Sailing Around Ireland
For years I have dreamed of learning to sail. I’m fascinated by the sailing lifestyle. The ability to take your home around the world using only wind? I mean come on. Who can’t get on board with that? There are so many ideas at play that I just love: minimalism, freedom, adventure and the great outdoors. Literally going with the flow, to wherever the wind takes you. It takes everything I love about living out of my backpack and adds the one thing missing, a home and all the comforts that go along with it.
OK cool, so how does someone (me) with zero experience trick a boat owner into letting them on their boat, and teach them how to sail?
Well kids, settle down and let me explain below…
It was the Summer of 2015 and my #1 priority was to find a boat… And so began my months of research.
I quickly determined that sailing courses were too expensive, about $800/week. I thought this was unnecessary, since I wanted to see if I even liked the lifestyle before forking over all that $$ for a certificate.
Most online sources kept pointing me towards Find a Crew.com*. This site basically connects crew with boats in need, and vice verse. So I made a profile and began scouring the various listings around the world.
Many of listings required I pay $40-50/day to join, since I was without any experience. Then after weeks of searching I came across a boat in Ireland that lined up with my travels perfectly. Captain Paul was in search of a helpful hand sailing around Ireland. All he asked was that I split costs and in exchange he would teach me to sail. That’s the one… I was in.
(*This is not a paid endorsement for FindaCrew.net. Unless they want to pay me, then it is)
I had very little info on what I was actually getting myself into. All I knew was that it sounded good enough to commit and that was enough for me.
I find that when committing to adventures like these, the more you know before, the greater your chance of becoming disappointed. In this case it turned out to be an excellent choice, because almost nothing went as planned.
Of course, if I was told beforehand that at some point on this journey I was going to fear for my life, well then… maybe I would have reconsidered. This actually happened two separate times.
And so my journey to Ireland began…
3 flights, 3 buses, 3 trains and 3 days later I made it from northern Israel to western Ireland and BOOM, there I was, standing on the dock with Captain Paul. (I had been backpacking around the world for about a year at this point.)
Soon after arriving I was told that, 1) The weather might prevent us from setting sail for the next 4 days and, 2) I would be bunking up with Vladimir, the 6’6″ Russian. Let the adventure begin!
We spent the next few days getting to know each other and the local pub scene.
Pub on the left, hardware store on the right.
After 4 days of restlessness and Vladimir pushing for us to sail, we left the harbor. Vladimir had now been there for 6 days and had spent the entire time trapped in the harbor. He had come all the way from Russia to sail. Because of this we risked the weather and decided to spend the afternoon sailing around a chain of nearby islands. These plans, however, would not come to fruition.
Soon after leaving the harbor we were faced with 5-6 foot swells, which made our sailing lessons nearly impossible.
Captain Paul didn’t look well. He told me to take the wheel, while he leaned over the side of the boat looking as though he was about to puke. He decided it was best that we turn around. He began giving directions to pull in the jib and prepare to turn the boat around to head back into the safety of the harbor.
His voice began slurring and stuttering and he froze. Vladimir and I looked frantically at him, not knowing what to do. With the sails down the boat bobbed and swayed violently with the waves. We had to make quick decisions, yet we didn’t know what to do.
I began calling out, “PAUL. PAUL. ARE YOU OK? WHAT DO WE DO PAUL?”
His legs began buckling and I realized he was losing consciousness.
I held him up against the wheel, trying to stay calm. Paul had told me that years ago he suffered from a stroke, which altered the course of his life. I began to panic inside.
Was he dying? I don’t even know how to operate the radio to call for help let alone know how to steer the boat to safety.
The boat began to roll with the waves. Tossing us around and bringing us quickly towards the sheer rock cliffs which loomed hundreds of feet over us.
We didn’t have 20 minutes. We didn’t have 5. We had moments to figure this out.
It seemed like 10 minutes, but it was probably 2 before Paul began to recover. His eyes came back into focus and he gripped the wheel. We waited another minute or two. “WHAT DO WE DO PAUL?”.
He spoke… “Turn the key, push the ignition button over there. Secure the jib.”
The engine started and I turned the boat toward the harbor. We sat Paul down until he regained his composure.
At dinner that night he asked what had happened. He couldn’t remember. He explained to us that he thinks he accidentally took a double dose of his blood thinner medication, which caused him to black out.
I probably should have left after that, but I had flown across the world for this, and I reallllly wanted to sail.
As one of my adventure role model, Yvon Chiounard says, “Adventure is when everything goes wrong. That’s when the adventure starts.”
This is ultimately what I was seeking: adventure. I’m happy to say that I got exactly what I wanted.
The next day we said goodbye to Vladimir. He left without much sailing time, but he had stories to tell, and I think he was satisfied.
The weather had calmed and we decided to give it another shot.
We left the harbor that afternoon, hoping to sail through the night.
As we motored out toward open seas suddenly our propeller seized. We glanced back and quickly realized we had gotten caught up in a huge fishing net. AHHHHH!!! There was nothing we could do. It had gotten stirred up in yesterdays weather. It could have happened to anyone.
Our only choice was to call the Coast Guard to save us. We probably had an hour before our boat would drift into the cliffs and we would have to abandon the ship.
40 minutes later they came to our rescue. They tied us up and dragged us back to the same damn dock. There we were again.
Now we had to deal with this massive net. Our choice was to either hire someone to dive under the boat and cut us free, this would take who knows how long, or we could try it ourselves.
Of course, I volunteered to give it a shot. I grabbed a knife, snorkel and mask, and jumped in. The water was probably 40 degrees fahrenheit (4 celsius). I began diving under the boat, pulling and cutting, pulling and cutting.
I didn’t last long before my core began to go numb. I might be a bit fearless at times, but I’m not stupid.
I hopped out and suggested I ask the nearby scuba diving shop if I could borrow a wetsuit.
The scuba shop obliged. I got back down there and began hacking away. Now I was having fun and felt a great sense pride in earning my keep. After 20 minutes of diving and hacking we were free!
The weather was calm, but it was late in the day and after another blow to our egos we decided to wait until the following morning.
This adventure now had 2 strikes against it. I told myself 3 strikes and I’m out. I’ll give it one more go, if anything else goes wrong I’m outta there.
The following morning we left at 6am. We sailed for 25 hours straight. We saw rainbows and dolphins. The sunset, the moon rose and after 25 hours we reached Galway, right as the sun was rising.
It was everything I hoped for. We took turns at the wheel every few hours. At night we took turns sleeping. We were sailing!!
We hungout in Galway for the day and then continued north the next day.
Unfortunately I had places to be, and after nearly 2 weeks with Captain Paul and sailing vessel Agus I had to continue on with my journey.
I’m forever grateful for this experience and my time with Captain Paul. I think of him from time to time.
The following year he sent me a message inviting me to join him onward to the Baltics. I had to pass, but I have no doubt we will run into each other again.