Back in Cawsand Bay we be, we merry three, Rich, Gwen and me, and about time too. We returned to the marina and work and all the things those entailed for over a month, and we’ll be back up to our bloody ears in both once winter takes hold. So it’s time for escape.

Preparations were ambitious and have fallen short of the inevitable list, but are adequate for our intended jaunt (we hope). A couple of weeks ago in a rare sunny August Saturday, a very tired and grumpy Rich did some repairs on Ren and tinkered with Gwen’s fittings. To save myself from his all-seeing moaning eye I blasted out Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds while finally taking the plunge and painting Gwen’s name on either side of the hull. From a printed out mock-up of an idea (a tidied-up version of my own handwriting) I measured a grid in chalk then cautiously guessed at the letters within it, praying all the time “don’t miss out a letter”, “don’t fall and smudge it”. Not helping was the fact that I was leaned over precariously from a nearby pontoon, holding myself up on the rubbing strake. Fortunately, as the tide disappeared, I slipped my kayak between me and the boat and then jumped in once it was mud-bound, standing upright in the unholy Southdown gloop until the job was done.

Gwen, girl, kayak, mud.

Gwen, girl, kayak, mud.

The other side, at the aft end of the boat, was much more accessible and quick to complete with my newly practiced sign writing skills. There were typographical inaccuracies (the x height is different on either side of her because I measured one side wrong) but otherwise I was pretty pleased, although it seems ridiculous to have had to name Gwen at all. Neither Rich nor myself are legally required to display our identities.

The National Fireworks championships take place in Plymouth every year and it was always our intention to motor off and see them from the sea on Gwen this year. The weather pointed to the Tuesday show as our best hope for a clear passage and view, and we invited a few colleagues and friends along for the ride.

It’s funny having new, perhaps less boaty, people on board. Ben, a chef at the Canteen, was clearly impressed as I rowed out in Ren to pick him up from the beach, and then over the course of the evening more colleagues voiced their surprise as I drove the boat, used technical boaty words, leapt about the deck getting things done. Rather bizarrely, I think that despite having known full well that I live and have sailed on a boat, they didn’t really get that I had to know how to use a lot of it until then. I’m not sure what that says about me at work! Rich found it amusing that they asked permission before going inside “you wouldn’t do that if you were round someone’s house, would you?”. It was great to have them there, and the last ferries taking them back to the land gave us a chance to play with phosphorescence off Edgecumbe’s Barn Pool, with sparkling lights spreading from fingers draped off the dinghy. Finally, after Rich impressed me with a shimmering wee over Gwen’s side, I amused him no end by manoeuvring myself in to an awkward position between bits of the push pit and insisting on urinating magical glitter myself.

Gorgeous people and good drinks

How to watch spectacles in style

Taking photographs of fireworks: not as good as watching fireworks.

Taking photographs of fireworks: not as good as watching fireworks.

The next morning I woke with predictable misery to a particularly nasty hangover which didn’t disappear. It didn’t leave the next day when we went back the marina. By the Friday I had to take a day off work as I was too exhausted to do much at all and felt faint and sick whenever I moved, particularly if I walked. I expected it was some sort of fatigue, as I’d probably overdone it a bit of late – on days when I hadn’t worked full-out on lengthy, busy shifts I’d been trying to extend my training runs – but even once the tiredness passed this dizziness remained. A few days later, after an attempt at a shift had me feeling woozy within an hour, I went to the doctor and discovered that I have labyrinthitis. Insert David Bowie codpiece joke here.

So, my inner ear has this virus where I can’t walk for more than ten minutes, often less, without feeling like I’m going to puke or faint. It’s getting a bit better and the puking/fainting feeling has softened to an almost bearable wobble, but nonetheless work seems impossible and I’ve been signed off for another week. Sitting still or standing slightly propped up seem no problem, and mooching around the boat has been frustrating but without serious discomfort. As you might imagine, Rich was concerned that I might be made ill by our proposed voyages for this week, but so far, so good. In fact, as the beginning stages of our holiday went, an inflamed inner ear was the least of our problems.

Ren had to be left behind as she was splitting new leaks every time we moved her around. Fortunately, Rich was able to borrow Rosy Primrose, a tiny pink dinghy with a wonderful history. Chris Rees built it for his daughter Kezzy as a reward for swimming the width of the Guadiana when she was six, and since then it has taught rowing to a number of little kids. We tied Rosy up to Gwen when Rich’s mum came to visit yesterday, took her and her husband Chris on board and made the necessary moves to begin leaving the marina.

I was on the tiller to begin with, reversing awkwardly out of our spot across in to another to try and turn Gwen round so we could go out forwards. This wasn’t working so I started softly trudging the route backwards with Rich calling almost inaudible commands from the other end of a boat running a pretty noisy engine. Steering was hard, with prop walk and tide working against me and pulling us towards port, and I was glad when Rich came to take over. It looked as though we were going to make it out when I noticed Rosy off to the side, drifting towards a boat we were nearing. I pulled her in to Gwen and told Rich what I was doing, but that was when we were both made suddenly aware of the next and final boat in the row, which stuck out a little further.

There was some crunching, some swearing and stunned, horrified silence from on board as Rosy was dragged through the small space between Gwen and the boat, half ripping its boarding ladder from the transom and bending the metal dramatically. Though Rosy looked fine, the sound of splitting had been unmistakable and during the next few moments in which I returned to the tiller and got us in to the channel a guilty, sad distress flooded both our brains. “I feel sick” said Rich. “I know” I replied. That precious bloody boat, in our hands.

The not-inlaws were on board, though, and we had places to go, so I tried to keep the mood light. We made our way out of the Tamar and towards Cawsand with all the sails up because even though there was no wind we were sure there must be some somewhere on the way, and we had told Lucy and Chris we were going for a sail. Though that never happened they enjoyed the boat trip, and when we found our anchorage in the bay I insisted Rich do all the phoning he could to put his mind at rest. Fortunately there was little more than a single split plank on Rosy and she has been working just great as a tender ever since.

My own mother was at a wedding in Cremyll at the same time, and got this shot of us pretending to sail.

My own mother was at a wedding in Cremyll at the same time, and got this shot of us pretending to sail.

That’s why Rich had to row ashore ridiculously early this morning to go and start repairs on a boarding ladder, and why we’re going to be fixing a six year old (now sixteen year old) girl’s dinghy as part of our holiday, and why we’re going to paint the dinghy over the winter when we fix our own. It’s the least we can do. And now we can go away feeling only eversoslightly awful about the whole bloody thing. Lesson learned (always put the tender on deck), crab eaten, pints drunk, parents enjoyed.



On the much better side of things, this afternoon provided much needed rest and tomorrow we start our two week holiday on Gwen. We’re going to try and get her as far down the south coast of Cornwall as we can, perhaps even to the Scillies. Where doesn’t really matter. It’s a practice run for running away, and it’s our last yahoo before the hard work and darkness of winter. I’ll let you know how it goes.

PS If you want to see a real idiot, here’s me, just awake, testing out an old lifejacket before Rich replaced the canister last week:


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