It was a bright but cloudy morning on Sunday 24th September 2000 when Anne and I set off from Branston for our first sail on Sophie. We had arranged to meet our friend, Chris Shearer, at Rutland Sailing Club by 0930 and we arrived in plenty of time. Having paid our sailing fee for the day we met up with Chris and his 2 boys, William aged nearly 11 and Elliot aged 5.
Anne, Chris and I set about rigging Sophie while Elliot and William drowned a few stones from Rutlands shore. Within an hour Sophie was on the water and ready for casting off. The wind was a steady 8 knots and with picnic baskets and full ship's compliment aboard we hoisted the main, unfurled the genoa and left the pontoon.
We carefully picked our way through the moorings at Rutland's West Creek and soon we were in open water on a broad reach. Chris had brought along his GPS and I was very surprised to see that we were maintaining our speed around 3.7 knots despite the light winds. Sophie quickly proved that all of the reports I had read abouts Mantas were true.
She was certainly well balanced and responsive. The helm was very light and without holding the tiller she held her course even when heeled in the occasional puffs. We sailed on avoiding the racing fleets and everyone had a turn at the helm, even little Elliot who preferred to sail a more varied course.
There was plenty of room in the cockpit for the 5 of us and when not at the helm the boys were up on the fore deck watching the waves roll out from the bow.
We were soon on the far side of Rutland and approaching the limit of sailing. We gybed around and headed down towards the dam. For a few minutes the wind picked up slightly as a dark cloud passed by overhead and we were cruising at 4.5 knots. There were plenty of other cruisers and day boats out and we were easily holding our own.
The wind began to die off a bit and Chris broke out the rations in the cabin for the ravenous crew. Anne took the helm and I just relaxed watching the shore gliding by. While Anne and I had our lunch Chris and the boys continued our progress but the wind was gradually decreasing. Chris and the boys had to leave by 2 pm for a cub scouts party so at 1245 we began our journey back.
By 1350 we were back at the pontoon with the first drops of rain sending ripples across Rutland's surface. We recovered Sophie back on to the trailer, said goodbye to Chris and set about de-rigging as the heavens opened. We left Rutland just after 1500, wet and bedraggled but very satisfied with our first experience on the water with Sophie.
The journey home turned out to be quite an event. We were just over half way home on the A153 between Ancaster and Sleaford. As we approached the A15 by Sleaford there was an almighty, heart-stopping bump followed by a grating, scraping sound from behind the car. As I spun my head to look behind I caught sight of a wheel bounce up the kerb, pass the car and, much to my relief, enter the hedge 200 yards down the road. We stopped and after brief pause we went to have a look at what had happenned. Sophie was fine and sitting properly on the trailer; no damage done there thank goodness. The near-side trailer studs were still intact but there was no sign of the wheel nuts. I did not check them when we left Rutland so can not say whether they had shaken loose during the journey or been pinched while we were out sailing. They were certainly there when we left Branston as I had seen them when I checked the tyre pressures. It is something I have added to my check list for all future outings. The trailer was undamaged but I found that I had left my bottle jack at home (highlighted on check list for next outing). We called the AA and eventually Sophie was recovered back to Branston at 2030.
All in all it was a long day but well worth it. We both learned a few things the hard way but we can't wait to get out sailing again.