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.


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




Caution: drunkard in the jungle


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.


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.


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


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.



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


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.



The long way to Mousehole


The boat roll is only a gentle one, the weather is cloudy and warmish. But still, I’ve given up on sleep. We’re anchored off Mousehole, just between the harbour and St Clement’s Isle, at a point from which you can see the Lizard once daylight properly hits, and the noise is incredible.

At the high, squawing end of the spectrum there are the birds. For humans the late night might be party time, but for these bastards 5.30am is when the rave gets going. The island, and the water between it and us, hosts seagull after seagull, thousands of the fucking things, and they are squeaking, braying and cawing with all the might their little lungs will allow. They fly from the island towards the mainland, mouths open in a persistent pulsing siren of sound, announcing the day more vociferously than any farmyard cockerel.

There’s a constant tapping from one of the ropes on to the mast which amplifies in our little concrete shell to something which, on land, would suggest that an intruder was trying to hammer their way in. And below us the anchor chain does weird things now and then, grating in deep yawns. Weirdest of all, it sounds as though it’s raining – but not on the deck. The spattering crackle is coming from below, possibly, we think, from the nattering of shrimps. They are noisier than you would ever imagine, and relentless. No wonder we’ve been having strange dreams.

We spent yesterday here relaxing, visiting the mainland for important things like a fry-up, a pint and a guilt free poo, and for more luxurious pursuits such as a long walk, a visit to a sweet little bird sanctuary and a read on the beach in the half-visible sun. It was all we could muster after the sail from the Helford, in which luck briefly abandoned us and I learned a little more about the endurance sport that is sailing.

Mousehole harbour

Mousehole harbour…

Enjoying Mousehole harbour involves stepping over anchor chains.

…which involves stepping over lots of anchor chains.

Using legs for something other than wobbling about a boat.

Using legs for something other than wobbling about a boat.



Gwen's home for two nights.

Gwen’s home for two nights… the weirdness and noise of St Clement's Isle.

…by the weirdness and noise of St Clement’s Isle.

Around 06:45 the seagull noise dies down, all of a sudden it’s daylight and I start making fresh coffee. I must do this a few hundred times a day at work, but at sea it’s a special, lengthy, once a day ritual, normally performed by Rich. His alarm will go off at 7 for today’s sailing and I hope this will be a nice surprise.

And like that, we’re back in the blessed, sleepy Helford. It’s been a ten hour day, an extra hour on Thursday’s sail, but largely less unpleasant. Thursday was just a bit too much, I suppose – hobby horsing in the chopped up sea, first feelings of mild seasickness and the disappointment of going round the Lizard too wide and having to tack miserably back in to our destination long after the sunshine and the fun of sailing had worn off. The most exciting bit was when the coffee grinder fell off the galley surface and spread its load all over the floor and I had to clean it up. By the end of the day my chin was tired of being kept up and my fading smile only crawled back to life when baked potatoes left our little paraffin oven.

Fortunately it brought us to Mousehole, where everything was a treat after the churning slog of the day before. We knew from the forecast that the winds wouldn’t take kindly to us trying for the Scillies or give us anchorage near St Michael’s Mount. Never shy of a challenge, though, we decided to try our original trip to Mousehole in reverse today. After a gorgeous sail from our noisy little anchorage we rounded the Lizard much closer, right by the giant rectangular ship California Highway that had piqued our curiosity on the way out and reminded me of a craft that jawas might dinghy out of to sell droids. Though the sea was almost as wild, my mood was considerably lighter than on our westerly leg. While on the tiller I sang loudly to the blue to try and coax out any whales or dolphins that might be nearby (this did not work). When off shift I read a book to Rich or made sandwiches or Tweeted banalities about absent dolphins.

Back in to the Helford, where at least we know the sea is quiet and the birds are a bit more polite. I’m so so tired, and hope we don’t have too many more all-day sails in our holiday. For tomorrow I’ve insisted on a short voyage to Falmouth for a piss-up. There’s more to tell, probably, perhaps, but there’s dinner to be made and a decent night’s sleep to be had for a change, so I bid you adieu.

The closest we got to St Michael's mount (through a gloomy zoom from a dinghy).

The closest we got to St Michael’s mount (through a gloomy zoom from a dinghy).

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.