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.
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.
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.
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.
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.