning and it will seem really, really easy and make you look very competent.
- Don’t have a bacon buttie if you‘ve been off meat and bread for ten days otherwise you’ll get heartburn and spend a disturbingly large part of the day wondering how the helicopter will be able to land to take you off to A&E if this is indeed the precursor to a heart-attack that you think it is.
- Understand the difference between hee ho, lee ho and ho ho.
Don’t pass Steph 78 mugs to hold as we suddenly turn and she is pinned to her seat in a glamorous but terrified position and she can’t hold on.