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The ocean's colour seen

Rory Dowling was dubious about a holiday aboard a 70ft ketch. But it taught him about the sea, and those upon it

I didn't really want to go at first. When Dad suggested that I should go on some strange sailing holiday with the Ocean Youth Club, it sounded very daunting. I had only been sailing a couple of times. I didn't know what it would be like, I didn't know who I would be sailing with, and I didn't know what the discipline would be like, or if I would be seasick.

But then I received some advice from people who had been on OYC sailing holidays and hadn't been disappointed. They had got on well with the other sailors and crew of four.

The skipper of the yacht would never take people out in rough weather if he thought they couldn't handle it, either through their lack of knowledge about sailing or because they were frightened or seasick. I was due to sail for a week in July and, as the date got closer, I started to look forward to it.

I joined Taikoo, the OYC ketch, at Ullapool on the north-west coast. My first impression of her, when I first looked down from the harbour side, was her size. Even at 70 feet, she was smaller than I thought she would be and very different inside from what I had imagined. Below deck, room was limited. The bunks were cosy, though a bit narrow.

I had a good bunk in the mid-cabin which I shared with three other people. Our first jobs were to learn basic emergency routines like getting up on deck fast, and using life-jackets and other safety equipment. As we were carrying out these exercises, we got to know each other a little better. My first impression was that everyone seemed pretty friendly.

The 12 of us were organised into four "watches", each of which would be on twice a day. Every watch had a certain number of tasks. During the day, they had to stay up on deck, steering the ship, watching out for hazards and operating the sails for three hours.

At other times they might have to cook, wash up and tidy below and above deck, sometimes scrubbing the decks and making sure that everything was shipshape. At night, the three-hour watch was split between two pairs.

On board, it was hard to get on with everyone, because each person had different views on things. By the end of the week, I made many friends, but there were a few people with whom I didn't get on.

One of the friends was a man named Fergus, the second mate. He was very laid back and would listen to any problems I had. Fergus and I got on very well all through the week. One of the people I didn't get on with was my watch leader, one of the crew members. He was convinced that I would make a mess of things, so was always looking over my shoulder and telling me what to do, when I knew perfectly well what was expected of me. This led to tension between us. Looking back on it now, he wasn't so bad.

The whole point of the OYC sailing holidays is to teach people the skills needed to sail, starting from the basics on how the sails and navigational equipment work and what the galley procedures are.

A lot of time was spent in watch groups where we were told how to do things and then had to put them into practice. The watch leaders were looking out for things we were good at. They also looked out for people who could take control of the task in hand. On Taikoo I learned that it was important to work as a group and, to get something out of the holiday, I had to give something by helping everyone and being co-operative.

The first night on the yacht we anchored in a bay just outside Ullapool. The scenery was absolutely beautiful and the sea was like a millpond. The atmosphere was really pleasant, because everyone was getting on well and the weather was calm, so everything was fine.

The next day we had a long sail over the Minch to Harris, where we stayed the night in Tarbert, a small fishing village on the east coast of the island. The ferry comes into this village, where the cottages are built all along the quayside, making it a tourist attraction.

After leaving Tarbert, we visited various lochs and small islands. Three or four days later we did a night sail from Kyle of Lochalsh to Oban. On the way we received a mayday call from Taikoo's sister ship, Francis Drake, saying that her engine had failed and, because there was no wind, they couldn't sail. We had to pick her up and tow her to Oban, which delayed us by three hours.

For me, OYC was a very good experience which gave me a chance to make friends with people older than myself. To go on a holiday like this, you really have to get on with people and be good at group activities. It doesn't matter if you have never been sailing before, but you need to go for a smaller yacht such as Taikoo first.

If you are about 14 or 15, you can expect to meet some older and younger people, but most of them are really friendly and helpful. I can thoroughly recommend a holiday like this. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

A week on Taikoo costs around Pounds 300. For further information contact Barry Fisher at OYC Scotland, co KPMG, 24 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4QS, tel: 0141 300 5511 Rory Dowling is a 15-year-old pupil at Alford Academy, Aberdeenshire. He has now done two trips around the Hebrides on "Taikoo" and hopes to be accepted next time as a bo'sun

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