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.