La Forge Your Own Path

I am tired – physically, mentally and emotionally, and you are a computer with a bright screen and a plethora of shite by which to be distracted. But there’s just too much to tell and too much to come to not to at least try to make a start. Hi.

It all began at Maker with the one and only public performance of the play wot I wrote, which began with me hidden under a sheet. As it was lifted and I opened my eyes to the audience for the first time I saw not, as I had expected, a few drinkers reluctantly herded in from the bar to indulge me and Didds in our latest show-offering, but a throng of over a hundred, already laughing their arses off at the first song. When the damage was done and we’d belted out the last number I was congratulated and allowed to drink heavily on some nerve-soothing rum before Didds beckoned me and Rich to the main bar for a video show. She and her boyfriend had adapted some of the songs I’d written for the not-really-an-opera into a goodbye film for me and Rich, and half the village had joined in. Surprise, exhaustion, love, amazement, adrenaline, rum – we were intoxicated.

We weren’t even at the send-off stage, and we headed out for our first sail of the year the next day. The good will continued to flood in over a sunny weekend spent with Gwen in Cawsand. We spent long days and short evenings with Rich’s family and an ever-changing gaggle of wonderful friends. There was some admin, a beach barbecue, a lot of rowing about in Bob and Fanny, a lot of drinking, a lot of giggling and oh my god a lot of answering the same damn questions over and over again. Yes, our first stop will be Falmouth. No, we don’t know where we’re going after that. No, we don’t know when we’ll get there. Yes, a concrete boat can float.

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Basking at the back of the barbecue (photo courtesy of Chris Ayre on Facebook)

By the end of the weekend our limbs and livers craved a holiday, but we had to pop back to Millbrook for our last coat of antifoul. There were a couple more goodbyes, some more sun and a lot more effort than we were in the mood for, relieved a little by Rachel with her painting skills and conversation. Whelm spilled over and I struggled when bidding my dad adieu, even though we’ll see him and a few more again in Falmouth. Thoughts became insular – let’s get out of here. Even Rich started to aggravate me. I just wanted to get away.

Fortunately, we soon did. Even though Gwen ended up back in Cawsand, waiting for the easterlies that would carry her to Falmouth, Rich and I ran away to Plymouth on the red pig ferry for an anonymous anniversary lunch. Four years together, one day until our big voyage was to begin – it felt good. The brief breather allowed us to reminisce fondly over the weekend’s encounters and share the un-extraordinary strangeness of our goodbyes. What wonderful people we left behind, and how interesting their concerns – “if you end up destitute, we’ll have a whip-round”, “don’t you dare come home without her”, “don’t forget to duck”.

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Anniversary dinner on deck with the no fish that we caught that afternoon

And then, off. Yesterday morning we left Cawsand a little later than intended for our first significant downwind sail. The mist lay heavy so visibility was low, and our departure from the bay was clumsy and confused, eventually starting the engine briefly to chase the wind we knew was close but which eluded us until just before Penlee. Soon we were in it and bimbling merrily along on a calm sea, making up for a slow start by pulling out our reefs (helpfully giving me an excuse to learn how to heave to) and exchanging the staysail for a toe staysail. Rich became impatient to play with the Aires self-steering he’d exchanged for a day’s labour (what a bargain) earlier in the year, so I took the tiller for a good long while.

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Last view of nipply old Rame as it disappears into the mist, and goodbye to our home

After an hour or two and not much faffing he’d fixed the thing to a rough and ready attachment on the tiller, and encouraged me to let go. I’m a bit of a demon for following the course, so I hesitated, but eventually I had to concede to the new controller of our craft. We watched as Gwen wandered gently to the south and didn’t stop. Some fiddling. Try again. This time she edged gently south, then back on course, the wind vane accurately sensing and tilting its mechanisms to the tiller in relation to the wind. It seemed too good to be true.

“So, what are we going to call him, our new crew member?” asked Rich.

“I don’t know, what do you reckon?”

“How about Stuntman Mike?”. We’d watched Deathproof the night before.

“That’s brilliant. But, er… a little too malevolent, and dangerous sounding. We need a reliable name, someone who’ll keep us safe. Chewbacca? What’s number one called? Riker? Can we call him Riker?”

“Riker’s not the navigator though.”

“No, that’s Geordi La Forge”

We never agreed on a name, but somehow after that we began talking naturally about Geordi. “Give Geordi a click” meant adjust the rope to bring the vane turret back one place to a better course. “Easy there, Mr La Forge” I moaned as he took too long to bring Gwen back to our intended direction. The name stuck, and he became an instant part of the family. Here’s a very quick video of Rich fiddling with Geordi as he steers us along…

Sadly, the figurative plain sailing was not to last, and with the tiredness of the preceding week dragging us down we began to squabble. We’d never done this when sailing before, and with all the learning and looking and concentrating I was doing I found this difficult to bear. I bit my lip and kept myself chipper, feeling pretty damn good about how well I was getting on and how much progress we were making with Geordi, but Rich was also tired and seemed increasingly exasperated with me. By the time we came to gybe in to Falmouth he was not interested in what I had to say. A final attempt to insist that we should be steering a little further to the left as we were being dragged towards a hazard by the tide was met with such hostility that I was forced to shut down, take the tiller and quietly make the adjustment I’d proposed, and finish the journey and the myriad little jobs that bring us to anchor and rest in silence lest I break down completely. There was an angry Rich and the two autopilots, one of whom ran away inside in tears once the sails were tied and the anchor light hoisted.

It’s not been an easy night – me crying makes Rich angry (yay) so we steered clear of one another. We talked this morning and I was allowed finally to express some of my anger at what happened yesterday, but I don’t feel as comfortable about sailing right now, or as supported in my learning. I need to be able to be a beginner and ask questions and express concerns or it’s just not going to work. Rich seems confident we’ll work it out, that we’ve done it well in the past so we’ll improve it again now, and I wish I could convince my brain of the same. Time will tell, and Falmouth is being good to us, so I’ll just have to keep the faith. I’ve been practising that a long old time.

We wandered soggy, overcast Falmouth this afternoon looking for sundries: a travel towel, some new rope, a sponge – and it hit me that this is the sort of day when life is just life, now. As we carefully decide whether a burger can be eked from the week’s budget a new way of life whispers the mundanities among its many adventures. After the upheaval of yesterday and of the whole departure I’m glad and grateful for a little mundane. Don’t worry. It won’t last long.

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