They say there’s nothing as boring as hearing other people’s dreams, but having endured long sessions of photo flipping hell I know that it can be topped by being force fed other people’s holidays. With that in mind, in advance: sorry. We’ve just got back to the marina after a few days of sunshiny bliss and now I’m going to smear it all over your face like a Bugsy Malone cream pie. There are ups, there are downs, there are tears and scenes of moderate violence, but there’s an awful lot of “it was so great”. You’ve been warned.
We start where I last left off. On day two, Sunday, in Cawsand Bay, I had to go to work. Rich rowed me ashore in the morning mist and I made my way up the hill with a springy step, giddy as a kipper, looking back down at the boat with awe and pride. And lo, I walked straight in to the jaws of a frantic, short-staffed nine hour Sunday shift. By the end, I had almost forgotten that I was the happiest girl in the world and oh man, I needed a drink.
Fortunately so did everyone I worked with, and we piled down to Cawsand to raise a glass under Gwen’s watch. Richard was in the square to greet us, already squiffy after a swift cider, and full of stories of his fantastic day’s sailing with Nick S. “Oh darling, I just need to rest a moment” I implored, but the tales spilled forth with increasing excitement and speed. By the time we were all plonked in the grit grey sand of the beach I turned to a colleague: “I’m so so glad he’s had a good day but I do wish he’d fuck off”. We laughed. I drank. Soon it began to be alright, and I was genuinely delighted to hear that he’d learned to heave to, that they’d found and fixed the problem of Ren’s daggerboard casing spouting water when being towed, and that Gwen continued to be as balanced and sail as beautifully as she had the day before.
On Monday we both worked, which meant that we had to row out early as Rich starts an hour or two before I do. I arrived at The Canteen in time to have had a shower, done the laundry and got a coffee on the go long before my colleagues arrived. Mondays are always easier, the day flew by, and returning to Gwen in the evening was as lovely as could be. Though we slept in a new, bouncy world, much more violent in its movement than any strong winded night in the marina, we were completely acclimatised. Every rock sent us further towards much needed sleep, with three days off to look forward to.
Tuesday held a blazing beauty of a morning, and like Kal El I was super powered by earth’s yellow sun. After a quick coffee and breakfast I took Ren ashore, went for a three mile run around Penlee point and rowed back to Gwen with a fresh glow in the face. As we don’t have the shower plumbed in yet I opted for a dip in the sea, leaping from Ren as soon as she was tied up. Splash, submersion, return to the sky. The sensation of an ice-cube down the back covered my whole body, and I yelped screaming laughter between the precious breaths I was struggling to regain. From the deck Richard instructed me to swim a lap of the boat. “I… aaaaagh… can’t!… hahaha… oh crap!” Eventually I managed to wipe my armpits with a near-numb hand, splash around a bit in something resembling breast stroke and plonk myself back over Ren’s stern like a stranded seal. That should have been enough excitement for one day, but that was when we decided to set sail for Looe.
I should have rested a bit more and drunk a whole lot more water, but the sun was still shining so sense flew out the window. I made my first error while Rich was pulling the anchor up, tying off the tiller so I could check the chain was falling well in to the anchor locker and scaring the crap out of him when he looked up to see me gone. Communication, always… I should have known, and though I felt his admonishment with a sting I knew he was right. As we sailed out in to choppier waters the Westerly wind seemed to shift from behind the headland to where it swooped through over the beach, and in my fatigued state on the tiller I turned to Rich for guidance. Things got frustrating when he gave directions but then assumed I would change course with the wind – I have been told to go one way, I’m not going to start going the other however much it makes sense – and I felt like my abilities were being challenged and fell in to a dehydrated silent brood.
So far, so grumpy, but still functional. Realising I could choose my own route I bore away to catch the wind, and boy, did I catch it. At that moment, in the now lumpy sea which the sun had suddenly forgone, the wind hurtling round the headland of Penlee made its appearance and heeled us over to an angle neither of us had known on Gwen. I used my whole body weight on the tiller to try and keep our course, groaning with its power and yelping with surprise, and my facade of calmness flew away on the gusts. I started crying, not knowing I was gripped by panic until it was pouring from my face. More than the wind, the wash, the angle of the boat slamming in to wave after wave, it was the feeling that I was doing this all wrong that sent me over the edge. The idea that I should be able to cope and couldn’t combined with the new and fearsome task seemed too much. Richard leapt round the deck, doing I can’t remember what to try and guide the three sails to sanity and hitting his elbow in the process. I was sobbing in moaning wheezes as my attempts to round up lifted a luff but still had us heeling over dramatically, and when we finally gave up, tacked and headed back to the bay my body, brain and tear ducts took a while to recover from their exertion. Rich went from frustration to consolation and kept a kind distance while I chugged orange squash in to my sad, drying brain.
They say you should always get back on the horse or the bike straight away, but then again, they say a lot of old crap. A good rest and a rethink were needed and though the trip to Looe was looking unlikely we decided that it would be best to have another sail to show ourselves it could be done. Two reefs were put in the mainsail and one in the staysail, the jib was abandoned and so was sailing off the anchor. Reluctant but determined, we motored off and then headed out in to that same choppy sea with that same wind waiting for us round the corner. Here came the waves, bouncy enough to dip the bowsprit more than once, and here came the wind, now sweeping in to a much smaller area of sail. Rich removed the reef from the staysail after I struggled to keep us off the wind, and that stopped it being overpowered by the main and returned more steering power to my now-tired arms. The differences from the first sail were sharp – we had a manageable boat and I had a much better frame of mind. I whooped as we pushed into waves and carried on in the direction of the mewstone, returning to shore only when we both felt a bit peckish and perhaps in need of a “first crap sail” beer. It was agreed that we had righted our earlier wrongs but, hey, on Wednesday, we would rest.
And so we did, pootling back and forth to shore to get some shopping or have a poo, tinkering on deck when the sun was out, yabbering to Nick in his passing dinghy and generally taking it easy in our heavenly surroundings. We moved Gwen closer to the shore and made salads and watched a pirate show on Rich’s tablet as we waited for guests we’d invited to call from the beach. Finally, after three years, we were to have our boat warming party.
People who have helped us get where we are were there to wish us well – Eliot who sold us the boat, Jo who he owned it with, Chris who carried the mast and along with Nick has provided us with untold advice, and other local loves. We had 14 people aboard at one point, aiding Nick in a decades old tradition of adding their scores out of ten and comments to his rum testing catalogue. Seasoned sailors and landlubbers alike, there was a clear sense that these people were impressed that caused Rich and I to take a step back and appreciate what we had achieved. Eliot’s gobsmacked joy touched me the most, and when he begged to be taken on her next sail I was happy to agree.
The next day we sailed home early, back to the real world (where the boat barely bobs) and a warm shower. I manoeuvred us in to our birth in such a way that I ended up vaguely annoyed and Rich was overwhelmingly impressed. I still can’t figure it out but he keeps telling me how brilliantly I did it so I daren’t argue. Back to plan our next adventure and work like hell until we can have it.
I have learned a lot in these few days out in the real water. I have learned how to tie reefs in the main, to understand the shipping forecast and make plans (albeit overoptimistic ones in this case) based on its data, to ferry myself about and leave the dinghy safe at either end. I have relearned a lot of knots I had already been shown but have forgotten through underuse, and I’ve gained experience that allows me to muck in more intuitively when all manner of things need doing. I haven’t been seasick, or fallen overboard, or crashed in to anything. I’ve had my first bad sail on Gwen and through that learned with Rich how to balance the boat and cope with heavier winds. And somewhere in it all I’ve had a fantastic holiday on my doorstep, and tasted the life that will one day be just that – life, not a holiday at all.