Gentlemen Don’t Go To Windward

Sailing in a big fat concrete gaffer rarely involves doing anything quickly. When we’re planning a passage we tend to allow an hour, if needed, for waking up and another for the faffing that seems to happen just when we think we should be sailing away – getting the anchor light and anchor ball in, getting the computer on and the GPS and VHF working, finishing stowing, making a snack for later, putting in a reef if needed, untying the sails, putting on an extra jumper, discussing how we’ll sail from anchor depending on what the wind does and dealing with any number of hitherto forgotten issues. This is needed even when we’ve stowed and cleaned, tied the dinghies on and made plans the night before.

Then it’s time for the anchor to come up. Rich usually pulls it in on a heavy metal lever while I help the chain curl neatly in to the locker below decks (if we don’t, the chain can fall on itself and be a twat to release next time). He knocks on the deck – a dark thud through the concrete – when it’s off the ground, and I hurry back up to steer us away, adjusting the mainsail depending on where the wind feels like pulling Gwen. These days we rarely start the motor, just deal with the wind and adjust as best we can – there is a smug satisfaction in completing passage after passage without having turned to our loud, rumbling, squeaky engine for safety, although we would if we were in any doubt.

And then we’re off, and everything gets even slower. Gwen isn’t fast (about 4 knots on average) and Geordi takes a while to find his feet, but unless there are any immediate hazards the steering can be thought about steadily and with much amiable discussion. “Shall I chuck up the staysail?” “I suppose we should be going a little further East” “I’m going to make another coffee” “Can you take the tiller while I grab my camera?” It’s all peaceful and nice. Unless you’re trying to go to windward around the sodding Lizard with the tide against you, like we were a couple of days after my last post…

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Celebrating the discovery of an abandoned beach, only to find it occupied by a naked man with a paddle board

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Top to bottom: Gwen, Fanny, Me, Halloumi sandwich

We’d left Coverack and found a beautiful secluded beach at Church Cove, closer to the Lizard and knocking an hour or two off our intended passage to the Scillies. We’d looked at the predicted wind and decided the next day was definitely our best and only chance to make it to Scilly in the coming fortnight – the westerly winds would be turning north-westerly and if we just pointed close enough we could do it. The tide would be against us for a bit but then with us for the rest so that would be okay. So we thought. We’re not always the brightest folk.

A few hours in to the passage we’d planned the sea and our stomachs churned as we limped away from the Lizard, aiming desperately towards a stubbornly not-north-westerly, westerly wind and finding ourselves incapable of sailing in any direction but south. Waves pushed the grey drizzly sky up and down, and we took it in turns for brief disturbed snoozes below decks. When these failed, we discussed the situation between groans of dismay and nausea. I proposed “shall we just not bother?” and Rich agreed. We turned the boat back and that wonderful feeling of at last having the wind in our favour carried us merrily back to Coverack, where the sun was suddenly shining again and we spent money we didn’t have on some soup and a pint. We agreed that we can go to the Scillies some other damn time. When we get back from the big adventure. When the wind actually stops being westerly. When we’re old.

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Coverack again. A mighty fine village shop, some adorable eateries and a hotel that lets you borrow their pen to write postcards.

This is going to windward. This is what we did most of our short trip last year. This is what we’d said we would avoid as much as possible this year. So where could we go now? That evening we talked about various options and decided on France, aware that we weren’t yet prepared for such a journey. We needed to get hold of an old tachometer that we might be able to revive, some French charts and some tarred marlin and to do a few jobs and buy and give a backup drive to somebody we knew, so the place that seemed to make sense was the very place we’d escaped a few weeks before. Wind and practicality pointed us straight back at Rame.

Our sail home from Coverack was my favourite sailing experience on Gwen since the first day we hoisted her sails. In unobtrusive cloud occasionally revealing sunshine we held a steady course with the toe staysail up, keeping Geordi in line with occasional tweaks, and we took in the beauty of Cornish coastline, boats and wildlife. Just before lunch a pod of common dolphins came and played under our bowsprit, disappearing under one side of the boat and popping out on the other. Their silence and elegant athleticism was more captivating than I can put in to words and awed me into an state of simplicity, manifesting in repeatedly saying “oh my goodness”. Don’t be fooled by all the swearing – inner child Trish talks like one of the Railway Children. Rich spotted a young puffin soon after, and we saw more dolphins among crowds of gannets later in the trip. Sailing back in to Cawsand and dropping anchor did not feel like the last slog of a ten hour trip but the perfect conclusion to the day – everything was just right, and we popped off for a traditionally unsuccessful fishing trip before dinner.

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There’s even a video

For the last day or two we’ve been preparing for France in Barn Pool in Edgecumbe Park, and doing quite a lot of jobs, many of them fun. We’ve made our own courtesy flag out of white fabric and marker pens, and Rich has been up the mast to make it a halliard. I’ve organised the blackboard and put our name and SSR number on the life ring. The backups are going to my dad tomorrow, along with a load of laundry and a cheeky request to be fed. We’ve vittled and picked up water in Plymouth and done some boring stuff with insurance and suchlike.

All we need now is a decent day for the winds and tides to take us over the English Channel, which is proving harder to find than expected, as is finding an anchorage somewhere not terrifying in Northern Brittany. As Rich re-checks the weather beside me it looks like Saturday, our plan, now isn’t going to work. Could we go tomorrow night instead? Maybe we were a little hasty with those marker pens and will be in Cornwall for another week or two as per the pre-plan-A Plan A. Where could we go instead? Good lord – am I going to be forced to relax again? This probably means I should stop writing the blog and go look at tidal stream atlases and weather charts. See you soon.

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A board aboard

New feature: we’re here.

 

 

 

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.

Leaving the Shire

I hope one day that this blog will read as something better than a blow-by-blow account of “what I did on my holidays”, but you’ll have to indulge me while we’re on our first trip away from Rame.

The clouds had gathered but the air was warm in Cawsand bay as we woke, well rested, to Monday morning. After much faffing and tidying up we enjoyed the smugness of a hassle-free sail from anchor, keeping just the main and jib up until we’d got round Rame Head and hoisted the staysail.

This week it’s all North, North Westerlies on the south coast of Cornwall which gave us sweet, sleek sailing to Mevagissey. We have a brand new log book to try out, so I suggested that we take hour-long shifts on the tiller (about as long as is bearable) with log-keeping performed by the freed person at changeover. This seems to be working well, as an hour is just long enough for the escapee to wee, fiddle with ropes, enjoy some sun, make snacks and watch the water speeding past the galley portholes before returning to heave on a stick for another shift.

There were some higher winds in the afternoon which made sailing a little less easy, but our speed was incredible – we had thought Gwen wouldn’t go past 5 knots but she stayed above it all day, up to 7 and a half at points. With a gentle sea the speed was not scary – it felt right to be heeled over, and fun as hell. It was knackering, though, and by the time we entered the pretty outer harbour of Mevagissey and found the visitors’ buoys we’d reserved among the many fishing and tour boats (fortunately quite easy to grasp and tie into) we were ready for sleep.

Approaching Mevagissey

Approaching Mevagissey

Bed was out of the question. The Meva male voice choir (including my mum’s fella, Mike) were to be in the pub after their concert and we wanted very much to meet her and hear their weekly carousing in all its splendour. After some time zombie-walking the picturesque streets, rammed with touristy tat like so many places we know, we did, but sloped off early with our eyelids drooping.

The usual concert venue was out of action.

The usual concert venue was out of action.

Gwen in the harbour

Gwen in the harbour

Meva choir enjoy a shandy and a shanty

Meva choir enjoy a shandy and a shanty

Yesterday we woke to a beautiful sun and a deck invaded by wasps, fond of our coffee and my bright clothes. After a brief battle in which Rich’s swatter proved victorious we found the harbourmaster, paid our dues and treasured much needed showers. Then we motored out and sailed away in a leisurely fashion, with a reef in the main and the staysail down, until a boat about our size passed us and Rich’s competitive side made a rare appearance. Suddenly the staysail was up and my sunbathing space was halved.

This journey is a bit of a big step for Gwen. As far as we know, Falmouth is the furthest from Millbrook she’d ever been before we got her, a fact we didn’t take the time to appreciate until we were pouring whiskey out in thanks late last night, well past Falmouth in the Helford. Before that was the task of sliding like a drifting car in to the river, pointed away in a strange angle to compensate for the tide; tacking a couple of times; squeezing down by motor between perilously close boats and finding an anchorage that turned out to be too scary in its shifting and proximity to stay the night.

Our second choice of anchorage was back near the river mouth, and was much prettier and quieter. As we approached it last night we were welcomed by the familiar sight of Nick Skeates’ white mop of hair and holey jumper rowing towards us from one of two anchored Wylos (his own design) that had just arrived. He is always a welcome sight.

Once anchored we relaxed, and I got my rod out to practice, pessimistically, with a few casts. I’d not caught a fish with Needle in all the time I’d had her. I decide to go fishing, I get nothing, we take it in turns for a while, Rich gets fish – this was becoming a routine until he let me jump in during a winning streak last night. When it finally caught I barely noticed, and as I yoiked the flapping line aloft a cheer of congratulations came up from Nick, who was visiting the other wylo. I struggled to hold on to the jerking fish as I bashed its head with a hammer, but soon my catch was in the bucket and we had enough to give Nick some for his dinner too.

Rich picked up some of the blood that was splatted on deck and quickly smeared it on my forhead. “It’s a tradition” he said, “ and you might have to eat its liver now.” Pause. Look of doubt. “That could be just for deer”. As we gutted our mackerel we threw guts aplenty to a bobbing seagull who managed to swallow two heads before he was full. I did not cry, and felt that this was progress, and dinner was lovely.

Lucky again

Lucky again

The cold, staring eyes of a killer

The cold, staring eyes of a killer

We’re hoping to go to Mousehole tomorrow, after what has been a very lazy day admiring passing boats here in the Helford. We’re just abandoning a game of Scrabble that has gone on for many hours, and earlier we met a couple, introduced by Nick, who have just bought a knackered old concrete boat with a view to renovating her, living aboard and cruising. What a thing to do. As you can imagine, we had a lot to talk about.

Landsick

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.

Idiots

Idiots

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:

Bay Days

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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.

Rich rows home after dropping me off for work

Rich rows home after dropping me off for work

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.

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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.

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Me, in my element

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.

Gwen at rest in the bay

Gwen at rest in the bay

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.

A gathering!

A gathering!

Most adventurous party guest, Ben, who swam there and leapt off the bowsprit to return ashore later on.

Ben, who swam to the party and leapt off the bowsprit to return ashore later on.

Nick's rum tasting gets a mixed reaction from the starboard side of the party.

Nick’s rum tasting gets a mixed reaction from the starboard side of the party.

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.

A First Time for Everything

This morning I was woken by the sweetly pitched dubstep chirrup of a young swift, beep beep brrrrrr bidduping outside the open hatch just above my head. How lovely, I thought when she was done. Then she started again, which I found less lovely. “Fuck off” I whispered and went back to sleep for an hour.

It seems I’m always hungover when we move the boat. It wasn’t intentional that today should be started with a desperate necking of water and a bleary-eyed slump to the shower, but evenings at Maker are what they are. Once I was refreshed I was as merry as could be, and while there was still no wind Rich and I motored Gwen to the outside end of the pontoon. I fetched Ren and rowed her up to meet Gwen and we both worried a Sainsbury’s driver with the enthusiastic joy of receiving our shopping delivery. Yes, it’s 8am on a Saturday and yes, we are the happiest people alive. Thanks for the bread! Bread’s great!

That was loaded on board, and Rich set about literally teaching me the ropes – the location of the halliards and suchlike on the pins, the way to secure the blocks and sheets for the gib, staysail and main, and the protocol for the runners. The engine was started. Nathan came along to interfere, but we were off almost before he could say “what do you mean you want to sail out? You’re as bad as he is”.

gw02

Drunk on more than last night’s cider

The engine ticked over as Rich hoisted the staysail, after which he popped back to see me at the tiller. “We’re sailing, by the way” he commented. My lip wobbled. He cut the engine and soon I was sailing us up the channel and in to the Tamar, where the mainsail went up. I waited til Rich was fiddling with some ropes up forward before I let myself have a proper joyful blub. Not for long… we’re sailing the boat, the boat we’ve been working on for two and a half years, the boat that nobody’s sailed for twenty years… no… stop.

There were a few times today when I let that emotional tap open for a few seconds and then jammed it shut again to concentrate. I’ve tried not to build up to today too much in my head. Rich has spent the last week putting fiddles and straps on everything in sight, performing all manner of jobs from creating a secure place for the eggs to tightening the gooseneck fitting, just so we could be ready for today. We’ve gone to bed at night whispering to each other – how long it’s been, how soon it’ll be, how much we love each other and our boat. But wait… we know too well that everything can go wrong.

The saloon, upgraded with banjo strap and plant holders.

The saloon, upgraded with banjo strap and plant holders.

gw03

Ren follows Gwen

It wasn’t until we’d come grinning up the Tamar, through the bridge and round Mount Edgecumbe to the edge of Cawsand bay that we hoisted the jib and tried our first tack with three sails, potentially an embarrassing prospect in front of the many many other boats who had shared our idea to head there this weekend. As with everything else, it went fine – there’s plenty for us to work on and for Rich to refine – but it works. It was starting to get a bit chillier and jumpers and snacks were fetched from below decks, which was a strange experience for two reasons.

1) I’m out sailing with my boyfriend again, bobbing about on a fully functional deck and I come downstairs and… I’m in my lounge! It hits me – this is my home. The two things are the same thing. The mind boggles, the body bogles, an imaginary lightbulb switches on above my head.

2) Euuurrrrggghhh. I hadn’t suffered on deck but inside the lurching motion is exaggerated and it isn’t nice. Back up top, post haste.

Sails good

Sails good

Gib up

Jib up

Once we were out on the open water away from the crowded bay the sky clouded over a little and the dull, deep waves took on strange shines from the slivers of sun that peeked through. We both began to feel a little bit odd, mostly tired with a hint of that drunken, constipated wobble in the stomach and head that isn’t quite seasickness, the body saying “I’m not used to this”. After we passed the beautiful bunched trees near Penlee Point I went down to the saloon for a half hour nap and woke up in Whitsand Bay, where we turned the boat round and I let Rich sleep as I sailed us back to Penlee.

With Rich slumbering below I had time to think and appreciate the experience of being in command of this marvellous vessel. This taste of sailing has stoked the desperation for travel I have been feeling these last few years. I want to go out. I want to call the mainland and say “you’re all terribly nice people but there’s something I simply must do. I’ll see you in a few years.” The dream is real, and I want it.

The view from a lie-down on deck.

The view from a lie-down on deck.

We anchored in Cawsand bay a few hours ago and toasted our great fortune with red wine, pouring a little out in thanks to the sea, in thanks to each other and the trees of Rame and everything else that has brought us here. Nick Skeates waved to us from Wylo 2 and popped over to join our tired, giddy celebration, and Rich has popped back over to his while I write this, sampling his famous rum-based hospitality. I’m enjoying the setting sun, the bobbing wobble and creak of the world I feel like I’ve just joined, and a bit of a time alone to not be overwhelmed.

Wine

Wine

Our home for the next few days. Not bad.

Our home for the next few days. Not bad.

We’ll stay here tonight despite the bad weather that’s going to come in tomorrow and the fact I have to be in work in the morning. I’d rather suffer a soggy row and a longer yomp to work than go back to the marina tonight.

Not for the first time I am in awe of my boyfriend. His dedication/obsession/infuriating stubbornness have paid off and we’re here. He in turn is delighted that I have stuck with it, that I’ve taken to sailing and that it’s all come about. I’m so happy for the calm, beautiful way that we have started sailing Gwen, that she has been brought back to the sea. I hope the photos tell you something about how it looked. All I can think of to tell you is about how it felt, and that was wonderful.