Sailing- something I have never done and if I’m honest something I have tended to avoid ever since having a bout of sea sickness on a ferry to Ireland, but then the sea was very choppy and is notorious for it. Nevertheless ten years later I found myself on a boat taxi in Venice transferring from the main island to Murano and Burano for a day trip and thankfully there was zero reoccurrence of the motion sickness I have always feared- this is where my re-found the courage to set sail with Viking Mariners….
The Viking Blue is a fast blue water sailing yacht measuring 52ft overall, with fully battened main and 150% cruising Genoa (this I learnt was part of the sail!) It holds up to ten passengers at a time, plus a commercially endorsed Yacht master, qualified skipper & a second crew member and is the only boat of its class and size on the East coast coded by the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency.
The vessel is skippered by Lee who is also the yacht owner and is clearly passionate about all things sailing- enough so to make a business from his hobby, offering sailing days to anyone from complete beginners like moi to those from the corporate world, who wish to take part in a super fun and informative away day.
Upon booking the communication was very good and there was nothing I was left unsure of when the day came, Sue emailed me with all of the information I needed in order to be prepared for a day’s sail and what to expect- weather conditions/clothing to wear/items to bring with me, along with an itinerary of the day.
During our time on the water we were to make our way down to Harwich and Felixstowe, then head off the coast into the River Stour and Orwell and then return back to Ipswich making a passage of up to 35-40 Nautical Miles- sign me up!
As I am Nottingham based, the trip to Ipswich took around 3.5 hours and so we decided to head over the night before my sail, as it would be an early 9am start, so we checked into a very nice hotel called the Salthouse Harbour Hotel situated right on the marina, which is one of the recommended hotels used by Viking Mariners as part of their Stay and Sail packages. (Another is Kesgrave Hall where we stayed *Read my review of Kesgrave Hall*).
The morning came and I arose bright and early to good weather- thank goodness, had a cooked breakfast in a local tea room and then headed off to the meeting point which was Muster Point by Spirit Yachts on Ipswich Haven Mariner. This happens to be located just a short ten minute walk from the main town centre. I ensured I was dressed comfortably in my jogging bottoms, trainers (shoes with grips were recommended) a warm top, coat just in case and my back pack- on reflection I would have dressed a little smarter and nautical, as the others had on navy, stripes and boat shoes! Being on a boat for 9+ hours I wanted to ensure I was well prepared for all eventualities, so I packed sweets just in case of sea sickness (ginger sweets and biscuits are said to help with this) and Viking Mariners do state that they have plenty of hats/gloves and sun cream to lend to people should they forget their own.
My risk of not taking my own paid off as our day was mostly sunny and bright, with only a couple of quick slight showers, which happened to tie in nicely when we were in the cabin eating lunch.
I was greeted by Lee who was friendly and welcoming, who guided me to the boat along with a few others also taking part in the sail day- two sets of couples celebrating an Anniversary and Birthday and a guy who was bought the package by his parents as a gift.
We boarded the Viking Blue and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of room we had and how comfortable it was. Below deck was a space saving haven with a table and seating which also doubled up as storage, a small kitchen or gallery, with all necessary appliances and a chest fridge/freezer. There were also two heads (the sailing term for toilet!) and three cabinet (bedrooms to you and I) decorated nautically of course.
Lee took us through a brief health and safety procedure and showed us how to put our life jackets on. Then it was time to set sail!
Hannah- Lee’s crew member introduced herself and made us all tea – a great start!
We chose our seats and set off to the lock, where we passed a range of other boats in the mariner – all kinds large and small, barges, yachts, both sail and motor – very beautiful and as we approached the lock gates which opened out onto the River Orwell, we could immediately feel the fresh breeze and I started to relax into my very first sail day…
Aside from the industrial areas we passed through, the River was beautifully scenic with countryside for miles either side and in fact was voted one of the most beautiful rivers in the country by The Royal Yachting Association. Out on the open water I found my mind escaping elsewhere all too often than usual and realised it was a fantastic way to unwind and de-stress from the busy lives we all lead nowadays. Being out on the open water gives you complete and utter thinking time to yourself and I must say I found it a very therapeutic experience, which I’m sure is why the sport is so popular.
I was immediately thrown into the deep end and was asked to steer the boat- yes the whole boat myself! Stood at the helm, gripping on (a little too tightly) to the wheel I looked ahead keeping to the right of our ‘lane’ letting other boats pass us on our left, but ensuring I steered clear of the red boys we followed on our path and as I took to the wheel Lee said to remember just three things..
- Stay on the right.
- Don’t run a ground.
- Don’t hit anything!!
As we sailed a number of boats passed us – Lee knew many of the owners and waved as we passed, including one who happened to be the owner of Spirit Yachts, who actually provided the boat that was featured in the James Bond Movie Casino Royale, where Daniel Craig arrives in Venice on the very boat- impressive.
Lee is a fantastic storyteller, clearly passionate about his chosen vocation, telling us tales of his child-hood, how he got into sailing (having been doing it for 60 years since the age of 5 growing up in Thorpe Bay, Southend On Sea ) and pointing out local landmarks and explaining their history, as we sailed. He not only owns the Viking Blue but manages two other boats including a catamaran, chartering boats out and also training people how to sail through his sailing school, to which he offers a two day training course for beginners covering aspects such as wind awareness, to which he then went onto explain that ‘run’ is one of the most difficult types of wind to navigate through (which travels right over the top of the boat and can be dangerous). Lee also runs RYA courses over 5 days for both those new to sailing and those who looking to develop existing skills further.
Lee has sailed the world and visited most places others only dare to dream of…
Lunch was a delicious freshly prepared Ploughman’s thanks to Hannah – pork pie, cold meats, a selection of cheeses, breads, salad and chutney and a vegetarian version for me with hard boiled eggs Lee had apparently prepared himself the night before, more tea (with an extensive choice of herbal and fruit options) and elderflower cordial. We sat huddled together around the table getting to know one another which was really quite lovely.
Back on deck we got comfortable again and we were taught how to actually sail- using terminology I have only really ever heard said on the television- winch, starboard, bow, port etc… and he had everyone up getting their blood pumping, controlling the sail by cranking the winch as fast as they could – it really was an eye opener to see how much effort and work is involved in sailing a boat, it really is an art, of which Lee has clearly mastered.
It was time to take afternoon tea and we decided to pull the roof over us and stay on deck for this, enjoying the most delicious scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream taken the Devonshire way (the right way in my opinion) however this did cause a discussion amongst the group. More tea was made- thank you Hannah (she does also do a lot more than just make tea!) and as we approached the mariner lock home we were given a nice glass of wine to end our journey, as we playfully made an attempt to learn how to tie a bowline knot – I’ll now always remember- Make a figure of 8, make a loop, up the rabbit hole around the tree & back through the rabbit hole!
The final part of our experience was to make fast in the lock before they opened it to allow us back into the marina – this provided ample time for the crew to put away the sail and ‘tidy up’ while we continued to sit back and relax.
Viking Mariners are in their 9th year of business and Lee has no intention of stopping; keen to raise the profile of his Stay and Sail Days and Corporate Hospitality Packages he hopes to increase peoples awareness of sailing, making it accessible to anyone of any age and experience and I can certainly see why, it is a fantastic experience I would highly recommended to anyone intrigued and I look forward to one day returning.
Fiona Duncan, RSViP
*All details of Viking Mariners Stay & Sail packages, Corporate Hospitality packages and Sailing School can be found on their website – www.vikingmariners.co.uk