Becoming a boat owner
Practical Boat Owner|March 2021
Scott Opie buys a £1,300 trailer-sailer and discovers the ups and downs of sailing

I hadn’t been in control of a boat since I was 16 years old. Sure, that’s not really true. We hired a tinny on the Sunshine Coast with the view to catching a fish.

Fortunately, no fish were harmed in the practicality of that adventure. We also bought a second-hand kayak and put it on our jetty. “Have a look at our new boat,” I would say to anybody who dropped by. “It’s the green one”. They were always disappointed. I traded the kayak about a year later for a mountain bike. That remains largely unused too.

But one day it occurred to me that the thing that I had been looking for was sailing. I remember waking up one morning and just knew. I considered buying a boat but that involved spending a huge sum of cash for a ‘hobby’. Not my first and natural instinct. Lessons on how to sail? Yep, that felt right.

I enrolled on two-day sailing course, from theory and sailing a Laser on day one to crewing a 22-footer on day two. I put on my bravest face, but the loud snapping of the Mylar mainsail after hoisting filled me with fear. It sounded so aggressive! And how did you stop it again?

Our instructor, who was patient to a tee, covered off the basics for the bigger boat; teamwork, reefing, crewing roles and capsizing (so that was possible, right?). And the knife taped to the tiller is for what? To cut myself loose if I’m trapped under the boat and tangled in a web of ropes... or lines... or sheets. Not to mention the difference between turning one way and the other. One is a tack, the other might take off the top of your head.

Unfortunately, while trying to show-off my glorious figure of eights I pulled when I should have pushed. Capsize, blood loss, appropriate treatment and little compassion followed, then I was back out there again. Cold, wet, but oddly determined. Two years on the scar is still visible.

But passion trumped pain and I learned that capsizing a small boat is not the end of the world; that righting it is achievable and creating a fast forward motion with little effort is exhilarating. Let’s call that Stage 1. Stage 2 involved reading books from the library. Obsessively. And when I had read them all, I read them again. Eventually, I recognised some of the words. The principles would come later.

Around this time I met a work colleague who’d spent the previous year sailing a 33ft yacht in the Pacific. “Don’t buy a project boat,” he advised. “Buy a known brand.” Simple.

He also introduced me to club racing where I met an interesting chap who’d sailed in a similar-sized craft from South Africa to Australia. He mentioned that they’d been ‘knocked down’ three times. I remember thinking that doesn’t sound particularly good, so made a mental note to check that term when I got home.

But after a few days my enthusiasm, like a tall mast countered by an appropriate keel, righted itself and I was strangely keener than before. If I’m honest I would have to say that racing wasn’t for me. We were often at an acute angle, scrambling over each other, finishing last (for which there was always an excellent reason), and when finished had to pack everything away. Mainsail, genoa, all the lines, everything. I noticed at this stage that words like self-furling and lazy jacks started to resonate.

Becoming a boat owner

About a year after the epiphany I bought my own boat, a 22ft trailer-sailer. It was perfect. The price was brilliant, boat and trailer were both registered, and the photos on the website showed the owner racing off the Gold Coast beaches. There were a couple of negatives though. It was stripped back to bare essentials for racing, and the parts that had been removed had been sold on Gumtree. So, there was going to be a bit of time spent. The electricals were non-existent, no pushpit, pulpit or stanchions to run out safety lines. But apart from that the sail wardrobe was good, the outboard seemed in pretty good nick and he was asking only $2,500 (£1,350)!

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