I woke in the Helford downcast and quiet. In the night I’d found myself on the moonlit deck, on serene water that caught distant swinging lights beneath the glorious streak of the milky way, miserable and despairing, unable to locate the source of the inescapable banging that had awoken me. Rich heard my desperate pulls on this rope and that and came out to sort out the anchor chain, which was the true source of the night’s noise, and we went back and slept. By morning my head swam with worry and complaint.
Is sailing really meant to be this hard? And if so, am I cut out for it? Is a holiday, or the dream life, really supposed to involve so much work, being told what to do for hour after hour in long wearying days, never getting anything quite right? What do I do if I don’t do the boat dream? What does Rich do if I don’t do the boat dream? My head itched from lack of washing, my face wore the kind of weird under-lit tan that you see on people who ski and my body ached from overuse.
We motorsailed to Falmouth because the wind was against us again. It was a short hop, taking only a couple of hours, and I spoke when spoken to, keeping my damn chin up so long as I didn’t have to speak. Once we found a mooring and got ashore we bumped in to Ben, a friend we know from home who was anchored across the river in his pretty catamaran. I feigned a grin and made excuses to get away. The need to wash overpowered everything else – Gwen’s shower tray is not yet plumbed in and we’d missed a chance at Mousehole, so it had been six days since we’d washed with more than a Sainsbury’s aloe vera face wipe.
Falmouth was already one of my favourite places, but this time it, and Ben, really saved my sanity. After washing in heavenly, life-giving warmth I ran away from Richard for some time alone, wrote postcards and talked about someone else’s problems online. We met up again and had a drink to perk ourselves up – Rich had a coffee while I went for an enormous bloody mary with a bacon stirrer. We slowly sunk a pint in The Jacob’s Ladder, a pub we’d fallen in love with the year before for its unusually decent music and deep sofas, and then made the half hour bimble to Penryn where Ben had told us there would be a jam of some sort in The Famous Barrel.
I’m not fond of jamming. Round our way “a jam” often consists of the same old faces, mostly on guitars, performing the same twenty or so plodding songs they did last week, and the week before that. Occasionally someone gets it in to their head that they’re the best thing ever and goes off on a five minute solo, or introduces a song that nobody else is equipped to join in with, and the joy of music deteriorates into a pissing contest. Everyone’s grinning as though they’re absolutely loving it and giving each other a lot of encouragement and yes, of course, I’m the terrible person for not appreciating it. But that’s the terrible person I am.
Here there were about ten people, armed with a variety of instruments. There were two accordions. Two. A banjo, a clarinet, a bhodran, a whistle, a couple of guitars and Ben in the middle on his fiddle. They played folk songs and instrumentals, and downed tools every now and then to belt out glorious harmonised shanties, all from the corner of a small, warm and welcoming pub. Outside in the fag breaks they told jokes and made merry, freely involving us in overlapping conversations, giggling and making recommendations. I loved each and every one of them by the time we three, Ben, Rich and I, staggered back to Falmouth and headed to Gwen for a whiskey nightcap under the power of Ben’s electric outboard motor. Everything was once again alright.
After one more day of rest on board by Falmouth it was time to move on. Sadly, we have to get home and even more sadly, the wind is still against us. Yesterday’s sail began with some pleasant experimentation in the art of sailing off the anchor and took us out of the bay in to what we hoped would be a lucky wind. This was not to be and from the angle we managed to cut against its ever mounting gusts it was clearly blowing straight in from where we wanted to be. After a few hours we tacked sharply towards the beach where we’d hoped to anchor that night, but when we finally got near it was not as sheltered as we’d hoped and we tacked back out around Dodman’s Point. The choice was simple – head on to Fowey or back to Falmouth – and really there was no choice at all. We sailed on.
Rich noticed a large group of birds up ahead taking advantage of whatever tasty shoal was beneath. We’ve found a lot of entertainment this week spotting individual distant gannets making their shocking vertical nosedives into the water, spraying a plume of white water behind them. But here we very quickly we found ourselves up close and among them en masse. “There one goes” we shouted “and there” – they were diving from on high right in front of the boat, closer than we’d ever seen them, accompanied by gulls and sheerwaters with their own less spectacular fishing techniques, so many that it was hard to decide where to look. Finally a young gannet dove right next to us on our port side, so close that we could see the shape of its sleek body as it pierced the water beneath the waves and the yellow of its face as it emerged with a fish in its mouth. It was amazing.
The wind was up by now, and the water was what’s known in our log book as “moderate” – read “choppy as fuck”, with waves bashing us every few seconds, veering the boat left and right and washing the slanted decks, and sometimes us, in great splashing bursts. On the tiller this was scary but manageable, but when off shift I found myself feeling tense and unwell. Inside the boat, where I was supposed to be resting, I put my head between my knees. The saloon was no longer my lounge, the galley no longer my kitchen – I was on some terrible drawn-out astronaut training exercise in which my whole world was tossed back up, down forward, left and right, in jolting motions that would be sort of circular if only they didn’t jerk so fiercely in and out of waves. I firmly silenced the voice I could hear approaching, the one that just didn’t want to be there and might soon start begging angels to take me away. Much needed water was only a short scramble away, but I couldn’t face it. I went back on deck and didn’t even try to rest again until we’d got to Fowey.
I got on the tiller, which Rich had tied off to the push pit, and failed to notice and correct a wander towards the wind quickly enough. This isn’t a big deal and is easily rectified, but it was the last straw and I burst in to tears as I untied and yanked the tiller and finally got Gwen round. Rich made me a wrap with crisps in, which turned out to be exactly what I didn’t know I desperately wanted. I started to feel a little better. We began to make plans for our (hopefully) final tack before Fowey when I looked over the side behind Rich. “Oh Jesus Christ”. Rich looked worried “What is it?” Was I imagining things? I didn’t think so… “I think I saw a dolphin”. “Oh thank fuck for that”.
The little dolphin swam underneath Gwen and reappeared on her other side. It bounced once or twice around the bow of the boat and then disappeared. It wasn’t much of a viewing, but it came at exactly the right time, and I grinned through the tack and the next bouncing hour on the tiller while Rich rested below. Fortunately we had timed the tack right (and I’m pretty ace on the tiller) and we slipped in to Fowey just before dark, where we tidied up the sails as quickly as we could and headed straight for land and a good feed, wobbling like the sea was still beneath us for the rest of the night.
We’re still in Fowey so I’ll tell you about that later. We’ll be here for another night or two as the sea and wind aren’t changing much and Rich doesn’t want to put me off sailing for life by dragging me back into that right now. I only have these few recent sailing experiences to give me an idea of what is supposed to come for us, and though I know we’ll have much more choice about when and where we sail in future I can’t help but be affected by these arduous journeys while I’m not used to them. Ten hours is a long time to be at sea when you’re still learning, and we both are in our own ways. You don’t need to add beating to windward in a nasty sea to that. We are, I assure you, despite appearances, ON HOLIDAY.