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.

Return

It’s been two months since my last post, and I’m sorry! I intended to write as soon as we returned from our trip down the Cornish coast, to tell you all about Fowey and the last leg home, but when we got home things started looking a little bleak and though the bleakness sped on by, my desire to express it remained absent. Picking up the computer to chart our progress seemed such fun while we were away, but now we were home it would involve all sorts of observations that weren’t immediately pleasant to make.

Fowey was wonderful, just so you know. Expensive (£24.50 a night mooring and nowhere to anchor) but lovely. We arrived in the evening, and we treated ourself to a meal and a pint at the King of Prussia, the pink pub where we were to pinch internet for the rest of our stay. In the morning we heard a strange deep rumbling, ignored it, and turned back to our hugs and pillows. When we finally woke, a city had parked at the next set of moorings.

Noisy neighbours and their little Star Warsy tender

Noisy neighbours and their little Star Warsy tender

Scale

Scale

That enormous ship, the Silver something, only hung around until four that day, ferrying their chubby tourist couples in droves to the town and back. What a peculiar way to see Cornwall, we thought. Ah well. We weren’t able or willing to leave Fowey for a couple of days so we made the most of its touristy charm ourselves, walking one day to St Catherine’s Castle and the next around Polruan, Lanteglos and back via the Bodinnick Ferry. We met up with my mum again, explored some art galleries, ate well, found a great wildlife photography exhibition, and even had a chance to retension the shrouds which had worked loose in the abusive winds that had brought us there.

It is almost impossible to be more stripy than this.

It is almost impossible to be more stripy than this.

Richard taking the rubbish out.

Richard taking out the rubbish in Rosie Primrose

Fowey from our walk

Fowey from the Polruan/Bodinnick walk

One evening a dinghy race provided entertainment while we chomped locally caught fish on deck. We “eeked” as one of their party collided with a neighbouring yacht and yabbered with the race officials as they came by to shield us from the same fate. More scary than enthusiastic dinghy sailors was the idea of huge container ships that the harbourmaster had told us tended to reverse exactly where we were stopped. Sure enough, later that night we watched in thrilled amazement as one rotated in the dark before Gwen, missing us by only a carefully driven 15 or 20 metres. It seemed incredibly close given the enormity of the thing.

Neighbours racing at the end of the day.

End of the day entertainment.

Finally the sea state became bearable and a westerly was predicted to appear, so we left our pricey buoy in the early early morning. Alas, predictions are not always correct and we found ourselves within sight of Fowey sitting stock still in an absence of wind. The GPS informed us we were travelling backwards. An hour passed, and we decided we had to get home somehow, so the engine was started for a long and noisy motorsail. Hours later, after a brief rainy pause in Cawsand bay we thought “what the hell”, and came all the way home to Southdown, sliding in between new neighbours with much less drama than on our departure.

Almost at Rame

A tired Richard approaching a misty Rame

At some point before we left Fowey Richard had got it into his head that this sailing had not been good enough. Somehow Gwen’s gaff rig was too much for the two of us, and we had been too tired for the whole trip, and oh, if only she was a junk rig like his old boat. I dismissed this as one of many passing fantasies, but by the time we settled back in Southdown he was having sleepless nights thinking about how it could be achieved – moving one mast and turning Gwen in to ketch, another mast near the aft cabin hatch. At our rate of pay and spare time to toil this would take almost as long again as the renovation that has consumed our last three years.

I couldn’t understand it. I had just had the trip of a lifetime – it had been hard and yes, at times I hadn’t been entirely sure if I was cut out for the long sails, but it had worked, I’d made it. I wanted to feel proud. I wanted him to notice that he had built a working boat and that I had learned to sail in our damn boat and to appreciate that we’d had an amazing holiday and now – what? It wasn’t good enough? I wasn’t very happy for a long while. Gradually we agreed together that we just needed to not be in such a rush, that we could get used to certain things, that longer rests were needed without a self-steering system. Gwen could do it and so could we. But still, the magic of the holiday had been broken and autumn was approaching.


It’s funny what can get you out of a fug.

I was soon desperately upset trying to find a better paid job so that I could save up for what we hope will be next year’s escape. One well paid job was cancelled at the last minute, and then a string of interviewers met other people with more experience. Failure after failure came back, or didn’t come back, to me. And at the back of my mind – what was the point anyway? Would any of it ever be good enough for Rich? At the start of October it got to a stage where the misery was all too much and *ping*, I hit the moment of “fuck this”.

Spurred into defiance by the release of this moment, I stopped looking for work. I started concentrating instead on my own pursuits; painted crap paintings, joined a creative writing class I couldn’t afford, began “The Artist’s Way”, and spent spare days creating or plotting creation with friends. Somehow, in between, bits of admin and English teaching work started coming my way – not enough to save much, but enough to get by, and I started to enjoy and even look forward to the season’s change. Pleasure’s all about perspective, and it seemed that now was a time to turn my gaze away from the boat to concentrate on myself. As far as I can tell a month later, I was right.

Rich has found some non-Gwen fun of his own and frequently takes long morning trips in his kayak to be among the waders and other sea birds that he loves. Some weekends he goes dinghy sailing with some local lunatics while I slog up at the Canteen. He is also working hard, too hard, all week, and making bits and pieces for the boat on weekends. I am working on a short musical and a card selling idea and a daft video project and whole host of other crap. And yes, we may be in real trouble in the new year when we’ll both be out of work – him for a long-awaited operation on his dodgy arm and me because the English will dry up and the cafe will be shut. But we’ll deal with that when it comes. For now, we are enjoying what we can and taking pleasure from being out in the air and water, outside of last year’s hideous shed, and that is enough. Gwen sits in front of the cafe at the marina and we sleep snugly within her, giggling at each other’s news while a log-burner keeps the approaching winter outside.

A First Time for Everything

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

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

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

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Drunk on more than last night’s cider

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

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

The saloon, upgraded with banjo strap and plant holders.

The saloon, upgraded with banjo strap and plant holders.

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Ren follows Gwen

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

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

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

Sails good

Sails good

Gib up

Jib up

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

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

The view from a lie-down on deck.

The view from a lie-down on deck.

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

Wine

Wine

Our home for the next few days. Not bad.

Our home for the next few days. Not bad.

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

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