La Manche

Rich got the anchor chain ready to lift, wearing a familiar look of concern wrought by a week of engine stress. I hugged him. “It’s all going to be good. It really is.” He hugged me back and smiled. “Cool”. We left at sunset, bidding goodbye to our large anchorage by St Marys with three sails up and without thought of using that terrible motor. A fog appeared from behind St Agnes and as the light faded, the mist grew. We hoisted the radar reflector and raised our eyebrows to each other.

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Last sights of Scilly, before we couldn’t see.

Navigating the course south between St Marys and St Agnes, which we’ve done a couple of times before in daylight, was without its usual landmarks and transits. Though we could see the red marker buoys we needed to round, by the time we were south of them we could only see our position by two approaching blurred beacons and the GPS on our computer screen inside. I directed Rich, who was up the steps on the tiller, and popped up now and then to reassure him in his hour of confusion. A couple of times his course veered dramatically to the east, and when I called up to correct him he sounded queasy “I don’t know what happened there. It feels like vertigo, everything’s spinning but I can’t tell where”.

On deck it was like being in a dark snow globe full of mist. The unseen moon lit bright blurred edges where the horizon should be and only the nearest waves were visible. I had looked forward to being out of the sight of land, but had not imagined that we would achieve that within hearing range of the waves crashing against the rocks of St Agnes. When we’d cleared the Scillies I took the tiller and let Rich rest for an hour, steering us south and scanning the mist for any changes in light. The moon appeared briefly, then returned to the haze.

The wind picked up and during the night we made incredible time, topping seven knots for several hours and eventually shaking off the fog. I steered us around a couple of ships, and Rich another on his watch, but we were mostly alone until I spotted our first dolphin at sunrise. Dolphins were never far from us for the rest of our trip, and though they would only come and play with the boat for a minute or two they could be seen as frequently as sea birds in the middle distance at most times. Our downwind reach was speedy but choppy, and waves were regularly washing the deck by the time we slowed to four or five knots.

We hadn’t slept for particularly long at night, so we continued taking it in turns for naps as the morning progressed, which is always a strange experience at first. It’s all exciting outside – waves crashing and dolphins saying hello – but here in the warm centre of your home the noises and movements mimic those of a terrible catastrophe. The room jerks or rolls about, occasionally throwing poorly stored nicknacks onto the floor. Water gushes past the hull and drips and dribbles in the sink and water tanks. Above the banging and creaking sounds like some very important structure is about to collapse, and all around there are the gentle clinks and bangs of cup on cup, jar on jar, box on chair, drawer on drawer stopper, knife on board. And yet, this is all fine, and you sleep. When you’re up and about you can often go to take one step and find it turning in to a little run, and you have to prop yourself up against something if you need to use both your hands. No action is without extra effort, and no centre of gravity is immune from change. This is particularly fun when getting changed in and out of clothes and life jackets for going on deck or back inside. It doesn’t take long before all this is normal.

We hoisted the toe staysail to make the most of the diminishing wind just as sun began to break through the day’s cloud. Rich made us an early dinner and returned to the galley to bake our first loaf of bread for the trip, which we demolished within an hour of cooling down. By the evening we were passing the shipping channels over the north west of Brittany and had to make a few adjustments to our course to avoid giant cargo carriers and the like. Announcements on the VHF radio were in French and though I speak a little conversationally I could only understand the instructions of which channel to turn to for the weather report and then the odd word – a wind direction (but at what strength? for what time?) and the announcement that the report was over. We had not made plans for who would take which watch overnight, but it seemed easy to decide – if it was your turn and you felt like it, you went and slept. You gave a vague number of hours of how long you’d like (usually 3 at night, 1 or 2 during the day) and then woke when you woke and got back on the tiller so the other person could go make you a drink and have a sleep themselves, or make food, or tend to the sails, or fetch their banjo to serenade the dolphins.

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First sundowner in my friends’ wedding commemoration eggcups. “To Alex and Simon, to Gwen and Geordi, to you and me.”

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Red head torch masking taped to the compass. We’ms high tech. 
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Night sailing

By morning the wind was low, and you could hear the gentle snorting noises of dolphins breathing as they popped briefly out of the water and returned. We carried on heading south as our plan was to stay well away from the west of France and avoid all its tidal terrors. The ride was smoother, and we were able to do a few more things around the boat – read some books and play some music, untwist and retrieve our beleaguered radar reflector and replace it with our home made French courtesy flag, cook a huge curry type thing and catch up on a load of snoozes. Land could be seen in the distance as we bickered over a slight disagreement on the direction of our course (there was really very little difference of opinion, but there was nothing else to bicker about) and got over it quickly, both pretty pleased with ourselves for not turning it into an argument! We had known from the wind predictions that this day would be slower, but even with that in mind we progressed less than expected. And that night, somewhere near the south west of Brittany, the wind disappeared.

I steered toward the beautiful full rising moon in a silent sea, barely moving but determined that if we were going to, it should be in the right direction. The next was to be the third day of our trip – the one our wind predictions had suggested would contain long periods of no or next to no wind from a vague northerly or westerly direction, and the one for which we had no definite plan. We were rounding the Penmarch corner at a good distance from its tidal dramas, after which we would head east and then north east towards Concarneau, and if we weren’t getting anywhere we could try to find somewhere to put the anchor down on the way until the wind returned.

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Rich sees a gazillion fishing boats leave the shore as our course goes haywire very, very slowly.

Our log book gives our speed for 11pm that night to 1pm the next day as 0 – 0.5 knots. The sea was a millpond and by morning the sunshine was incredible, and we could see the forest and beach lined coast of France to our north. The same patch. For hours. Phone signal appeared but grib wind diagrams shed little light on when we could expect to move again. We weren’t going to touch that bloody engine, so we had to make the most of it, and we did. The log book also records several incidences of on-deck nudity, a banjo rehearsal, and some focaccia. The only upsets were running out of cigarettes, which turned out not to be too traumatic as I rationed out my last four over a 24 hour period, and toilet paper, which turned out not to be a problem as I found a secret stash in the galley. Rich got back on the baking and by the time the wind returned in the early afternoon we were both wearing light clothes and sun hats and looking forward to a delicious coconut slice.

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Clearly a terrible situation

The wind pushed us along the coast and got stronger, and we turned towards Concarneau with it dead behind us. Rich got in the toe staysail and pushed our regular staysail out with a pole partly constructed with one of our oars, which gave us great speed as we navigated the final approach between the coast and the Glennan Islands. Heading in to our unknown anchorage produced the usual tension and I gritted my teeth through our obligatory “are you going to make the decision or shall I” shouting match, which took two minutes before the usual decision of “sod it, let’s put the anchor down here” was reached. And then that was it. We were here. We looked at each other with impressed amusement.

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Rich reluctantly putting away his big staysail stick, of which he is very proud.

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Concarneau from our anchorage

A desire to go ashore gripped me. We got the sails away and hoisted the anchor ball and light, and I showered quickly while Rich tidied up the ropes on deck. As we lifted and turned Fanny to put her in the water a strange giddiness began to take hold and by the time we landed on French soil I was plastered in a dumb grin that didn’t leave for several hours. I was impressed that France instantly felt French – why, there were people cycling through the forest next to the beach, and there was a pair of beautiful exposed breasts ready to greet us as we landed on the sand. Rich pointed to the rock samphire at the start of our path with glee. Some things don’t change.

We started to walk towards Concarneau and I felt, finally, like we had actually left on our adventure. We had made it to “abroad”. Soon I would be required to speak “foreign”. I had enjoyed every part of our journey – the quick day, the middling day, the are-we-ever-going-to-move-again day. Neither of us had got seasick or crazy. We hadn’t had to use the motor that Rich will hopefully fix next week, and we’d made it, not quickly but who cares? After nearly four years of dreaming it was real, we were still in love and we were where we wanted to be.

Later, outside a little cafe in the touristy island castle at the centre of Concarneau’s port, we drank cider from teacups, ate crepes and relaxed. We’d walked the long way round the harbour, loving the feeling of using our legs, as we’d had no Euros to pay for the ferry that we would later take back to our side of the town. I’d found some trashy French romance novels discarded on a wall and grabbed one pour pratiquer la langue. I’d spoken French to some real French people to ask directions. It was still warm at 10pm and we were both tanned and beaming.

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Except at this exact moment, clearly.

Last night we slept for 12 hours. We woke up this morning and decided to get the folding bikes out so we can explore that forest over on the shore, and we will soon.

I’m stilly giddy as I write, even though it’s taking ages. Every place we go from now onwards will be this new. I like my life.

Just Stopping By

We spent a couple more nights between Tresco and Bryher, taking occasional quiet walks on one island or another, moving and changing our anchor as the tides and winds got stronger and trying to reconnect with each other with what little energy we could muster. In the evenings, after the turn of the tide, pollock swam through the fast moving water and we ate their boring cod-like flesh with lemony rock samphire, which grows freely and plentifully on all the islands we’ve visited and has become a regular part of our diet.

Bryher provided us with more windswept viewings of seals, and fresh vegetables from a choice of little farm stands. Tresco, which is privately owned, was a less comfortable visit – the accommodation, shops, paths and fields were all tidy, branded with the soulless uniformity of a commercial resort, and expensive – the £15 per person charge even kept us out of the tropical gardens. While rowing home after checking out its (free!) views of trees and beaches we stopped to admire another boat’s dinghy. We were soon invited for dinner with the lovely German couple who owned it, and were fed three courses and good whiskey by them and their travel companion, chatting late in to the night while sampling ginger and salt fudge. I felt normal again, sociable even – the passage’s tension was finally lifting. The next day we set sail for St Agnes, our last one night stop before we were to head out for France in a promising weather window.

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A thrush joins us for a game of limpet draughts at The Vine restaurant, Bryher

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Gwen rockin’ and rollin’ between Tresco and Bryher

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Sunbather, Bryher

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Heading home from Tresco

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Tresco Abbey

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Rock samphire – tasty, nutritious and plentiful

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Weathering, Bryher

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Tresco views

The engine has worked fine since our very first motor trip, but after a lumpy sail to St Agnes Rich decided to check the oil level, and on hoisting up the cover found that an oily spray was covering the engine head. Three of the four studs that hold the exhaust manifold on to the side of the head had sheered off, leaving it mostly unattached and its exhaust fumes escaping. Over the next day or two he drilled them out, retapped them and screwed in new studs, and then he did the whole thing again more thoroughly over another couple of days when one of them didn’t hold. We weren’t going to France any time soon.

I have never known frustration like that which Rich feels for our engine. In all the time we were getting Gwen ready it was the only thing that depressed him enough to stop work on her altogether for several months. Some years later, in the last week it has, at times, brought him close to tears. But in between three or four hour sessions of hope turning to desperation, as fix after fix failed, even he was able to appreciate the astounding good fortune of the location of our confinement.

St Agnes had all the things we had hoped for from the Scillies – peaceful isolation when required, beaches, farms, nearly tame thrushes and sparrows, gardens, wild moors, a fantastic pub, a gallery with genuinely interesting pieces, and clear turquoise waters revealing all manner of life beneath. Oyster catchers and seagulls shrieked on nearby hills as we watched jellyfish of all sizes, from big blue splodges and creamy striped tendril bulbs to tiny shuttlecocks pulsating with movement, bumping by the boat over fat seaweed fingers. Our fisherman anchor held strong. Our moods improved, and we made friends with a fantastic Dutch couple who were anchored nearby and had just sailed round the world for two years in their ketch with their four year old daughter.

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Richard with the seagulls on Gugh

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St Agnes

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St Agnes from Gugh

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Red sky at night from our anchorage

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St Agnes

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Where the ferries hit St Agnes, from Gugh

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At the Turk’s Head pub, St Agnes

We had a great ferry day out on St Mary’s, exploring its ancient burial sites and scarily overcrowded supermarket, and on another day we walked across the thin sand bar at our anchorage to the neighbouring island of Gugh, home of the seagull horde. I started sanding the toe rails and rubbing strakes for painting, which ended in us enjoying a gin and tonic on the boat of my childhood doctor who happened to anchor next to us for the night. We played our musical instruments, Rich read books, I drew, and we grinned,  actually using this holiday destination for holiday activities.

One day I noticed a crick in my neck, which seemed mostly to go away by the next, so I rowed ashore in Bob for a run around St Agnes, and rowed back to be helpful on Gwen. The next day my neck hurt more, and by the next I had to stop rowing as any effort using my shoulders was shooting shocks of pain to the back of my head. By the time Rich sailed off to St Mary’s in Fanny to buy more supplies for the engine I was in constant pain and taking as many pills as was safe to maintain some sort of function, but failing. On two days, when the weather had finally got to tropical, I begged a lift ashore with him and created seaweed pictures in the sand on silent beaches, my movements restricted to those of an uptight robot, my head unable to look left or right. I found to my delight that I had enough forward neck movement to be able to swim in the sparkling turquoise  waters. I came home to sit still in the evenings before a sleep disturbed by throbbing aches, consoled only by the idea that someone might have happened upon my creations by surprise while on their own solitary walk in the sun.

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On the night before we left we visited the boat of our new Dutch friends. Rich had probably fixed the engine this time, he thought, and we would need to get away to St Mary’s for vittling before we attempted the crossing to France. I was still in pain and so was Hajo, the man whose boat we were visiting, so it would only be a quick visit for one drink. Two beers each, a whole bottle of delicious rum and several hours later we returned to our boat quite squiffy, heads filled up with anecdotes and inspiration. What Hajo and Jeanette had told us about their trip made us ever more convinced that we could go where we wanted, that eventually we would stop fighting, that the world of cruising sailboats was full of good people. But also that our boat would always require a crazy amount of work, and fill our heads with the endless jobs lists and practical necessities that it has done over the last month and a half.

We sailed here to the main town island of St Mary’s last night, and it was another tense sail. Rich is stressed and nervous of using the engine, and we’re both below par physically, particularly me. My neck is improving and I am coping better with Rich getting agitated when we sail, and though it isn’t fun it isn’t the huge trauma it has been in previous trips – we both get tetchy, but it passes – my annoyance at his attitude is well suppressed but for the odd sarcastic comment, which I quietly suspect he deserves. The latest engine fix hasn’t worked either, but at least we know the thing will get us out of trouble if we’re in danger and get us in to an anchorage when needed, and the engine place on St Mary’s have been hugely helpful and lent Rich a kit to put in heli coils when we get to France. I’m looking forward to going – I think we’ll get better because I think we have to.

I’ve vittled with as many passage snacks and treats as I could carry, and now we’re passage planning for tonight. Catch you in France. Probably.

 

Night Watches and Nightmares

Woah, it’s a long one. Grab yourself a drink and I’ll tell you scary stories about two beautiful, distressing trips on one big assed boat.

Part One
We begin where I last left off, back in the Shire and unsure about France due to predicted winds that just refuse to stay westerly. I get a text from my dear friend Big Joe (of cutting down our mast fame) asking where we’ll be in a couple of days. I don’t know – it’s either Brest or Calstock, come and see us either way.

When his day off arrives France is definitely out. We check the tide times and go and pick him up from a marina in Plymouth, and after lunch sail up the Tamar towards familiar but as yet un-Gwenned territory. The sun is shining, the wind is favourable, and the coffee already has a smidge of brandy in it (a Big Joe specialty, he’s brought a big bottle) as we pass between the Torpoint ferries and onward to the Tamar Bridge. Joe’s had a big week and is dog tired, so this relaxed sail suits us all down to the ground, however far down that might be.

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Brunel: our first bridge

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Big Joe – put in charge for having the best smocks and sunglasses

By the time we hit the fine meandering channel towards Calstock I’m on the tiller. It’s quite a treat for me, having to follow the deepest part of the river – visible on the chart we’ve taken outside but also in the gentle changes in ripples on the water – rather than adapting my course to the wind like we do out at sea. Rich and Joe deal with what the wind is doing, I just drift down the strong tide with an eye on the depth sounder and moored vessels that need to be avoided. Occasionally I bung the engine on in case my steering goes in slack winds, and at one point I think I’m doing fine going round a boat when Rich calls back urgently to make me push the engine forwards or I won’t make it, but otherwise it’s all pretty easy going. Huge banks of grasses reveal little houses and distant fields, and we hardly see a soul save for a handful of boats motoring the opposite way. We’re telling stories, eating ginger nuts and discussing the merits of composting toilets.

When we arrive at the pretty waterside village of Calstock there are a bunch of lovely houses, a garden floating on the water covered in ducks and praise be! a pub, and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to put Gwen. The one spot with an anchor on the chart is of course taken, and there isn’t much in the way of deep water on this narrow channel. We go past the village towards a leafy corner turn which the chart says is deep enough, and we motor in to a spot among the trees, which turns out to be too among the trees for any of our liking. With one anchor down it is decided that another needs to be deployed for keeping us still when the tide rushes back, and this is then exchanged for a rope round a tree, after which another anchor can be put across the channel in the grassy mud bank to keep us away from the rocky tree lined side. This bit takes ages and is all quite exhausting so I give up on pointing and nodding and go make us all a second lunch.

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Rich not sure about where he’s anchored. This is the sort of facial expression to which I will be paying heed in the future.

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No idea when I took this

Later that night we are sitting on deck in the twilight after a muddy pub trip ashore and a big old Thai curry, drinking wine and brandy and enjoying the surroundings. We decide it’s time for bed several times and don’t go, and the night gets darker. We make it inside but I pop out for a cigarette and find that the stars are now gleaming across the curve of the milky way, so we all pop out again for another brandy. The now gently moving river reflects the stars and we wonder if distant shapes in the water are rats, otters or logs. Finally, after half the giant brandy bottle is gone, we go to bed.

It’s dark, and I hear Rich’s alarm go off and see his pants and legs disappear up the bedroom hatch as he checks on our position in the changing tide. He returns and we mutter and fall asleep.

It’s dark, and I hear Rich stir and go up the hatch again. He moves about on deck quite a bit, and is noisier than before – maybe chain, maybe objects being dropped, maybe footsteps – I’m quite drunk and I don’t know. I look up at the hatch and see very little. There’s a thud and he yells “Everyone on deck! Now!”

I pop my head up “What’s happening?”

The engine is being started.

“Look at where we are”.

Rich is dashing about doing things very quickly. I look, and even in the dark I can see that one side of the boat and our mast above me are in the branches of a huge overhanging oak tree. This means the body of the boat is right up against the rocky side of the river. Rich is releasing our second anchor line from a cleat and tells me to go down to the saloon bilge locker to let the rest of the chain out. I stumble along the deck and down past Joe, who is dressing and asks what’s happening.

“Look at where we are!”

Back in a lit room I lift the half-closed lid in the floor and pull the chain so it can freely escape, and it does at an alarming pace. I realise the end is not attached and will soon disappear so I grab what I can and follow it in to the aft cabin, yelling as loud as I can over the clatter of chain whizzing out of the locker and the noise of the engine “I can’t stop it! It’s all going to go!”

Rich’s face appears at the hatch “Don’t fucking hold it! Let go!” he barks at me. I stare at him “but…” “Let fucking go or you’ll lose your hand”. I let fucking go. “Never ever hold on to chain that’s going out like that…” he is yelling at me but I am in shock now, watching the last of the chain tear chunks out of the aft hatch before miraculously becoming jammed in its corner and stopping a few links short of the end.

I put my dressing gown over the loose dress I’ve worn to bed and follow Rich back on to the black of the deck as he releases the tree line. Gwen swings round across the river and stops when we hit the soft mud bank. My breathing is becoming a little short but I am able to function, and somehow I end up on the tiller steering us back out of the mud, using the noisy engine to keep us in place against the tide that is shooting into us. Rich and Joe are trying to release an anchor from whatever it’s caught on at the bottom and I am watching a buoy and a boat I can faintly see in the darkness to keep track of my position, with Rich yelling “forwards a bit” “don’t just use objects behind you” “I said FORWARDS”. I am drunk, it is dark, I am being yelled at constantly, sometimes with what sounds like real anger, and I am trying not to let how scared I am show so it’s seeping out in quiet little hyperventilating breaths. I am on it. I am sobering up. I am doing as I’m told to the best of my understanding. I can’t feel the cold. I don’t know when I last blinked.

This bit seems to last an age.

Eventually there is progress. Joe comes to take the tiller and I try to help Rich with the last bit of hauling our huge fisherman anchor aboard – it’s so heavy he has to take a few rests – I don’t know how he lifts it at all. The sky starts to get a little light and when both anchors are on board Rich pops off in the dinghy to get the line back from the tree. We all breathe again for a moment. Rich and I haul the dinghy on board, streaking my chest, hands and dressing gown with last night’s mud. At last, daylight reveals mist in the water ahead, Joe goes for a nap, and I put on some clothes and spend the next couple of hours keeping Rich company on deck while he drives the boat back out of the channel and towards Millbrook in thick Cornish mizzle.

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Gwen’s souvenirs

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Post-traumatic “sod off” disorder. Me minus sleep.

On the way he tries to explain what happened in the night, but both of us are near delirious with tiredness so it is not until we’ve dropped Joe off in Plymouth with a hug and a look of “what the hell?”, and anchored in the safe and sure depths of West Mud that I understand. Even then I’m not sure I can remember it to tell you now. A dragged anchor and swinging round one tree into another were involved. The boat could have lost its rig in the oak or done worse to the hull on the rocks. Rich apologises for shouting at me and I tell him it’s okay, he needed to shout. I sleep a heavy afternoon nap and we lounge for a while before more sleep. The next day we leave for Scilly.

INTERMISSION

Part Two
In the morning I am revived. A little shaken, still, but awake enough to know that it should pass. We have a big trip ahead of us and we motor over to Plymouth for me to buy passage snacks from Lidl while Rich returns Gwen to anchor in Cremyll to sort out yesterday’s mess on deck. I return to him via the ferry I used to take to work, and he picks me up in Fanny from the Cornish side with an hour to spare before our intended departure.

With Fanny on deck and the stowing done we set sail for Scilly for the second time this year, this time intending to include our first ever overnight sail. Our course is set for eight miles south of the Lizard which we’ll reach around midnight if the north westerly wind holds. The sea calms down a while after we pass Rame and the sun shines just the wrong side of the big toe staysail, shifting to the right side for afternoon napping or sundrenched tiller shifts. Cornwall sits to our right, Geordi holds our course and we enjoy doing a few jobs, playing a bit of ukulele and eating a whole lotta snacks on the gentle roll of the sea. The sun drops behind a cloud over a wind farm near the Lizard and beneath it a wide line of  pinkish gold glows between cloud and earth, reflected in the rippling peaks of dark blue waves.

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See what I mean?

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Big bright boat

Rich figures that he’s better at waking up and I’m better at staying up late, so I get assigned the first night shift from 11 to 2am, and get on it after we’ve rounded a big ugly ship. I have gone from four layers to seven, wrapped in as many jumpers as will fit inside my salopettes and coat, with a life jacket and strap keeping me tied on to the push pit. Night vision kicks in quickly as we’ve turned off all but the red nav-table light inside, but I have a little red light head torch strapped to my harness to check our bearing on the compass if I need it. I stop doing this after about ten minutes – we’re going as close to the wind as can be comfortable and there’s not much more navigation that needs doing.

Over my shift I occasionally untie to go down below and look at our course on the GPS in the aft cabin, just below where we steer. I grab myself a pain au chocolat from a galley drawer but go no further inside, letting Rich zizz away in the forward cabin. I trim the mainsail once after noting a drop in the wind, and for a while Geordi doesn’t want to play ball and I hand steer for an hour or so, happy for something to do to keep me awake. I readjust Geordi and put him back in charge, gazing at the stars above me and occasionally searching the horizon. It is as black as anything but for the stars and a few boat lights, and it’s incredible how much you can see even just by the tricolour light at the top of the mast, and how well you can spot any luff in the sail from sound alone.

I eat to stay awake. I try to remember some French. I try to think in a Scottish accent. I see a shooting star and note it in the log book. I enjoy some respite from the advice and discussions I have to follow when Rich is with me – I am in charge. I am alone on the sea and it feels amazing, and my three hours seem to pass so quickly that by the time I go to wake Rich and make him a coffee I feel as though I could go for another hour at least. This notion is knocked out of me by the warmth of the saloon and after a quick progress report I am soon sleeping soundly below decks.

Rich wakes me to look at a deep red sunrise, and then kindly lets me sleep again until the end of his shift half an hour later. Somehow in this short time the wind drops off completely, and he goes back to bed leaving me in charge of a becalmed boat on a flat pastel morning sea. It is huge, peaceful and beautiful, and entirely useless. The GPS says we’re going backwards, and the fluttering sails bash only slightly more or less depending on where I point the tiller. A seagull swims slowly up behind the boat, paddles awkwardly up beside it, and then overtakes us.

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Sunrise, also over the Lizard, which confuses the hell out of Rich

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Hoisting the topsail with his head in the stocks

When Rich returns he puts up the as yet unused topsail he’s been fiddling with over the last week. It hoists but does nothing in the sunny stillness. We decide to motor for an hour to make up the distance we’ve gone backwards on the tide, and after that the wind seems to return, further from the south, for our final push to Scilly. This time, we’re going to make it. Our course stays good as we push along, stripping layers of jumpers down to t-shirts, reading aloud and getting on with more fun jobs and even more eating as the Scillies get ever closer. Our new topsail isn’t perfect but it’s getting us a bit of speed, and for the first time ever we have Gwen’s full rig flying.

As we come close to the Scillies we plot our angle of approach, and decide we’re too early for our original high tide plan and that we’ll sail around the north side as far as we can and then motor in between Tresco and Bryher on the west. Two sailboats are heading our way from the north east and as they approach I work out (because I still have to think hard about these things!) that they have right of way. Rich says it’s fine and we decide we’ll probably pull up a bit behind the first, but I’m a little nervous of doing this and he assures me he’ll come up on deck when they get close.

He gets some food going. The boats get closer. He pops up, and then back down, and I don’t know what he’s doing. “Rich, can you come on deck please?” I nervously shout down, as they’ve got to the point across from us where we agreed we’d turn. He comes back up to me, visibly angry, and starts telling me off – he was just going down to check what angle I needed to adjust to. I say “but they’re…” he shouts at me “I have to do just one thing, I was in the middle of doing it and you started demanding that you needed me to come up here and…” I am being shouted at as the boat gets closer, and I turn us gently behind it as we’d agreed earlier. I try to interject to tell Rich, but he starts telling me again how he just needs to go and look at this one thing. I’m sorry, I say. He carries on. I yell “I’m sorry”, angry now, as he goes back below decks and says “you need to turn ten degrees”. I’ve already turned it. The boat goes by, an easy and unterrifying distance from us.

I’m angry. I was the one on the tiller, the one who had just needed a little reassurance, and I’d got a mouthful instead, making the whole thing harder. I hadn’t known he was looking at the GPS or that he was tense about any of this manoeuvre. I hadn’t realised until now that the 28 hours we’d been sailing were taking their toll on either of us. When the danger is gone and I’ve returned Gwen to our course I shout back at him at how unfair it had been, but his rage is still spitting and he isn’t prepared to hear it. When I open my mouth to speak again he says “let me know when we get there”, disappears far inside the boat and shows no sign of coming back.

I am alone again, only this time I am heading straight for an island strewn with rocks, some of which I can only see on the chart, and I have taken Geordi off for the last manoeuvre so I can’t leave the tiller and go inside. I’m scared as hell even though there’s some distance to go, not knowing when, or if, Rich will return. I can’t motor in to my home at Southdown on my own, let alone sail the perilous rock paths and dramatic tides of this unknown place. I can’t do this on my own, but I must. As tears form in my eyes I attempt to get Geordi working, and fail to get him steering but have him holding the tiller enough to grab a look at our position on the GPS inside. Then, looking at the chart outside again I decide that it’s safest for me to head in a more northerly direction, far from where I judge the submerged Hard Lewis rocks to be. I can then take a wider route around the islands than planned, using the extra time to work out a few things, as I can’t yet be free to check our location or deal with bringing down the sails alone. I am repeating “hard lewis rocks, hard lewis rocks” to myself, trying to stay calm and steering while tears run down my face.

This bit also seems to last an age.

When I next see Rich he appears from the forward hatch, far down the boat, and I have taken us north of the route of any potential danger for the forseeable. He sees me there crying and sits at the front of the mast, looking ahead away from me. All the anger and fear I’ve been trying to keep in starts seeping out again in those little hyperventilating breaths, which turn into heaving sobs. He walks back and yells at me “stop that stupid breathing shit” “can’t you just chill out?” I try to calm my breath down, and I am relieved that he is back, but I fail, and he keeps shouting.

When I manage to stop he tells me where to point the boat, goes and checks the GPS, and spends the rest of our journey occasionally giving me practical orders. I just want to get to the anchorage and for all of this to be over, so I do my best, silently looking out at the strange passing rocks and islands to breathe some beauty in to this horrible situation, only speaking when absolutely necessary to the sailing. We glide between rocky peaks, sideways down the tide at an angle I estimate from a transit drawing on the chart, and just about manage to keep from arguing until the anchor is down between the beautiful and very different islands of Tresco and Bryher.

Hours pass and nothing is said. Then I mention it, and the evening builds in to an insane and bitter argument. When it’s done, I hug Gwen’s mast. I ache. I feel guilty about my anger, and feel angry. I go to bed alone. It isn’t discussed again for two days.


The next day I have a shower, put on a frock and take Bob over to Bryher. Excitement builds as I row across, already spotting half-familiar sights on the island I used to work on 17 years ago. I marvel at the things I had forgotten – the sweet smell of sun-baked ferns, the succulents that cover grass and beach land alike, the beautiful turquoise colour of clear shallow water over near-white sand. I see a seal bobbing about, and I go to my old hotel at Hell Bay which has changed almost beyond recognition and pay over three pounds for a single coffee, which I drink among tame garden birds.

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Bryher being good for my soul

My mind turns to more positive things – how, despite everything, I have learned so much this last month and steered decently in the face of adversity these last few days. I resolve to look after myself, make my own support for my worries and celebrate my achievements when nobody else will. I can’t not sail, so I just have to be good crew without needing help and harden myself to the way Rich gets when he’s tired and tense, and how I get when I’m tired and tense, and how threatened he gets if I cry, and how easily I brood. I can’t not sail, I love it too much now. Eventually experience will make things easier. I think of Arya Stark in Game of Thrones (a girl has no name) learning all she can from a cruel master until one day…

Yeah, maybe it’s not all workable. We’ll figure something out. We always do.

Scilly is still beautiful, and I’ll tell you all about it next time. Scary stories have to end and I’m pretty sure this is the best place for that to happen. I’m sitting in the New Inn on Tresco right now, gazing around, sure that I danced on some of these tables one night a long time ago. I would say sorry to leave you with only these tales of woe, but now you have something a lot less miserable to look forward to! And so do I, I’m sure.

We’re here.

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.

 

 

 

Epic Fal

Last night I was looking forward to writing a post all about how refreshed and hopeful I felt about our great adventure. This morning it turns out that most of the rest of the UK (especially the older generation) have decided we’re going to leave the EU, so here’s my post from the grey drizzly land of GLOOM, and, indeed, DOOM!

We’ve been in Falmouth since I last wrote, and managed to get a few boat jobs done and say goodbye to a few more people during its spectacular Sea Shanty Festival. The Falmouth Classics was at the same time, and though nobody seemed to know what was going on during the races it was great to see Grayhound and a few other Millbrook craft among the bunting-lined beauties. We watched them from our usual noisy spot at Trefusis, rowing ashore for booze and shopping and booze and songs and booze and showers when needed.

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Grayhound shoot past us to anchor after a race

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Falmouth: Okay

I could write a whole blog about each person we said goodbye to. My inspirational mother and I enjoyed an evening of shanties sung by her other half, Mike, and his group The Press Gang. We talked about plans and ideas and enjoyed each others’ silliness as always, and the following morning I bid her a quiet and unceremonious goodbye on The Moor before rushing off in a stress to meet my dad. By contrast, our lunch with him and his partner Sue was filled with talk of everything but our impending adventure. It was only as his eyes started to redden as we bid our goodbyes at the marina that the purpose of the visit became stark. It’s an odd gut feeling, seeing your dad cry, and it set me off too so we rowed off quickly for a lie down and a movie at home on Gwen. I will miss them both.

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Mum and me enjoying Press Gang at The Grapes

That evening we decided to return to Falmouth for some more of the shanty festival, even though we’d already heard enough shanties to last us a good long while. Fortunately, so had the festival and at our second stopping point for the evening we were lucky enough to catch a wonderful Cornish folk group instead. I leapt in and joined the dancing that was weaving a line in front of them, although the driving “five step” 5/4 beat of a few of their songs was more than my feet were capable of following. Their musicianship was incredible and we’d seen a couple of their number at Port Eliot festival as part of the Cornish “shout” movement who sing in pubs throughout the county, so we trusted their advice when they said to stick around for something really special from the next band. After quite a bit of setting up, a Basque group called Oreka TX bashed our minds with their tiny but powerful drone horn and spectacular “txalaparta” instrument, a gigantic stone xylophone played in complicated rhythms passed between two men with big sticks. We had just enough amazed energy to traipse up to the Jacobs Ladder and bounce about to some punk before rowing home.

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One two three four five, one two three four five, one two three… agh!

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Txalaparta!

Cornwall voted to leave the EU, too, by the way. Cornwall gets a good share of the UK’s European money which has helped fund many resources as well as things we’re super proud of like the Eden Project. I felt so proud of you, last week, Cornwall. I’d decided I would definitely move to Falmouth when we got back – it has a pub with a bookshop in, and a music scene I could get involved with, and all this lovely sea. This morning we’re saying things like “well, we don’t HAVE to move back”. If throwing the EU’s support back doesn’t seem stupid, and if giving more power to hate-fuelling people like Nigel Farage, a man so odious that I’m not even surprised by his crass comment that Leave have won “without a single bullet being fired”, is more what you’re about then you’re not the place for me right now. I still love you, though. Idiots.

By Monday we’d got ourselves sober and soggy enough for the second bout of visits, this time from my darling Didds. She arrived to find me intoxicated already at lunchtime, not from alcohol but from the sweet, sweet masochistic pleasure of having been tattooed. Finally I had joined Rich in having my Gwen design emblazoned on my back, and after some initial discomfort the whole experience had felt like a sensual massage of subtle, selective pain. I can’t explain this at all, but I heartily recommend a back tattoo for its heady mixture of relaxation, torture and eventual invigoration.

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Beaver on board

Didds and I pissed about together, and then with Rich and with her boyfriend Mike, and it was all huge fun and included watching Jaws, rowing around a lot and making pictures out of stones on Gyllingvase beach, and culminated in getting plastered on something called “Beavertown” which was a strong ale made with blood orange. We parted ways the following morning over the kind of breakfast that rebuilds sanity and revitalises organs, her to visit to family nearby and us to a slow and mizzly dinghy trip up the Fal to vittle at Penryn’s Lidl. I can’t wait to see her again at some warmer spot in the world, and other than that am pretending she’s still just down the road.

Yesterday we decided enough was enough with the noise from Pendennis shipyard. We pootled ashore for a shower before buggering off in Gwen mid-afternoon, not entirely sure where we were going. A good westerly wind seemed just high enough to give us a great sail down past the Helford, and we’ve been there before, so we aimed further towards the Lizard and tacked back in to anchor in pretty Coverack in time for tea. My confidence was back and the sailing was good. Rich was calm and gentle, I was calm and gentle, the sea was calm and gentle, and it felt great to sit on deck last night with a hot meal in a new place watching the gannets dive for fish we still can’t catch. We’ve overspent to excess in the last week in Falmouth, so we’re stocked up with wonderful fruit and veg and a determination not to eat or drink ashore for a while.

We have tentative hopes for a voyage of some distance soon. Though the money we’ve saved up to disappear with is about to be worth sod all when we eventually get to France (next month, we hope), we’re still on our way out towards the rest of the world. Now we’re out of Falmouth we’re living again by the weather and the wind and it feels good.

Slow Down

It’s midnight, and in the quiet darkness I can hear our anchor chain’s deep metallic moans as Gwen turns her back to a shifting wind. This is usual enough, and not loud, almost soothing, but my brain is buzzing and will not sleep so I get out of bed, grab water, tobacco and my laptop, and head on deck. Here the engine whirr of the nearby shipyard, the traffic buzz of Falmouth and the slapping bobbing of our dinghies play quietly to my right against gentle waves swooshing the shore to my left. Way ahead in the blackness I can see a tall ship’s anchor light revealing its masts, some huge luxury motor yacht glowing orange from every window and a distant lit building across the channel, and to my right even the shipyard’s cranes and colossal craft seem pretty in gentle illumination*. Soon it starts to rain and I head back inside. Not for the first time, I note that we should add “fix the stiff hatch” to our jobs list, and don’t.

Back by Falmouth again, and back to internet and phone access. We sailed a short passage to the Helford soon after my last post, and again our trip went technically well but was mired by personal distress. Despite working my absolute hardest to do everything right, Rich’s tiredness came out in more impatience, more stern (ha!) words, and though this time I had the wherewithal to call him out on it I was back to doing my usual lip-biting chin-up speak-only-when-necessary puppet act by the time we tacked into our eventual resting place. I cried hard and loud that night, filled with terrors that this was to be the way of sailing for me from now on. Confidence, built on my pride at how naturally I felt I was taking to the tiller and responding to a wildly shifting and sometimes absent wind, seemed so easily dashed by any displeasure from Rich. I should be able to see his residual stress for what it was and ignore it, but in the effort and endurance of sailing it crushed me.

The Helford became a training ground for relaxing, and for accepting that we really don’t have to be “on it” as much now as we have in the grafting months that have brought us here. One day Rich sailed and then rowed us (when his dinghy rig collapsed on my head) to the impossibly picturesque Helford village. We had a pint at its charming pub, where we met a fantastic chap who instantly regaled us with so much information about polar expeditions and boat history that we could barely remember it by the time we got to our next destination – the mysterious beach near our anchorage where we sometimes saw people sitting. Leaving Fanny on the sand and walking inland it soon transpired that we had accidentally broken in to Trebah, a popular (and paid entry) sub-tropical garden, but we’d had a couple of pints and decided to make the most of it.

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Rich’s view from the Shipwright’s Arms, with Fanny on the jetty

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Gatecrashing

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Caution: drunkard in the jungle

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Gwen in the mental Helf, apparently beset by giant flies

I spent the whole of the next day reading, lounging and moving files in to separate hard drives for music, film and photos, and on the next I rowed us to a beach for a long coast path walk culminating in another pint. As we returned to the dinghy I removed my coat for rowing and we were over half way to Gwen when fat plopping raindrops began to pelt the water, transforming very quickly into the tinny ripples of a downpour. Richard started to complain, which seemed a bit rich seeing as how he wasn’t the one rowing and still had a waterproof on.

“Go faster!” he prodded.

“I’M TRYING!” I yelled with all the power my hoarse throat could muster, and cracked up laughing. We carried on laughing and yelling over the clatter of raindrops all the way back to Gwen, and standing drenched on her deck I felt that somewhere in that rainy river I had probably shed a little tension and started work on a set of cracking stomach muscles.

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When shore power is absent, it’s time to adapt

Slow days, and sweet. We managed to beg a cheap second hand optimist sail for my dinghy from a local sailing school. Not much else of any use was done over this time, although Rich extended the clew lines on our gib sheet in the hope that this would stop the blocks catching when we tack, and painted a cupboard door with blackboard paint I’d procured before our departure. I later split it into sections for tides, weather info, shopping and a jobs list – which grew. We decided that was okay because we needed the rest. At anchor even a pop to a shop is a whole lot of exercise and logistics – it was time to drop the panic. All we had to do was move the rest of our files to the backup drive we were planning to leave with my mum, and the others could wait.

Enter the fucking bastard computers. Sorry, computer, but really! The next day – the WHOLE of the next day, became dedicated to the very simple task of trying to back up our files without losing them completely. First our backup drive died without hope of resurrection, then my usual hard drive slowed down to a painfully worrying stutter, and finally the drives that Rich had formatted decided they couldn’t be read. We took turns on the laptop, aching when we weren’t on it to rescue precious files – my entire design and teaching work for the last ten years, the manuals for the boat stuff, the e-books. How charming our absence from the internet had seemed and how cruel it had become – Google would know what to do! In the end we gave up, shoved the laptop into stowage and had dinner and wine on deck in the sun.

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Blackboard, soon to be decorated by me – data without the stress

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Departing the Helford, wondering if we’re still going forward (but not really caring)

Today’s sail started early, with hardly a breath of wind and a short delay while we waited for pretty mist to dissolve from the river mouth. We pulled the boom and jib across by hand to encourage our departure from anchor, and tacked peacefully out of the Helford for an hour at a snail’s pace, even fishing off the stern with Needle for a now familiar absence of catch. The wind picked up closer to Falmouth and I pinched Gwen hard to it to try and get inside the isolated danger marker I now refer to as Spikey, and though veering gusts made this impossible we soon tacked elegantly in to our usual anchorage at Trefusis with little bother. Rich was kind and happy, deferring to my judgement and praising my observations, and guided me gently through knots I really should know by now as we put the sails away. And yet, I could not fully enjoy any of it. As he observed, my confidence has gone, and it takes more than one good sail to get that back. Maybe the next one. We’ll see.

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It’s Falmouth Classics weekend, so our neighbours are sexy

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The perpetual embarrassment that comes with Richard naming a dinghy

Today, while Rich resuscitated the hard drives, I rowed over to Falmouth for a pleasant vittles and crossword trip, and caught up on the news. The shooting of 49 people in a gay club in Orlando, Nigel Farage’s latest hate campaign – the world stinking a little more. Then, this afternoon, the murder of dedicated MP and campaigner Jo Cox. You might think this enough to make me glad to be leaving the “real” world, but somehow I feel a desire to be nearer, to be doing something, to fight that impotence that accompanies tragedy and injustice, to right wrongs with a gesture of good in a landscape of fear. This urge will diminish and dissolve, of course. Tonight, like so many others, I’ll hug my lover tighter than last night and make little resolutions to myself. So I should probably go back to bed and do that now. N’night.

*Actually, cranes are always pretty. I don’t know what it is about the things, but I love them.

 

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.