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A Corporate Day Out

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30 September 2010

Sue McAlinden recently had an adventure on the high seas courtesy of Getabed. This is her hair-raising report.

If an invitation like this pops into your inbox it’s hard to resist.

"We’d be delighted if you joined us as one of seven to crew a luxury yacht in the ’Mauritius Cup’ sailing race during the TravelMole Travel Yacht Regatta on Fri 10th September 2010. Participants will enjoy a day of hospitality and exhilarating entertainment. Your day will start at the Royal Southern Yacht Club where breakfast will be provided during the regatta briefing, followed by a short sail to get familiar with the yacht and your own professional skipper. You don’t have to have sailing experience to enjoy this fantastic day!!

To win the ’Mauritius Cup’, you will be racing in three separate legs against seven other teams from the travel industry. The teams will enjoy lunch at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club followed by more entertainment within Cowes. At the end of the day you will journey back to the mainland via ferry and transfer to Southampton where we have booked a hotel so you can continue celebrating your win long into the night."

I did check with Mark from Getabed three times to make sure he hadn’t picked the wrong Sue in his email contacts, but he was adamant that I would make an excellent contribution to their team.

That was back in May and I made sure I was fully prepared - I bought a great pair of deck shoes, watched endless clips of boating disasters on YouTube (Tony Bullimore’s experience was a particular favourite), and found my hip flask. I also gave up any form of exercise and put on a stone, but Mark was eternally optimistic with promises of 23 degrees, clear blue skies, champagne and strawberries.

The fact that it had been lashing down with rain for the best part of a week did not bode well and Friday Sep 10 dawned with heavy grey clouds and a ‘brisk’ wind that might provide ‘some challenges.’ We were, however, assured that it would be an ‘excellent days racing’ and our team were certainly optimistic after being allocated a sensible looking skipper (Robin) and already winning the style stakes after donning some rather chic Getabed fleece’s.

Safety briefing went well and we were the first to leave the dock. The sheltered bay enabled us to get the sails up with little incident and some even felt confident enough to let go of the side with one hand to have a cigarette. It wasn’t until the skipper went below deck and re-emerged in head-to-toe wet-weather gear that we thought we might be in for a rougher ride than expected.

We hit open water - a more accurate description is that the water hit us - as we took up our practice positions. Richard (Flightcentre), Alison (Freedom Travel) and I were to make our way from one side of the boat as we tacked and changed course. What this actually meant was we had 3 seconds to crawl on our stomachs across the top of the boat (avoiding the boom) with nothing to hold onto while the boat went through a 180 degrees swing - oh, and the wind was now at Force 7.

Several dry (WET) runs later we had it nailed and I’d got over the shock of racing along at an angle that often left you up to your knees in water.

The yachts lined up at the starting point, bucking and snorting like horses at the start of the Grand National. Word had got through that due to deteriorating weather conditions there was only going to be two races, so it was vital that we had a strong start.

Like Usain Bolt we were ready, the horn, Robin the skipper counted down 3,2,1 to tack then ... DISASTER. I lost my grip as the boat tipped and elegantly slid across the top of the boat into the murky depths of the Solent.

At this point I have to say ignorance is bliss. The water was surprisingly warm and as I surfaced I was delighted that my sunglasses were still on the top of my head and my contact lenses were still intact. I could see the yacht in the distance but felt secure in the knowledge that I’d heard someone shout ‘man overboard,’ they knew I’d gone and would be back shortly to pick me up. Little did I know of the chaos that was unfolding on board.

After a minute of treading water, and thinking that it was rather harder than anticipated, I realised that my lifejacket hadn’t inflated. Still, no need to panic, I found the yellow toggle and pulled - whoosh - that was better!

The yacht kept disappearing in the rather large waves, but I assumed that being high up they could easily spot me. I later found out that this wasn’t the case and they kept loosing me (as I said ignorance was bliss).

During the ensuing panic on board, a sail had loosened and a rope had twisted around the wheel leaving the remaining crew struggling desperately to get the boat back under control while also trying to get hold of the support rib boat.

I waved cheerfully as the yacht eventually passed me once, then twice. The third time they got close enough to shout that they would get me on the next turn. I waved and gave them the thumbs up ... no worries! But a combination of their speed and my worsening condition forced me to wonder if rescue was actually a possibility and I looked to see how far it was to swim to land.

Finally the support rib approached the yacht and after lots of gesturing and pointing, they spotted me and raced over. A rope was hurled and I was hauled unceremoniously aboard.

Up until that point I was under the naive impression that ‘man overboard’ was a fairly common occurrence, wrong again - I have the dubious honour of being the first person they’ve lost overboard in 12 years of operating. Everyone was absolutely horrified. I was more mortified when I realised I didn’t have any dry clothes with me.

We decided not to risk trying to get me back on board and instead headed for sanctuary on the IOW, where I spent the rest of the day in a blokes track suit bottoms, another guys shirt and a bizarre coat -the final humiliation.

It was only later that it dawned on me that I had been bobbing around a fairly major shipping channel, pretty much invisible with only my faith in the fact that ‘there were so many boats around someone would pick me up’ to console me. At the time this theory didn’t include that some of these blighters were HUGE and FAST and the chances of them seeing me were absolutely nil.

Needless to say, despite a valiant attempt, the Getabed yacht came in last. As they say though, no publicity is bad publicity, and we were the talk of the event. I did have a little chuckle when everyone surreptitiously checked for life jackets on our return journey on the Red Funnel ferry to Southampton - where we checked into our hotel and had a very large, very stiff drink. The moral of this story? Never believe the hype and ALWAYS travel with a FULL set of spare clothes.

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