Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Learn the ropes & the knots

Posted: 1 March 2018 by Lou Barden in Competent Crew, Ropes & knots, Training


On any sailing yacht you will find many pieces of rope or string as seems to be the word used by some. However when you are on a boat there are various names for these bits of string which are neither of the above. Instead we refer to them as sheets, halyards or warps. Wow, lets make up a whole new vocabulary, however there are good reasons as the name delineates what these bits of rope actually do and as a result the material they should be made from.

A sheet – the rope attached to the clew of a sail or the boom to allow the sail to be controlled or trimmed

Sheets attached to clew


This picture shows two sheets attached to the clew of a headsail. The attachment knot should always be a bowline (explanation below). These sheets allow the headsail to be pulled across from one side of the boat to the other.



Main sheet



This picture shows the main sheet which is attached to the boom at the top. This main sheet runs through a number of blocks the mechanics of which take the weight out of the line and make it easy to control. The main sheet will control the position of the boom. Not all main sheets on yachts come down to a track in the cockpit, many cruising yachts have main sheets which sit on a track on the coach roof forward of the companionway. More confusing terms, check out our glossary of nautical terms.




A halyard – the rope used to hoist or lower sails be it a main sail, a headsail or a spinnaker. So the main halyard would hoist or lower the main sail and the headsail halyard would hoist or lower the headsail and so on.

A warp – a rope used for warping or mooring a vessel to a fixed stationary object ashore. Highlighted in pink below shows three of the four mooring lines which have been used to secure Nomad 1 to the Pontoon.


The Knots

So if you are doing your Competent Crew these knots may well be new to you, if you are doing your Day Skipper or above you will be able to tie most of these with your eyes shut and your hands behind your back !! The most important eight;

The Bowline


One of the most useful knots on a boat, you will be able to undo this knot no matter how much load is applied to it, it does need load. This knot is used to attach sheets to the headsail, reefing lines around the boom of a slab reefed mainsail and often as the preferred knot to attach a boat to a cleat on the pontoon.


The Figure of Eight

Figure of 8

This basic knot is used as a stopper knot to stop any lines running through gear we would not want the line to come through. It is not the only stopper knot available but probably the most simple. A word of warning, never put a stopper knot on a spinnaker line or cruising chute line.


The Sheet Bend



The sheet bend is used to join to pieces of line together if you need a longer line. The lines can be different in diameter and if this is the case the smaller diameter piece of line does the work.


The Double Sheet Bend



This is used for exactly the same thing as the knot above but is stronger due to the extra turn.



The Reef Knot

reef knot


This knot is primarily used for tidying up sails when they have been reefed, on a slab reef main sail. It can also be used for tying bundles of objects together.


The Rolling Hitch


The rolling hitch is perhaps another one of the most useful knots to master on a sailing yacht. This knot allows the load to be taken off a rope if for example there is a riding turn around a winch. This will slide in one direction and hold fast in the other.


The Clove Hitch

Clove hitch


The clove hitch is typically used to tie fenders onto the side of a boat to protect it against a pontoon or other boats. Some skippers prefer using the knot below, a round turn and two half hitches.

A Round Turn and Two Half Hitches



This knot is often used to attach fenders to a boat but can also be used for securing to cleats and bollards


Clouds – what do they mean to you ?

Posted: 12 February 2015 by Lou Barden in Training

All Clouds

There are thousands of named clouds however the ones in the above picture are the ones we see here in the UK most frequently and the ones which tell us something useful about the weather. Are we dominated by high pressure or are we about to experience a low pressure system with the usual accompanying weather front ? This short blog will go through the clouds associated with a frontal system and the key elements of weather associated.

Cirrus 2

Cirrus – high wispy cloud formed of ice crystals, these will come from the west and are usually the indication that a depression is heading our way. At this stage the low pressure could be up to 600 miles away, the speed at which the clouds appear will give an indication of the speed at which the low is moving. Often these cirrus clouds will have mares’ tails which look like little hooks at the end of the cloud, this shows us that these clouds are close to the jet stream. Just a little aside at this point Buys Ballot’s Law states that is you stand with you back to the wind in the Northern Hemisphere the area of low pressure will be on your left.


Cirrostratus – high level layer cloud, this is a thicker type of cloud than cirrus still at a very high level and still formed primarily of ice crystals. The appearance of this type of cloud tells us that the front is getting closer. The warm air which is approaching behind the warm front is climbing up over the cool air in front of it and condensing to form ice crystals.


Cirrostratus Halo

Cirrostratus with halo effect – this is the same type of cloud as above but with the light from the sun being refracted through ice crystals. This halo effect can also be caused in the same way by the light from the moon. At this point in the movement of the system the barometer should have started to fall, the speed of the fall of the barometer will give an indication of the speed the system is moving.


Altostratus – mid-level layer cloudAs the warm front approaches the cloud will get lower as more warm air is climbing aloft, the cloud gets thicker. At this point in the system we have not yet experienced any precipitation and our barometer will still be falling.


Altocumulus – mid-level lumpy cloud, resembling cotton wool, warm air is still climbing upwards over the top of the cold air ahead, again we are still dry but the barometer continues to fall.




Nimbostratus – low level rain clouds, these clouds will be seen just ahead of the warm front and as the front passes overhead. Heavy rain will be experienced and the wind will veer to the south west. Once the warm front has passed the rain will diminish to drizzle and we will be in the warm sector. The barometer will fall less quickly after the warm front has passed. Visibility will be poor at this point due to the rain and the possible formation of fog.


Stratus – low level layer cloud, this type of cloud is typical of the warm sector and brings with it drizzle. There should be an increase in temperature as we are in a warmer air mass (tropical maritime) however sometimes the temperature increase is not hugely apparent. Visibility is often poor due to the drizzle or fog. At this point the barometer should have leveled off, if it is still falling the depression will be deepening.

Cumulonimbus 1

Cumulonimbus – towering lumpy rain clouds, these clouds are typical of the cold front approaching and passing overhead. The cold air behind the cold front is cold and dry and therefore will not rise up above the warm air in front of it, instead it will push the warm air up on a much more vertical plane than the warm front climbing over the cold air ahead of it.This movement of air will create towering cumulonimbus clouds which will result in heavy rain with big droplets possible hail and electrical storms. Visibility under the cold front will be poor because of the rain. After the cold front has passed the wind will veer to the west or north west and the barometer will start to rise.

I hope the above was helpful and you recognised some the the clouds as being typical of UK weather. There are some far more spectacular and interesting clouds to be seen in other areas of the world, I have picked what I consider to be the two most spectacular.

Roll Cloud 2                Roll Cloud 1

The Roll Cloud or Arcus Cloud

The roll cloud is a long tube-shaped cloud and can stretch over 500 miles, these clouds are typically seen in the month of October in Queensland Australia but can and do appear in many other parts of the world, even the English Channel, I have yet to see one but I will be keeping my eyes open !!!

Mammatus Cloud 2         Mammatus Cloud 1

The Mammatus Cloud

The Mammatus cloud is a sack like cloud and is unusual because it is formed in sinking air, most clouds are formed when air is rising. Mammatus clouds are most frequently formed on the underside of cumulonimbus clouds but can develop under cirrocumulus, altocumulus and startocumulus.

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This little blog is simply to act as a reminder for symbols you may commonly see on weather charts. As we know weather forecasting is not an exact science but a science it is, the information given below is a very simple summary of the common symbols used with the typical weather associated.

warm front

Warm Front – This symbol depicts the leading edge of a warmer air mass. The air ahead of this front will be cooler than the air behind it. Typical weather ahead of the warm front will be fine then heavier rain, as the warm front passes the rain will stop and become drizzle in the warm sector.

Cold Front

Cold Front – This symbol depicts the leading edge of a colder air mass. The air ahead of this front will be warmer than the air behind it. Typical weather just before and at the front itself will be heavy rain, hail, thunder, lightning, behind the front there will be sunny periods with scattered showers.

Occluded FrontOccluded Front – An occluded front is formed when the cold front catches up the warm front, the symbol combines the shapes of the warm and the cold front. Typically underneath an occluded front there will be rain as the warm air is being pushed aloft and condenses.

Frontal System Northern Hemisphere

Frontal System – This diagram shows a frontal system and the relationship between the fronts described above. This is a typical frontal system in the Northern Hemisphere and can be seen on good quality weather forecasts on television. The system is formed around an area of low pressure which will circulate in an anti-clockwise direction. This example already shows an occluded front where the cold front has already caught up with the warm front, the cold air in front of the warm front and behind the cold front with the area of warm air being squeezed in between.

Stationary FrontStationary Front – A stationary front is a boundary between two air masses neither of which is strong enough to replace the other. Cloud and rain are usually associated with a stationary front.

Developing Warm FrontDeveloping Cold Front Developing Warm / Cold Front (Frontogenesis) – This symbol depicts the formation or intensification of a meteorological front caused by the difference in temperature of adjacent air masses. No significant weather associated.

Weakening Warm FrontWeakening Cold Front Weakening Warm / Cold Front (Frontolysis) – This symbol represents a front which is loosing its identity usually due to rising pressure and where air masses are diverging. Cloud and precipitation becomes increasingly fragmented.

High and Low Pressure Isobars

High & Low Pressure Systems – This diagram depicts pressure systems in the Northern hemisphere, the arrows are showing us the wind direction, the wind moves anti-clockwise around an area of low pressure and clockwise around an area of high pressure. You will also note that the arrows around the low pressure are pointing slightly inwards toward the centre this is due to the wind converging around an area of low pressure, the opposite is true of high pressure, the wind diverges and therefore points slightly away from the centre.

Geostrophic wind scale

Surface Pressure Chart – This surface pressure charts shows areas of high and low pressure depicted by the H and the L on the chart. You can also see lines all over the chart which are called isobars, these connect areas of the same pressure, some of these lines have numbers on them which is giving you the pressure at that particular isobar. Isobars are like contour lines on an ordnance survey map, the closer they are together the steeper the hill, with isobars the closer they are together the stronger the wind. With this type of chart you can actually measure the wind speed by measuring the space between the isobars and using the scale in the top left hand corner.

Wind Strength symbols

Wind symbols – If you use grib files or sites like Passage Weather you will see lines such as the ones on the left here showing you the wind direction and the wind speed in the area you are looking at. Wind is always described in relation to the direction it is coming from, in the UK our prevailing wind and weather comes from the South West and in wind terms would be described as a South Westerly. On the bars on the left there are a number of different lines or barbs, the short lines represent 5 knots and the long lines 10 knots of wind. You can now see combinations of these making up 15, 20, 25 etc until you reach the triangular shape which represents 50 knots. These lines will always be on the back of the arrow and this is where the wind is coming from so in all the examples on the diagram the wind is coming from the north east.

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So you have decided you are going to take an RYA sail training course and now the fun starts, who will you chose to deliver the course ? There are so many schools out there and they should all be the same in the following areas;

  • All use RYA qualified instructors
  • All follow the same RYA syllabus
  • All will be using coded boats with the full array of safety equipment, boats and procedures which are regularly inspected by the RYA

So how do you chose ? You may want to train on a particular type of boat, you may need to be in a specific area, you may have a limited set of dates in which to do the course, all of these aspects will help you narrow down your choice then there is the question of price, do you go for the cheapest ? A word of warning here, not all schools offer all inclusive courses, check the small print, the initial price may well be lower but when you are then asked everyday to contribute towards mooring fees, food on board and buy your evening meal every night you will find the overall price for the course a great deal more than the initial advertised amount, do you also have to pay for wet weather gear on a daily basis if you need to use it ?

One small mention of creature comforts, pillows, I appreciate this sounds trivial, you will be sleeping on board for at least 4 nights, do you sleep without a pillow at home ? Is a pillow provided for you on board ?

What about the instructor ? You will expect a good communicator, one who is able to empathise with you, explain tasks in an easily understandable fashion and give positive feedback for improvement. At times there is a need to project your voice on a boat to be heard from bow to stern there is however never any need to shout in anger. I have heard some horror stories unfortunately and been personally subjected to “my 9 year old son can do this better than you” which hardly instils confidence the day before the examiner gets on board.

So how can you find out about instructors ? Ask around, recommendation is one of the best ways to find a school that will suit you, most schools have websites with testimonials but we only post the good ones don’t we ? Trytripad anyone can write what they like with and whilst I am pretty sure we were the first sailing school to put ourselves on tripadvisor I am happy to say many have followed suit. Linked in another possible forum for finding the right school for you.

Guarantees  Does the school have any guarantees, we introduced a guarantee a number of years ago and found that a number of schools copied the principle of this guarantee however read the small print, some schools only guarantee certain courses or give you a finite number of re-attendance chances. So how does this work, well I will just explain ours and you will have to research other schools. Our guarantee says that if you pay for a course with us and have the necessary prerequisites for the course and if you do not meet the standard during the course you can come back at no additional cost to yourself until such time you do pass the course. Why did we introduce this ? Well we have a great deal of confidence in our ability to teach as we were both teachers before we got into this industry and we know what it is to do exams or assessed courses as you get older, you get out of the habit and you get more nervous, this takes the pressure off.

And finally your course should be safe, it should be informative and it should be fun, if it’s not fun what is the point in doing it ?

We recently delivered the Day Skipper course to Francesca Wickers of the Daily Mail.  To see her take on it ,  have a look at the article she wrote here

Have you ever thought about a holiday with a difference ? How about a holiday where you can visit a different place every day but you only have to unpack once and still have all your gear with you. Where you can wake up, take a few steps from where you have been sleeping and dive into crystal clear waters with no one else around.
DSCN0185      DSCN0154

Your mode of transport harnesses the wind and is therefore a very environmentally friendly way to spend 7 – 14 days travelling to different places of stunning beauty and it’s up to you where you go, when you go and how long you stay.

Your destination are up to you, the distance you travel each day is up to you, you may like somewhere so much you stay for a couple of days and in many parts of Europe that staying will cost you nothing. I could continue and add hundreds of photos from numerous locations but that might get a bit tedious. What I can say however is that undertaking one theory and two practical courses (with a bit of sailing in between) will enable you to start exploring the world from a totally new perspective. If you fancy that read on or give us a call on 07917 573 772 / 07913 940 277 / 01424 461185

First off you would need to get some sailing experience under your belt, the Competent Crew Course is a great way of doing this and learning how to do things correctly from the start f your sailing career, this is a 5 day course and can be done over 5 consecutive days or be split over two weekends on of which will incorporate a Monday or Friday, you will cover the following;

  • Preparation for sea
  • Knowledge of sea terms and parts of a boat, her rigging and sails
  • Sail handling
  • Ropework and knots
  • Fire precautions, personal safety equipment
  • Man Overboard and emergency equipment
  • Helmsmanship
  • Keeping Lookout
  • Use of dinghies
  • General Duties
  • Manner and Customs
  • Night Sailing


 After completing this course your next step is to do the Day Skipper Theory, this course can be done as an evening class one night a week for seven weeks followed by a final weekend where revision and the exams are undertaken. This is a great way to met like minded people trying to achieve the same goals as you. Alternatively, if attending an evening class is not convenient for you to attend evening classes you can complete this course on-line in your own time, we are always available via email or telephone to help you with the course, you can go at your own speed and take the exam in the comfort of your own home. The Day Skipper Theory Course covers the following;

  • the basics of seamanship
  • the essentials of coastal navigation and pilotage
  • chartwork
  • electronic charts
  • position fixing
  • plotting a course to steer
  • weather forecasting and meteorology
  • tides
  • collision regulations
  • construction, parts and equipment of a cruising boat
  • emergency and safety procedures including distress calls, use of flares, safety harnesses, lifejackets and liferafts


Now the final push to give you that ticket to freedom, the Day Skipper Practical course, this is a five day course and can be done again over five consecutive days or over a split weekend. Here I have to say I have quite a strong opinion that says do the five consecutive, this I believe is far better value for money and much better from a continuity point of view. Either way I would also say do this qualification in the UK and even go so far as to say do it in the Solent, this is such a busy shipping area, popular cruising area and for some reason requires 3 ferry routes, 2 fast cat routes and a hover craft to carry the thousands of people who travel to and from the Isle of Wight on a daily basis. So you will see all manner of craft including huge cruise and cargo ships as well as numerous sailing and power driven vessels. Not only this, you have just spent 7 weeks, one evening a week in a classroom getting to grips with tides, both heights and streams, you have just learned all your International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea (IRPCS), all you lights, buoys and shapes, you may as well experience it and experience it you will in the lovely protected waters of the Solent !!

IMG_0019         P1030895

Why leave it any longer come on, do something different today that could affect the rest of your life !!!

Day Skipper Practical – Where should I do it?

Posted: 25 September 2012 by Lou Barden in Training

A question many people ask themselves having completed their Day Skipper theory course :  with so many choices within easy reach, what will it be, that guaranteed sun in the Mediterranean  or that good old British spring, summer and autumn weather.

Well here’s my take on it. I love the Mediterranean, crystal clear water, beautiful bays to anchor in, if you chose the right spots virtually free mooring and if you’re lucky a decent breeze by the afternoon, (not to mention the food, ouzo and lemon !!). However the breeze is not guaranteed, you have spent hours in the classroom sweating over tidal height calculations, estimated positions and courses to steer none of which get a look in when cruising or taking your Day Skipper practical in the Mediterranean “point and go” and you will get there perhaps with a small allowance for leeway if you get the breeze.

I agree that the art of Mediterranean mooring is a valuable one to learn and I have had many embarrassing moments in my time being watched by French and Italian yachtsmen. However I believe that variety is the spice of life so how many different types of mooring are available to perfect (I use the term loosely !!) in the Solent. You can moor alongside a non-moving harbour, now I get to use that tidal curve I know all about to make sure I leave enough line so not to be the only boat hanging from the wall when I get back from my sojourn ashore. If the wall is full I can always raft up alongside another boat, nice, they have done all the hard work. Alternatively I could sail onto a hand pick-up or lasso mooring buoy, not to mention the joys of getting myself safely and securely onto the trots, although I have to confess I have never seen the benefit of being a stones throw away from the shore but still having to blow up your dinghy to get that 10 metres across the water.

In and around British coastal waters you must take tide into account if you want to successfully navigate to a destination and arrive at that place on a timely basis, the all important factor when trying to keep your crew happy.  You will need to check the depth of water in the area in which you are sailing, will I have enough depth over the bar to get into the river and when will I have enough depth to get back out ? Happy days, I spent hours learning how to do this in theory now I get to put it into practice and the whole thing starts to make perfect sense.

Along the way you will see many other sailing vessels (STARBOARD, STARBOARD), in the Solent you can add to that commercial passenger vessels of all shapes and sizes, vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre, vessels constrained by their draft, fishing vessels, military vessels and all manner of small sailing dinghies and other small water craft. This also results in a fair amount of radio traffic, and whilst the SRC VHF radio course is a separate one, as part of the Day Skipper course we have, to a degree, covered the DSC VHF radio and it’s use, so actually hearing a Mayday or a Pan pan over the radio is very often a new experience for Day Skipper candidates but unfortunately in the Solent quite a frequent occurrence.

Almost there, just two more areas I would like to mention the first being buoyage, from leaving the marina it starts, you will be surrounded by lateral buoyage, once in the main body of the Solent you will see every Cardinal Mark many special marks marks which incorporate tidal gauges, isolated danger marks and fairway marks. What’s left to see, ah yes that emergency wreck mark, you may get to see this, they carry one on the back of the Trinty House vessel which lays and checks marks around the south coast.

Finally weather, what shall I say, I have found that people coming back from having done their course in the Med have not perhaps experienced the very varied weather we have in the UK, trimming the sail correctly on all points of sail and knowing when and how to reef have often been found wanting. That is not to say that the weather we have allows for a perfect course here every time, my frequent gripe of “all or nothing” is often the case.

So I guess you know my feelings on the subject, suffice to say if someone offered me a space on a yacht in Greece tomorrow I would be on a plane in the next two hours !!! (If I was allowed the time off !!)

If you don’t see it in the Solent you probably won’t see it anywhere – what do you think?

First Graduates of Nomad 1

Posted: 9 April 2011 by Jim Barden in News, Training

Nomad 1,  launched on 25th March, and she did a grand job of hosting her first group of students.  Well done to Debs, Pete (the knot) and Pete (not the knot) for completing and passing their Day Skipper qualification with flying colours.  They are now free to skipper their own or chartered boat, very exciting sailing opportunities ahead.   Debs is now more confident to share the skippering and navigation on her own boat, and Pete and Pete are going to charter in the Med and take Nomad 1 out for a spin on their own sometime this summer.

Well done to Liz and Anna also, who completed and passed the Competent Crew course.  They are now more than useful as crew and helm.  Great preparation for a trip to the BVI’s this week and hopefully on to become Skippers.

Nomad 1 is out this weekend practicing boat handling in the sun, as a refresher for a crew of Day Skippers that qualified last year.

What is a Competent Crew?

Posted: 7 March 2011 by Jim Barden in Training
Vessal seen from below

Image via Wikipedia

Through experience or through completing an RYA Competent Crew Course, a Competent Crew is one who is able to operate as a useful crew member in the day-to-day running of a yacht.  This includes being able to prepare the lines for mooring and departing. Hoisting the sails, and trimming them to the best ange for the wind.  Reefing (reducing) sail when the wind is too strong, and dropping them when the sailing is over.

You will also be capable of taking the helm when sailing or under power, and know how keep a good lookout.  The competent crew course also covers the main safety aspects, as well as some maintenance and repairs.  Getting to know the nautical terminology is all part of it too!  To find out more or to book a course , have a look at our course info and dates.