The single-handed master clasS. It’s Time to go it alone…..

Since I was 26, people have asked me how I manage it. How do I do it on my own? And the scale ranges from competing in the Trans-Tasman or multiple trips to Lord Howe Island solo, or putting up a spinnaker by myself in our 40 footer in a club race. When I bought my S&S Defiance 30 at age 26, I sailed it from Cairns to Yeppoon on my own out of necessity – I couldn’t find a crew! So what’s the difference?

A much younger me (29), aboard my Defiance 30, anchored off Ned’s Beach, Lord Howe Island. My first single handed offshore landfall.

I have always said that enjoyment of sailing is an inverse curve. The more experience and education you have, the less your stress and greater your enjoyment. Conversely, if you are inexperienced and uneducated, you will have more dramas and less fun. Learn more, love more. 


I know many yachties who are far more capable and more experienced than I am, who sail faster, win more races, have better seamanship skills, but alas they will never go to sea alone. So what makes it different? Or more importantly, how can I instill this in my partner Lucas, who is smart, strong and capable, but balks taking our boat out alone.

My answer to the question …. I have a solid belief in my own seamanship, and the reliability of our yacht. It’s not that I don’t make mistakes; I do all the time. I still scratch the signwriting coming into the pen and drop spinnakers in the water.  But I have faith in myself that I won’t do anything catastrophic, and, that on balance, it will be okay. We are also fastidious with our maintenance and the layout of gear on our yacht.

But how do I impart that to the person I love; the person I want to share my yacht (I also love) with? 

Lucas is strong and smart. He can put a spinnaker up on his own, change headsails or reef the main, and is an expert with the chartplotter. When we race, he interprets the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions. He can fix the lights that don’t work and runs our YA safety audits. He just doesn’t like bringing the boat into the pen or anchoring alone. So I am trying to bridge the gap.

Apriori must have been out of action, so I was racing solo on the handsome “Soothsayer”. This lovely 35 foot yacht, designed and built by Jon Sayer on the Sunshine Coast, is a joy to sail single handed, and on this occasion we won line honours. I have my serious face on. I competed against her in the 2010 solo Trans Tasman.

My latest suggestion is a week long single-handed “masterclass”. He will take the week off work (while I go to work). He will take the boat out every day on his own. 

His initial reaction was not agreeable. But our friend DK found herself, literally, in the same boat. After many years of sailing with other people, including multiple Sydney to Hobart’s, she knew she needed new skills to run her own yacht. So she went and bought one (not a small one; a 35 footer). She decided the masterclass was a great idea, and almost shoe-horned Lucas into it.

Me racing on my own somewhere. I can’t be too serious as the white mainsail is on. At 140 sq metres, this is Api’s second largest spinnaker. It can be tricky getting it down on ones own, but really makes the boat go well.

So I devised a week-long plan. A single-handed master class:

  • Sunday – Sail around Peel Island clockwise
  • Monday – Sail around Peel Island anti-clockwise
  • Tuesday  – Reef, unreef, double reef and unreef, and reef again
  • Wednesday – Set off on full sail, and change to stormsails 
  • Thursday – Turn off the GPS and sail to Hope Banks and back
  • Friday – Man overboard (with a fender tied to mooring lines)
  • Saturday – set a spinnaker on your own – choose your own space; and then choose an appropriate anchorage, set the pick, and enjoy a sundowner, staying on the boat overnight.
  • Sunday – Head home and relax, the week is over.

I would love my partner to love the boat the way I love it. And to do that, he has to be relaxed and confident.

So DK and Lucas have signed onto the masterclass in February. I will let you know how it goes…..

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