The art of sailing? Sit down and chill out

A unique share-a-yacht venture offers sailors a sociable way to test out their sea legs. Marcus Waring took the helm

'Nelson used to throw up all the time, so you'll be in good company if you get seasick," said my friend Charles. We were discussing my idea of sailing for the weekend in Cornwall on a 40ft Beneteau 393 Ocean Clipper. "Just remember to aim away from the wind or you'll get the helmsman in the face."

'Nelson used to throw up all the time, so you'll be in good company if you get seasick," said my friend Charles. We were discussing my idea of sailing for the weekend in Cornwall on a 40ft Beneteau 393 Ocean Clipper. "Just remember to aim away from the wind or you'll get the helmsman in the face."

I considered his words of warning when I later shook hands with David Triggs, owner of Golden Black and its five yachts and the person most likely to get egg on his face if I forgot the advice. Formerly a paramedic, David tired of his job and started messing about with boats. His new idea of "share-a-yacht" is unique, more sociable and cheaper than chartering an entire yacht for yourself. "And if we don't fill the other berth then that is our loss. A couple sometimes end up with a skippered yacht for the price of a cabin anyway."

Up to six guests, of all ages, can join one of David's boats at Falmouth for week-long voyages. And they are encouraged to help out: "People would pick a cruise liner if they didn't want to pull ropes," says David. The intermediate trips comprise coastal cruising, visiting local ports and anchorages. More experienced sailors can opt to visit France, the Channel Islands or the Isles of Scilly. We were due to head for the latter.

At about 8am, my fellow passenger, Miles, arrived and we motored out of the Pendennis Marina at Falmouth, past the new National Maritime Museum Cornwall. Yachts were heeling over in the harbour as we cruised at 5 knots, cormorants crossing the bow and the craggy, brown coastline unfolding to port. I went below briefly but was soon suffering waves of seasickness. "The best thing to do is take the helm", suggested Miles, who told me "the art of sailing is finding the most comfortable place to sit and chill out". Helming did the trick - a small enough task to let you switch off, taxing enough to keep worries and nausea at bay.

Four hours and 23 nautical miles later lay Fowey, childhood home of Daphne du Maurier. The Spanish used to chase ships in here, but the English would pull up a hidden chain between the two forts at the harbour entrance and blow them to pieces with cannons. Hilaire Belloc had a better time of it. "The harbour of harbours ... it ought to be a kingdom all of its own. In Fowey, all is courtesy and good reason for the chance sailing man."

It may be the novelty of terra firma or the prospect of the best moules marinières for miles around at Sam's restaurant, but we had a spring in our step. The quay is perfect for post-lunch entertainment - in this case a bench full of daytrippers were being menaced for their chips by three enormous gulls - before committing yourself to the sea once more.

A storm was brewing on the darkening horizon and listening to the shipping forecast was becoming a ritual. As we raced back to Falmouth to take shelter, our destination, the Isles of Scilly were now unreachable - the required weather window of three good days had slammed shut. But aren't customers determined to reach their blue waters?

"A 78-year old German lady and an Englishwoman wanted to head there when it was rough once," David recalled. "They were both being sick, I couldn't see land in the fog, and I needed to check the charts. They soon said they wanted to turn back."

The advantages of having a skipper become evident when David talked about the compass adjuster. "He comes aboard and lists the magnetic deviation of the compass caused by metal parts on the boat. From this he creates a deviation card which is used for navigation."

The nightime murmur of water against the hull had turned to an insistent slapping by dawn - the wind was up. After some queasy pitching and rolling outside the harbour, I took the wheel, battling to keep on course in a Force 7 gusting 8.

Turning east towards the lighthouse, the view was of roller coaster waves, wind howling like banshees through the rigging as the hull rose and fell. Spray shot down David's ear with stunning accuracy.

It was pure exhilaration; the comfortable living space below bizarrely at odds with the scene on deck. The achievements of Ellen MacArthur et al come sharply into focus when you experience something like this. These conditions were nerve-racking enough but imagine 20ft waves, icebergs, broken equipment and sheer lack of underwear in the Southern Ocean. Hell must taste of salt. As we turned back, fleeing up the narrow Truro river estuary, the near-gale gradually faded to a memory in the treetops. We moored beside three other boats on a wooden pontoon at a fork in the quiet river. Miles pulled out the Zodiac inflatable and its tiny engine and we went exploring instead.

Melancholic rain fell all afternoon. We passed the houses of a village called Malpas arranged on the bank, silently gazing out over the sombre river and its herons. Soon the water was too low for the propeller so we paddled absent-mindedly, revelling in a journey to nowhere. It was very Apocalypse Now and there was talk of Kurtz and imagined drumming in the dripping woods.

The next day, we were woken by rain thumping on the yacht's deck. Our Scillies voyage now out of the question, we cruised along the estuary. Cows were grazing on the steep fields that come almost to the water, where oak and dark rock meet.

A fisherman and his father were dredging for oysters in a haul-tow punt, pulling themselves back up to an anchor in their small wooden craft, the son winding the creaking wooden handle. "Keeps you warm," he joked, as the handle made another turn across the water.

Fifteen minutes later we had returned to civilisation. The world beyond the estuary had endured the storm and the sun and breeze had cleared the sky.

On the train back to London, another piece of advice from Miles came to mind. "The enjoyment of the first drink is in direct proportion to the sailing experience."

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Marcus Waring travelled to Falmouth with First Great Western (0845-7000 125; www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk). Return fares start from £34 if booked at least seven days in advance. Flexible tickets start from £64 return.

Golden Black (01209-715 757; www.goldenblack.co.uk) offers 'Share-a-boat' yacht charters from £395 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes a skipper, breakfast and lunch, refreshments, mooring and harbour fees and fuel.

Further information

Cornwall Tourist Board (01872- 322 900; www.cornwalltouristboard.co.uk. Alternatively, go to www.visitsouthwest.co.uk.

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