Not At Home

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Flamingos on Calpe’s salt marshes

We didn’t rush out of Calpe. I knew this would probably be our last night sail this year, and I wanted to savour the evening’s impressions – the two-step grumble of the racheted chain falling in to the locker, the almost imperceptible motion of sailing off anchor, the helicopter whirr of the wind in the jib, the squishy splashy sounds of waves against us, the salty stick of sea air on sun tightened skin. We sped up gently as the staysail was hoisted, and glided down the bay past the beaches where we’d made landings for this and that. This place hadn’t been the most beautiful or interesting, but it had been incredibly happy, and we were prepared to miss it.

Our usual system for tacking involves Rich bringing in one running backstay and me steering with an outstretched leg while undoing the other behind me, then a swap of position as I release the head sail sheets and Rich tightens them in on my original side. We performed this while sunset orange flashed in the windows of beach hotels and stained the light rock of the penon, and I took some photos as we headed out into the Ibiza strait. As night fell the great rock dulled to grey, then black, and was left behind without us, and we thanked it and called goodbye with fearful glances to one another. I was scared of the stresses of finding work, Rich nervous about his new job, both of us intimidated by the notion of finding, approaching and affording a marina. We were full of hugs, touches and reassurances, with talk alternating between discussing what we needed to do when we got to Mallorca and consoling each other that we could manage it whatever.

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Last sunset over mainland Spain

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Cheerio Penon de Ifach. Love you.

Overnight the sea was less supportive. The waves didn’t look big but they were going in odd and different directions, and beating towards the wind had us hitting them at funny angles, jolting the boat and making both sleep and waking watches uncomfortable and effortsome. When we got to our anchorage in North Ibiza the next morning we were cranky and exhausted, and though Rich managed a snorkel I mostly watched movies, cooked and ate until I allowed myself to pass out. The beach looked busy, but the land looked green and lush and gave me hope for Mallorca.

The next morning we had anticipated a huge wind, but there was none in the unusually cloudy bay. Ah well, we’d tack out to sea. Ah, none here, we’d sail past the end of Ibiza that must be sheltering it. Ah, none here… We had halved our main sail area with two reefs the night before to cope with the onslaught, and though we filled most of the space with a topsail we were still doing only two knots. Then one. Then none.

Thunder rumbled over Ibiza. We decided to put the engine on if only to get further from the storm that seemed to be approaching. Within an hour or two the wind was finally up and we cut the engine to speed downwind towards Mallorca, whose mountains we could already see some 50 miles away, but the storm did not like being left behind. A downpour descended, our first rainy sail this side of Biscay, and we laughed a lot while both staying on deck like the idiots we are. I’m not sure about the psychology of it all but getting soaked does seem to put both of us in very good spirits. Then the wind got up, and by the evening we were removing the topsail and staysail to stay at 7 knots as we bashed our way into Mallorca’s south west approach to Palma. The rain had cleared, but darkness and high winds were our new challenges as we headed towards Magaluf and on to our anchorage for the night.

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Aw, it’s just like being back in England. Except warm.

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Pretty spatters and run-offs not captured very well here

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Mallorca looking less than inviting

The wind eased as we got closer in, the pair of us pointing and exclaiming at yet another bay of outrageous development and its sparkling lights. Just after Magaluf’s north end (lit by a gigantic pair of blue tips that it turns out are a bungee chair ride) we went to nip in to the south corner of Palmanova, the next bay, to stop for the rest of the night. Though we could make out most of the larger outlying obstacles we found ourselves bewildered by other craft whose lights were difficult to discern against all the lights ashore – a tall tower that seemed to be on land turned out on closer inspection to be a yacht’s well lit mast, and then a hotel on the far shore whose orange lights shone in line after line turned out to be a single super motor yacht, much closer than we’d realised. We had more neighbours than we’d had in all of northern Spain put together, and we wove our way between them cautiously by motor, a torch at the ready, before putting the anchor down and breathing sighs of relief.

Neighbours can be helpful things to have, and the next morning one of them dinghied over and told us that this bay can actually be anchored in all year round. Our brains whirred – could this be true? Could we live this far from Rich’s job in Palma? Would it work for us? What’s ashore here apart from hotels? Are we about to save a tonne of marina money? We decided to give it a try for a couple of weeks and see what happened. Gwen seemed happy for now, bobbing in the sunny bay with Fanny and Bob trailed out behind like ducklings. In a spirit of “checking out the new neighbourhood” I went ashore on my own for some shopping, and came back in a state of shock.

First impressions of Palmanova: It’s Magaluf. It’s Benidorm. It’s Daily Mails and Full Englishes. It’s theme pubs and inflatable toys. It’s cock shaped key rings and lapdance clubs. It’s stags and hens getting wasted and performing sex acts for bets. It’s “Prince William’s” menu del dia featuring real yorkshire puddings. Exposed white skin coated in raw burn or inch thick foundation, head-wide necks and muscle carved chests dribbled with football tattoos, gawping dead stares giving you “evils”. I looked for veg in all the self-styled “supermarkets” and found only crisps and booze. I went to buy a postcard and got chatted up by the checkout clerk. I went to get a beer and talked myself out of a panic attack. I rowed home in tears. This is my new home? What is there here for me?

That night I worried. Rain poured down and we leapt out of bed to shut hatches and protect items on deck. The next morning the sun shone, the sea beckoned and the world seemed a little better – this is not all there is. I went online to find out about Palma and was intrigued by what sounds like a brilliant city, and snorkelled round the boat to check on the anchor before the waterskiers and jetskiers got started for the day. Rich and I went ashore together and found areas beyond the busy sea front scariness, and popped in to an enormous Aldi where they have real fruit and vegetables. We found the bus stop, and saw that Palma is only a half hour ride away. We went to Magaluf and found a cool looking theme park among the pubs and hotels. In the evening we had a quick drink with Rich’s new boss, who seems like a really decent chap, and his adorable wee son. By evening we were back on Gwen and enthused, making plans to the sounds of battling crooners in distant sea front bars (“Delilah” overlapping with “I’m Still Standing”) and the first chants of karaoke that would go on until long after we fell asleep.

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Kathmandu Park in Magaluf has an upside down pub, a huge awesome climbing frame and a mini golf course with waterfalls…

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…and this crazy octopus. We must go round it before it shuts for winter.

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“You know how you always see people taking photos of each other in front of pointless things? Well, I’ve decided to take one” says the man I love.

We’re going to check out Palma tomorrow, and more of the island over our weekends. I’m still slightly bewildered that we’ve stopped cruising and yet I’m not back in the Shire, and I hope to get there for a visit over the winter. As much if not more than back home, I’m going to miss cruising. I’m going to miss waking up somewhere new and going to explore. I’m going to miss the work of sailing and the life of not working. I’ve learned so much – so many subtle peculiarities of sailing and of how Gwen, Geordi and Rich do it. I am so pleased to be here largely because I am so pleased with how we got here. We’ve logged 2,100 sailing miles since Millbrook. Four years after Gwen became ours she has done what we dreamed of doing with her, and the purpose of any hardship we endured for her back home has been revealed. I still feel like she owes me a bigger trip, another adventure, and we’re going to work towards that. But, for the next six months at least, we’ve got a new life to live, hopefully one that can include the odd weekend sail to remind us of Gwen’s brilliance, the glory of the sea and the joy of a silent secluded anchorage. We’ve got a lot to get used to and a lot to discover, and hopefully a lot more to enjoy.

Dorne Chorus

The nudie anchorage stayed warm and clear. We spent two nights off the short grey beach beneath the tall grey rock face, peppered with bare browning couples, and though we never joined them ashore I was confident that my own undress on deck would not offend. When I did suit up it was in my wetsuit, exploring the nearby rocks with Rich, glad of a rest from sailing and a chance to do something fun together.

On the cloudy morning of our departure I realised I’d run out of Rizlas, and it was decided by he who doesn’t smoke that I should go ashore and get some.

“No, you’re alright”. I was happy to wait until our next anchorage.
“No, you really need to go and get some”. Forced smile.

It seems the notion of sailing with me in nicotine withdrawal is not appealing, and as Rich’s addiction to bread is equally strong I could grab a loaf or two at the same time. We pottered Gwen to the next beach, off the town of La Rabita, but with an opportune wind due any moment (ha!) and after two days of not using a dinghy, neither of us could be bothered to get one off the boat. I descended the swimming ladder in my bikini with a brief shudder, the dry bag we use for Rich’s tablet stuffed with money and a frock and slung around my shoulder, and swam over to the long empty beach. There, a merry chap popped over to greet me, and we conversed poorly in Spanish and arm waving until I couldn’t understand any more.

“Has your engine broken?”
“No”
“So why did you swim?”
“I want to buy bread”
“Ah, you go to that shop there by the Coca Cola sign”
“Thank you very much”
“Are you Australian?”

I got my dress on, did the shopping and then swam back to Gwen carrying a drybag full of papers and torn loaves, with a parcel of folded frock and breakfast strapped to my head. I felt extraordinarily proud, like a flat-chested brunette Ursula Andress carrying ham and cheese croissants instead of shells, and I bragged about it all morning as we motored away.

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Not as exotic as it sounds, is it?

Now the wind seems to always come from the east. Unfortunately, we’re heading east, and our topsail-less 16 tonne boat doesn’t point well to windward. In very low winds she doesn’t point anywhere bloody near windward, hence the first use of our motor in the Med and the ensuing afternoon of zigzagging that followed us getting sick of the noise and turning it off. By the time we got near somewhere, anywhere, to stay the night we were both sick of shooting miles away from our destination to return only slightly closer to it, and we were squeezing less than two knots out of the meagre breeze. We put the engine back on.

Running the engine has one redeeming feature. The Chard, who has a lifelong fear of singing, will deign to give it a go when masked by the growling, squeaking chunder of Perkins 4-107. The challenge is to find songs that we both know the words to, which as far as we know is limited to The Muppets’ Rainbow Connection and most of Pulp’s Different Class, but for me there is little more wonderful than seeing Rich set loose his voice to the sun kissed sky. In brief rare moments I can even hear him.

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Mountains, bridges, polytunnels and buildings, all in glorious brown and grey

We stayed a single, shoreless night off Almerimar, which is at the edge of a low curve of land that extends from the mountainous coast. Southern Spain looks how Mars will look once terraforming has just started to work and the property developers and tour companies take over. Like much of the Costas we’ve seen so far this area was baked, barren and dirt coloured, and featured even more wide, plastic covered polytunnels – so many that the area they inhabit can been seen as a huge white patch on a zoomed out Google Earth. As we sailed along more of it the next day we reminisced about the lush green of the north, and of back ‘ome.

We rounded the corner to find the wind turning generously. For a few glorious hours we were able to sail in a steady, strong wind that was just enough shy of ahead of us that the boat could keep to our envisioned course, and our moods became joyous. In England, a sail to windward means three jumpers, two pairs of trousers and some sturdy socks – here, we were still in our t-shirts as hair flew and songs were sung to the graciously miniature waves (by me, of course). We listened to podcasts that were gifted by a recent surge in internet access, learned some Spanish and chatted about all sorts, and had to shed sail quickly to slow down for our new anchorage at Almeria.

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The entrance to Almeria features a huge railway bridge to nowhere

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They’re very fond of fountains, but they aren’t all turned on

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This one had a cat resting in the middle (until I came over to take a photo)

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The cathedral, originally built to be a mosque

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Sadly we didn’t get to go to Manchester Club

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Can anyone explain what the shitting hell is going on here?

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Cave homes in the hillsides

We had a day of rest due to mild hangover and bad weather – including actual rain! – and got kicked out of that anchorage by the guarded but civil Guardia Civil, so now we’re a little further down the coast. Today we went ashore again. Almeria’s a big city with all the navigational challenges that suggests, and it’s not terribly well labelled. We’ve seen signs pointing to a photography gallery and later a house of butterflies, that when followed seemed to lead to a network of small restaurants and a Lidl, which is a bit frustrating in the formidable afternoon sizzle. One thing could be easily located – in the west of the city, where there is a strong Moroccan influence in buildings and restaurants, we visited the huge walled fortification of the Alcazaba. This megacastle was built by the Moors, expanded by the Christians, and (not that this is the most important thing to me or anything) is currently serving as the capital of Dorne in Game of Thrones. I’ll put some pictures here so I don’t have to describe it because I’m lazy.

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Rich in the Muslim end, from the Christian end

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The gardeny end

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Some of the excavations they didn’t turn in to gardens

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We’re in a castle! (It’s very educational)

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The walled walk to the other, smaller castle

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It’s a broody one, this, isn’t it.

And now we’re back on the boat, in the comfort of our own living room, listening to the cozy drone of recently downloaded Radio 4. Gwen is home, and she commands an intense love from both of us. I have never before heaped adoration on a house or, save for a few short love affairs with bicycles, a mode of transport, but this wide-hipped beast that has been our gaff(er) for the last few years is not just where I keep my stuff or move from a to b, she is the centre of my ever changing world. We might yell at Geordi, the cooker, the anchor, and curse the elements, but Gwen is spoken to only in the gentlest terms, even in times of stress “now come on, Gwen, wouldn’t you rather pack that in”. I hug bits of her sometimes, especially when I need to to stand up. Rich often talks about changing her to a junk, and though he’s almost selling me on the rig, I’m not sure that it’s practical for her. But I noticed the other day that if we ever talk about one day getting another boat, we do it ashore, out of her earshot. She’s lurching right now in a wavey windless anchorage, and I’m rocking into snooziness. I ask her to calm down. We’ve another windward wander tomorrow, and I’m about ready for some food.

Silver Linings

It’s a long one again. You ready?

On our second night in Carril we ventured over to Villagarcia de Arosa for Noite das Meigas, the night of the witches, braving a perilous moonlit row around the lines and lines of bent and twisted re-bar sticks that mark the fishing areas off the beach. Strolling in, it wasn’t long before we heard sounds of gathered people and folk music and came upon our first witches in garish wigs and black capes. Soon stations of costumed servers appeared from street to street, each accompanied by a sound system playing traditional songs and a wicker hut spire. Women handed omelettes, empanadas and other treats to queues of grateful punters, while the men stirred great ceramic cauldrons, pouring spirits and sugar in to big blue flames to join floating apple rinds and spice.

It took us a while, but we realised that the witches were giving the food away for free, and that for one euro you could buy a small ceramic cup which would be filled by any warlock whose flames had burned out enough booze. The delicious warm spirit, like a mulled Christmas drink without the fruitiness, was still alcoholic enough to require gentle sipping as you wandered from station to station to sample new music and nibbles. New-age and wiccan fayre was sold at one stall on the main street, cartoonish halloween tat at the next – no one idea of witchcraft seemed to be standard. In the plaza, troupes of Galician dancers and musicians performed on a lit stage: skirts billowing with backward-stepped twirls, pipes droning in unbroken loops, and all the performers grinning so much that the love of their crafts became infectious. We were merry when we eventually wobbled back to Gwen, still clutching tumblers of sticky potion.

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I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you…

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Witch pops

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Arousa’s plaza

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Young witch bagpipers learn from the old masters

The next morning it was time to go. In the rias, a sail between anchorages every day or two keeps your body well aired and your time well spread between towns. The sailing was pleasant so we carried on all the way to Combarro, the most touristy town we encountered in Galicia, famous for the granaries that stand on stone stilts along the waters edge. Here, witchcraft is a permanent part of the merchandisable culture, not a once-a-year event. After some expensive beers and a wander round thin, crowded winding streets we returned to the stage in the main plaza for the evening’s entertainment. Once again we were fooled by the impressive backing band. Once again we were in for ghastly europop, this time in the form of a four piece samba boy band. Though their gyrating moves were not mirrored by an audience in which older pairs danced gentle steps, they still managed to find three teenage girls to take part in an extended ass shaking competition. Time to go, we figured, and rowed home to the sound of the Macarena.

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When we get there, it’s low tide. I get off at the steps while Rich pushes the dinghy ashore through the mud. It’s pretty funny and there are a few of us watching by the end.

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Because of this, Fanny’s bottom still looks like this.

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Viney dinner spot

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It’s them again

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Combarro

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Granary granary granary

With the wind still in our favour we sailed off to Baiona, where we decided to have an extended rest before the long slog to southern Portugal. I finished off my design work and put together a couple of good looking CVs for us to email off to boatyards, schools and offices from the internet cafe ashore. In the mornings we explored the castle, town and hillside. In the afternoons for siesta I sunbathed on the beach or on deck. In the evenings we found cheap tapas, met or caught up with other cruisers, and talked about oiling the rigging and other boat jobs that we never seem to get around to. The pleasure of staying in one place long enough to know our way around and have a favourite shop (who can resist a Chinese market called “Bazaar Wang”?) was edged with a strangeness of stasis – the saloon got messy, and we got bored. One morning we got a phonecall and Rich was offered a job in Majorca. Suddenly we had a destination for the winter, and our plans to spend the weekend at the Illas Ceis went out of the window. By the evening we’d shopped, tidied, refuelled and watered and were motoring out to sea to sail a long passage past Portugal, in no wind. We turned the motor off for dinner, and left it off.

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Our first night was clear and starlit, with the sails flapping back and forth noisily while the breeze refused to grow. On my watch, my mind did not find its usual hypnotised calm. It busied itself imagining huge musical numbers with full chorus, a great bassline and a joyous horn section, over the top of which I wrote terrible rock musical numbers that rhymed “Orion” with “a saucepan to fry on”. Orion, played by 80s Paul Nicholas, watched down over me as I raised my arms to conduct the sky, but this euphoric flight of fancy was not to last and was eventually drowned out. I woke Rich early from his slumber to help me restrict the violent slamming of the sails, gaff and boom in the tiny wind.

The next morning the fog came, and, but for a few odd hours of partial clarity here and there, it filled the next two and a half days. In the thick grey, the distinctions between directions and between sky and sea faded to a damp blur. We got the radar reflector up and prepared for the worst. For all the head-aching effort it takes to blow the thing, and for all its impressive volume, our fog horn still sounded like a kid’s party toy. Eventually we restricted its use to “if you see something” or “when you have something to announce”. PARP Richard has put on some trousers. PARP I need the toilet.

Watches became scarier and required more and more concentration. When there was wind, the speed of our motion into the unknown was frightening. When there was none, the accompanying reduction of steering ability made an encounter with any other craft a terrifying prospect. The horizon, or what hung in its place, had to be scoured at all times – if another yacht should appear in the grey we would need to react immediately. We also kept a regular watch of the AIS and put plenty of space between us and shipping and fishing vessels. Tension was high and we snapped at each other more than usual, occasionally descending in to serious grumps. We spent a lot of our off-watch time sleeping, exhausted from the extra effort the fog required, or watching movies to distract ourselves from the indiscernible reality above decks.

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I took a photo of this because it was the only thing I saw all day

By night it was rarely any better. On my first foggy night shift I was already bricking it when the wind changed direction and strengthened as I was hand steering to a compass bearing. Though we had a preventer on so we couldn’t gybe accidentally (gybing accidentally is on my top five terror list, as it could potentially destroy our rig and boat in a strong wind) it was enough to blow the main sail back and up towards me, and I steered quickly to correct it, muttering fearful incantations of “fuck off, fuck off, fuck off”. When Rich started his next watch I told him about it, and found his seeming lack of interest typical, but upsetting. I went to bed imagining the voice I wanted to hear, and told that about it instead.

“…and then I turned the boat and it was okay”

“it sounds like that was really scary”

“it was, it was!”

“and it sounds like you handled it really well”

“yes, thank you, yes, yes, I did”

“and you’re alright now, aren’t you?”

“no, now I’m lying in bed crying my eyes out like a twat”

“like who, Trish?”

“like… like Ellen McArthur?”

“that’s right, Trish, like Ellen Fucking McArthur. Cry, then cry some more. Then get some sleep.”

Night, however, provided the spectacles of the trip, most clearly on the third night in my second watch. Within the fuzzy blackness, phosphorescence drew faint edges on the waves closest to the boat, which got gradually brighter. Then the light extended, the wake and bow wave shimmering with ever bolder glows. A dolphin swam towards the boat, coated like a sparkling ghost, a fainter cloud billowing in its wake. Then another appeared, and another. I could see the misty shoals that they were chasing turn and twist, sometimes with individual fish shooting one way and another as darting lights. I could watch a glowing dolphin speed beneath one side the boat and shuffle to the other in time to watch it emerge. I stood up on the coach roof, my harness keeping me attached to the boat, and watched from on high as the sea all around me turned into a theatre of shimmering movement. At one point I saw a line of light up ahead which grew to a shape bigger than Gwen, facing towards her from beneath the surface as she passed. Was it a whale? Or a huge static shoal of fish? I started crying again.

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Our compass light mark 4 – a bike torch Rich has rigged up to an LED

On the fourth day we tried to stay positive, but failed. We mused that perhaps there is no such thing as Portugal. Rich hadn’t seen it on the occasion he had sailed down this way on a boat delivery, and we hadn’t seen it and were supposedly only 30 miles off shore, half way down its western coast. Perhaps they couldn’t be bothered to write this bit of the Matrix. Perhaps it’s just a set of giant smoke machines. When it did finally appear it was just as strange – has that huge bit of land been there all along? We tried to suppress little arguments but they bubbled up time and again until one was too much for Rich and sent him into a spin, and soon the entirety of our relationship was under question. As the light began to dwindle I asked if we could go to Sines and stay there the night. We were tired of being scared, and tired of each other, and another night in the fog that would inevitably return would be too much for me. He conceded.

The sun had set and the wind dropped when we went to gybe. We were performing our usual functions – Rich was up front and had taken off the preventer, and I was preparing to gently turn us to the other side of the wind – when something strange happened. The wind changed and started pushing the sail as though I had already turned, and no matter how much I steered us back, it would hardly change in relation to the boat. “Go East” Rich called, but I had already gone past east. The wind was turning faster than I could. “The wind’s doing something weird and I’m scared” I shouted to Rich, unable to contain the wavering in my voice. For the next ten minutes we attempted to sail the boat in any direction we could, but the wind continued to twist us around, with me desperately trying to follow it. We tried to heave to, but even that was violent and uncertain in this inconsistent breeze. At last we put on the engine and motored for three long hours towards land, our minds exhausted and our love strained, with as few words as possible. We navigated by sea lights and a huge gas works’ flame, and anchored in the fishing end of Sines’ harbour by exchanging terse commands before collapsing into separate berths at three in the morning.

Yesterday morning we woke to the smell of hot seagull shit, with a thousand of the little squawkers floating in the sun-cooked water around us, waiting for the fishing boats. We chatted, shared and understood a little better, hugged long and hard and napped deeply before heading ashore. Sines is a beautiful town despite its horrific appearance from sea. Cobbled streets are lined with cobbled pavements that link underlit shops and bars. Artistic graffiti adorns buildings, shops sell interesting and useful stuff and there is no siesta so it’s all open. There is a huge four storey lift that links the beach to the town, and that doesn’t work, so instead you wander up or down one of many zig zag paths, hitting musical instruments and leaping on trampolines in the public spaces between, perfect for the couple who desperately need to play. By the evening everything seemed a lot better, and it seemed a scary spat may have forged us closer in the end. A relief was spreading over us as we cosied up for a nice dull evening watching a favourite film (“Galaxy Quest” is brilliant).

Today we’ve met some lively old lads with boats and refuelled our bodies with hard bread and blessed inactivity. We’re in a bar that plays good funk and serves pear cider. We feel good again, and we’re glad we didn’t throw each other overboard or completely skip Portugal. We’re very glad that it exists, after all.

Hot

The sun isn’t just beating down, it is searing relentlessly into our skin and boiling our sweaty brains. Rich has fastened the wind scoop, a curve of fabric that funnels cold air through the boat, on to the forehatch. This has earned the dark cavern below a noticeable hint of freshness. He then cut a diamond piece of our cheap sail-cover tarp and fashioned a shade over the boom to give the cockpit a small oasis of cool. He’s supposed to be napping there but he’s never been very good at stopping. He’s in the aft cabin, on my phone, Googling how to catch razor clams.

We’re anchored in Muros, the prettiest town we’ve visited in Spain so far, and though it’s siesta time I’m below decks cursing this computer. Two very welcome bits of graphics work have come in, but my first attempt at this logo was rejected and now it turns out that reference files haven’t downloaded, which means another trip ashore with the laptop tonight to get it right. I am imagining payment not in pounds or euros but in paella. We haven’t had any paella yet. This logo is four nights of paella. Persevere.

We’ve been in Galicia for a fortnight now, gradually making our way from Cedeira, where we first landed, to this fishing town on the west coast. The culture here is gloriously different from what we know, and we’ve had plenty of opportunity to marvel that:

  • You are given a small piece of tapas – omelette, pastry or crisps – every time you go for a coffee or beer
  • A beer (the omnipresent Galicia Estrella) is a third of the price of one in France, so we can go out for one most evenings.
  • There is no butter, and fruit squash does not exist.
  • Nobody, even in the cities, does anything in the afternoons except go to the beach. The shops are shut. The day starts early, stops at lunchtime, starts again at about 9pm, and goes on all night.
  • Because of this there are children’s events at midnight and the pubs sell ice creams for them as well as booze for their adults.

The huge pine-filled bumps and cliffs continue to roll down the coastline, topped with wind farms and edged out to the sea with scraggy fingers of rock. In towns and villages alike, white buildings with teracotta roofs that glow orange in the sun are scattered over verdant hillsides, below which yellow beaches are raked overnight to be pristine for the afternoon’s crowds. The most faded and delapidated houses are always the prettiest, and in some gardens strange stone granaries stand high on pillars like doghouses for a pet you don’t ever want to come out.

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Cruising by the dribbling monster man rock at the entrance to Camarinas

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Gwen in Camarinas

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My scribbled impression of Corme from the beach opposite

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Beach life in a bay near A Coruna

We stock up on bread, eggs, tomatoes, onions and biscuits between day sailing trips and hope they will keep us full enough. Every fishing town has its own specialities, and every sea front has enough cafe bars to make popping out for a quick drink an exercise in containing food envy. When we can afford a tapas treat we are not disappointed: here in Muros the speciality is chiperones, which is the best squid I have ever tasted drenched in oil, peppers and onion.

A couple of low-wind motorsails tested Rich’s patience, as did my attempts at tact when suggesting turning on the dreaded engine. It’s quite frustrating to be so close to the famous blasts of Finisterre in a silent sea, while redundant outstretched arms of windmills ashore remind you of the field of crosses in Life of Brian (or, you know, the Bible). Any problems we’ve had have usually been caused by overtiredness. I grumbled into a huge strop when we left Cedeira to go tacking painfully up the river towards Ferrol, so much so that Rich and I ended up touring San Felipe’s beautiful castle separately, at the same time. A week later he had his own tantrum day, best shown in our log book entry for 5pm:

(Richard’s handwriting) 1.5 knots. FUCKING WIND!! WHERE ARE YOU??
(My handwriting) Richard needs sleep

These have been mercifully brief blips in a fortnight of fun. Near A Coruna we took our sleeping bags and a paraffin stove for a wander and ended up sleeping in a cave on a cliff face, struggling to stay awake long enough to watch the perseid meteor shower draw swift dashes of light in the sky. In Camarinas we sailed our dinghies up a fine river that revealed itself with the tide, and we watched our first otter fishing from the beach at its mouth. In Corme we picked mussels from the beach rocks and cooked them up in the watered down carton wine we’ve come to rely upon (70c a litre – what can you do?). In A Coruna we changed our focus to a full day in the city and found ourselves in a comics convention, a terrible public concert and, on our next sail, a tall ships parade. We’ve tried to balance out work time with afternoons on beaches and sailing time with gentle evenings beneath the stars.

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The view near our one night cave hotel

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Dolphins in the bay at Corme

Dinghy sailing towards a river near Camarinas

A roadside camping stove dinner at the other end

That’s all of A Coruna. I got a bit snap happy that day.

The sailing is good when the wind is up, so by the time we got around Finisterre we were overjoyed to welcome back the weather for which it is best known. The “Costa de Morta” has individual graveyards set aside for the people of different nations who perished against its rocks in the days before GPS. Flying downwind puts the pair of us in a good mood, and I start wondering at the strange physics of sailing – not just at the propulsion of our 16 tonne beast but also at the smaller effects on her – the vibration of the fishing reel on the back of the pushpit, the blowing back of sails waiting for the next downwind gust, the judders and noises that emerge from the battles between tide, wind, shape, wave and weight. I often say to Rich that driving a boat must be easy if I can do it – I can’t drive a car. He then reminds me that roads don’t move.

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Passing Finisterre

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Goose-winged downwind, with the aid of an oar on a pole

Our Spanish has improved slightly, and I can now rely on more than reciting the intro from “Pretty Fly (for a white guy)” when trying to remember numbers. The Chard has insisted that I learn to say “I like rowing” after some fishermen in Cedeira shouted at us from the slipway, telling him off for letting me (a woman, of all things) row him back to Gwen. If it happens again I can’t decide whether to deliver it with a cartoon girlish giggle or in my best Tom Waits growl, and how many fingers to stick up against my oars. Most people seem nice, and if you can’t speak the same language then you can usually figure everything out with gesturing. “Two beers please”, “can I have the bill please”, “how do you say that?” and “how much is this?” have become almost natural, although I miss the ease with which I could converse in France.

It is a big big sea on a small world. Every sailor we meet, Northern, Welsh, Portugese or Bulgarian, has heard of or spent some time in Millbrook. One cruiser, who was very kind with advice and hand drawn charts for a Portugese approach, had even hung out on our boat when she was first made. We continue to be blessed with sunshine, and we can’t complain. And that’s probably not very interesting, so I’ll leave you there and get back to making us some paella.

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If you think this cockpit sun shade is good…

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…you should see what Rich has just rigged himself up. “I’m fishing” he insists.

Bonjours

The Chard has been baking. Though we’ve veg and grains aplenty we ran out of bread, milk, eggs etc. a few days ago so he’s keeping us snacking with loaves and slices, and I’m keeping us from eating them all at once with gargantuan rice and pasta binges. Greetings, from behind a peanut butter flapjack. I’ll start with Concarneau.

Concarneau

The roaring sun spent several days playing hide and seek with the clouds. Our anchorage at Anse de Kersos was home to a daily frenzy of activity as sailing schools ferried boatloads of children out to fill single file lines of prepared dinghies. Some tots that looked as young as four were plopped in tiny tubs with barely more than a shirt on a stick to propel them downwind. After a short steered stretch a boat would scoop them up and motor them back upwind to steer back down again. Older kids came tearing past us in oppies and little catamarans, banging in to each other and calling out. In the lazy centre of all this activity, Rich and I spent Saturday doing absolutely nothing. On Sunday, over-rested, we unstowed our fold-up bikes into Fanny for their first foreign outing. We rode a good distance, but after a long passage and a day cooped up together we wanted to go different ways, at different paces, to see different things at almost every stage. That night, a mutual sentiment “I love you but I don’t want to spend my spare time tomorrow with you” was agreed with the help of cheap, tension-drowning wine.

Adorable couple photo

Before this promised solitude, however, we had work to do. On Monday morning we loaded up our two bikes (which don’t have names yet) with all of our dirty laundry for the last month. After ditching it in a mega-washer, and following a protracted mechanic hunt, we found the port’s “Meca Diesel” where I used broken French to describe the three jobs that needed doing. I referred to notes we’d made the night before – faire de plat, quatre goujons en acier trempé, un angle de quatre vingt dix degré and we both mimed various actions at the exhaust manifold, complete with massive exhaust pipe, that Rich had hauled there in his backpack. After some conversation between the man on the desk and the machinist I agreed to pick it up the following day, and we pedaled off to retrieve our wet laundry and further overload our child-sized bikes and knackered backs with a week’s worth of tasty French vittles.

About six years ago I cycled from Cornwall to Paris with a gang of friends from my village, so the experience of rocking up by bicyclette to a French supermarket to gaze with exhaustion at a plethora of slightly unfamiliar goods brought back strong memories. It was in just these sorts of supermarché car parks that our little troupe would joke, bitch and refuel for another day’s 70 mile journey. Thanks to this challenge I only know how to go around roundabouts the French way with any instinct, and I could remind Rich when he drifted on to the left, British, side of the road.

Gwen with the glad rags on

Among the tiny tots

At last I was free to roam. I cycled around for a bit, enjoying the feeling of air, shops, people, trees, houses and cars passing by. I spent a while dawdling in La Ville Close, the castle at the centre of the port which provided us with a cider on our first night, failing to stay awake long enough to catch an open-air play that evening. It is a magical and well preserved place for all its bustle. Past the portrait artists and hair braiders, in the little square by the entrance, a band called Micamac sing and play French, Breton and Irish folk songs in stunning harmony on a seemingly endless variety of cool traditional instruments. During daylight hours they seem to be permanently there, so you can understand their habit of stopping between each and every song to smoke and chat. Their repertoire is a reminder that the Breton people are Celts, and as with all the Celtic nations Brittany expresses this heritage most visibly through the medium of tourist tat, heavily dosed with flags, curvy typefaces, swirly patterns and poor puns. Inside the inner walls of La Ville Close this is available in abundance from the shops that line its crowded narrow main street, along with every confectionary imaginable and all the art, crepes and glacés you can only just bear to resist.

The entrance, from the ramparts

 

There’s another street parallel to this with nobody on it

 

Tintagel would be proud

I rested there again the next day during another solo shore mission. I had rowed Bob to the beach and cycled to the town, asked two dive shops whether they’d like to part exchange Rich’s wetsuit and hunted unsuccessfully for a crab pot to buy, and I was preparing to pick up the exhaust manifold when the Meca re-opened after a long lunch break. Though we’d overdone it on the week’s budget I allowed myself a small baked treat full of almonds and apple mush. Boulangeries are actually, literally, honestly everywhere in Concarneau and, along with well-perfumed French tourists, give it a brilliant smell (except in the fishing docks, which I’d also cycled through by mistake: a stinky gauntlet run through a thousand hungry seagulls).

I cycled back to the mechanic to check and pay a small fortune for the work they’d done: machining something flat, changing the direction of a pipe, providing new bolts for fixing it. I looked over their work and asked questions and pretty much understood the replies. I wasn’t sure whether the smirks of the men in the garage were due to my teeny tiny bicycle wheels, the huge bit of engine that was now filling and poking with a baguette out of my backpack, or the fact that I clearly spoke neither Engine nor French with any confidence, but it didn’t matter. I felt like a hardened steel superwoman as I cycled away, laden with machine, a conqueror of languages and roads.


The Glenans

That night, with the exhaust well modified, Rich fixed the engine. Properly, we think (for now)! On the phone his dad recommended he run it in with a big trip at full speed, so with reluctance we decided to motor instead of sail over here to Les Iles Glenan the next day. After two or three hours at sea which were just as tiring on the tiller as any sail, and ten times as noisy, we finally turned between short rocks and these low, slender beachy islands. The sky was so grey that you couldn’t see one cloud from another, and as we were coming in I saw a huge figure on one island that looked from a distance like a torso and head. “They’ve got a wicker man” I told Rich with glee “we’re doomed”. “It’s a marker, and it’s concrete” he assured me, but I remain hopeful nonetheless. We dropped our anchor in a sandy area, directed from below to a turquoise patch glowing among dark weeds.

This archipelago hosts a huge, famous sailing school, spread over several wee islands and based in forts and other old buildings dotted around them. New buildings are not allowed in most places, and everything (not a lot if you don’t count sea, sand, rocks, boats and seagulls) is solar and wind powered. Many of the beaches you can see from our anchorage are, at one point of the day or another, lined with mast after mast of sailing dinghies of all descriptions. They race around the bays all afternoon, sometimes waving to us from the high side of a tilted hobie cat as we sit on deck. They are mostly young adults, older than the kids in Anse de Kersos, on the next step towards joining the sailing superstars for which France is famous.

It’s stayed grey since we got here, so we’re sticking around for a sunny day tomorrow before we head to Belle Ile because you can tell it’ll be stunning. We’ve got a few jobs, bits of drawing and occasional sporadic dancing done while we wait for it to pass, and we’ve finally got both our dinghies sailing with their own rigs and taken them to explore a couple of the islands. The biggest, St Nicholas, is still tiny by any sort of standard and we walked around it quickly on well protected pathways over loose yellow sand, admiring sea plants we didn’t recognise and sailors doing their thang. Rich holidayed there when he was a kid and he likes being back. The place crawls with day tourists from Concarneau and Benodet and yet, refreshingly, doesn’t feel like it’s geared towards them, or us. It has a huge wind generator, a restaurant and a diving centre but there are no shops anywhere (hence why we have run out of half our larder). One resident came and asked me all about Bob because she’s looking for something similar for her kid, and a kind man in the dive centre leant me a snorkle pipe for the weekend. It seems crazy that folk live full time on this tiny space, but it appears they do. People probably think the same thing about us.

Everyone pretends to sunbathe on St Nicholas

Yeah, we could be outmaneuvered by a French 6 year old, but Bob and I get there in the end

We’ve started a “learn Spanish” CD. Here, the Chard turns to youtube for help rolling his Rs

Snorkelling from an islet that’s probably not actually called “bird poo island”

There’s a cool photo of a fish I want to share but it’s sapping my will to live. The phone people have caught up to me at last, so I can no longer use my phone to tether internet to my computer. Goodbye Youtube, it’s been beautiful. This means that blog posts will be transmitted either laboriously by phone like this (with a lot less photos) or as and when I can drag my laptop to some free wifi or a memory stick to an internet cafe. They’ll be a bit out of date and probably less frequent, all for the best I think as I do bang on a bit. So until you hear from me again, I’m hoping to explore not-really-named Wicker Man island tomorrow, and one way or another we plan to scrub Gwen’s bottom. Whether this will be on the sand on her legs or under water via snorkel we’re not yet sure. Other than that there’ll be more solo sailing in Bob, and I’ll try to whinnie slightly less during gybes because it’s really not becoming of a hardened steel superwoman, however good she’s feeling about her French.

Edit 03/08: Got internet in Belle Ile. Here’s that fish!

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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.

Landsick

Back in Cawsand Bay we be, we merry three, Rich, Gwen and me, and about time too. We returned to the marina and work and all the things those entailed for over a month, and we’ll be back up to our bloody ears in both once winter takes hold. So it’s time for escape.

Preparations were ambitious and have fallen short of the inevitable list, but are adequate for our intended jaunt (we hope). A couple of weeks ago in a rare sunny August Saturday, a very tired and grumpy Rich did some repairs on Ren and tinkered with Gwen’s fittings. To save myself from his all-seeing moaning eye I blasted out Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds while finally taking the plunge and painting Gwen’s name on either side of the hull. From a printed out mock-up of an idea (a tidied-up version of my own handwriting) I measured a grid in chalk then cautiously guessed at the letters within it, praying all the time “don’t miss out a letter”, “don’t fall and smudge it”. Not helping was the fact that I was leaned over precariously from a nearby pontoon, holding myself up on the rubbing strake. Fortunately, as the tide disappeared, I slipped my kayak between me and the boat and then jumped in once it was mud-bound, standing upright in the unholy Southdown gloop until the job was done.

Gwen, girl, kayak, mud.

Gwen, girl, kayak, mud.

The other side, at the aft end of the boat, was much more accessible and quick to complete with my newly practiced sign writing skills. There were typographical inaccuracies (the x height is different on either side of her because I measured one side wrong) but otherwise I was pretty pleased, although it seems ridiculous to have had to name Gwen at all. Neither Rich nor myself are legally required to display our identities.

The National Fireworks championships take place in Plymouth every year and it was always our intention to motor off and see them from the sea on Gwen this year. The weather pointed to the Tuesday show as our best hope for a clear passage and view, and we invited a few colleagues and friends along for the ride.

It’s funny having new, perhaps less boaty, people on board. Ben, a chef at the Canteen, was clearly impressed as I rowed out in Ren to pick him up from the beach, and then over the course of the evening more colleagues voiced their surprise as I drove the boat, used technical boaty words, leapt about the deck getting things done. Rather bizarrely, I think that despite having known full well that I live and have sailed on a boat, they didn’t really get that I had to know how to use a lot of it until then. I’m not sure what that says about me at work! Rich found it amusing that they asked permission before going inside “you wouldn’t do that if you were round someone’s house, would you?”. It was great to have them there, and the last ferries taking them back to the land gave us a chance to play with phosphorescence off Edgecumbe’s Barn Pool, with sparkling lights spreading from fingers draped off the dinghy. Finally, after Rich impressed me with a shimmering wee over Gwen’s side, I amused him no end by manoeuvring myself in to an awkward position between bits of the push pit and insisting on urinating magical glitter myself.

Gorgeous people and good drinks

How to watch spectacles in style

Taking photographs of fireworks: not as good as watching fireworks.

Taking photographs of fireworks: not as good as watching fireworks.

The next morning I woke with predictable misery to a particularly nasty hangover which didn’t disappear. It didn’t leave the next day when we went back the marina. By the Friday I had to take a day off work as I was too exhausted to do much at all and felt faint and sick whenever I moved, particularly if I walked. I expected it was some sort of fatigue, as I’d probably overdone it a bit of late – on days when I hadn’t worked full-out on lengthy, busy shifts I’d been trying to extend my training runs – but even once the tiredness passed this dizziness remained. A few days later, after an attempt at a shift had me feeling woozy within an hour, I went to the doctor and discovered that I have labyrinthitis. Insert David Bowie codpiece joke here.

So, my inner ear has this virus where I can’t walk for more than ten minutes, often less, without feeling like I’m going to puke or faint. It’s getting a bit better and the puking/fainting feeling has softened to an almost bearable wobble, but nonetheless work seems impossible and I’ve been signed off for another week. Sitting still or standing slightly propped up seem no problem, and mooching around the boat has been frustrating but without serious discomfort. As you might imagine, Rich was concerned that I might be made ill by our proposed voyages for this week, but so far, so good. In fact, as the beginning stages of our holiday went, an inflamed inner ear was the least of our problems.

Ren had to be left behind as she was splitting new leaks every time we moved her around. Fortunately, Rich was able to borrow Rosy Primrose, a tiny pink dinghy with a wonderful history. Chris Rees built it for his daughter Kezzy as a reward for swimming the width of the Guadiana when she was six, and since then it has taught rowing to a number of little kids. We tied Rosy up to Gwen when Rich’s mum came to visit yesterday, took her and her husband Chris on board and made the necessary moves to begin leaving the marina.

I was on the tiller to begin with, reversing awkwardly out of our spot across in to another to try and turn Gwen round so we could go out forwards. This wasn’t working so I started softly trudging the route backwards with Rich calling almost inaudible commands from the other end of a boat running a pretty noisy engine. Steering was hard, with prop walk and tide working against me and pulling us towards port, and I was glad when Rich came to take over. It looked as though we were going to make it out when I noticed Rosy off to the side, drifting towards a boat we were nearing. I pulled her in to Gwen and told Rich what I was doing, but that was when we were both made suddenly aware of the next and final boat in the row, which stuck out a little further.

There was some crunching, some swearing and stunned, horrified silence from on board as Rosy was dragged through the small space between Gwen and the boat, half ripping its boarding ladder from the transom and bending the metal dramatically. Though Rosy looked fine, the sound of splitting had been unmistakable and during the next few moments in which I returned to the tiller and got us in to the channel a guilty, sad distress flooded both our brains. “I feel sick” said Rich. “I know” I replied. That precious bloody boat, in our hands.

The not-inlaws were on board, though, and we had places to go, so I tried to keep the mood light. We made our way out of the Tamar and towards Cawsand with all the sails up because even though there was no wind we were sure there must be some somewhere on the way, and we had told Lucy and Chris we were going for a sail. Though that never happened they enjoyed the boat trip, and when we found our anchorage in the bay I insisted Rich do all the phoning he could to put his mind at rest. Fortunately there was little more than a single split plank on Rosy and she has been working just great as a tender ever since.

My own mother was at a wedding in Cremyll at the same time, and got this shot of us pretending to sail.

My own mother was at a wedding in Cremyll at the same time, and got this shot of us pretending to sail.

That’s why Rich had to row ashore ridiculously early this morning to go and start repairs on a boarding ladder, and why we’re going to be fixing a six year old (now sixteen year old) girl’s dinghy as part of our holiday, and why we’re going to paint the dinghy over the winter when we fix our own. It’s the least we can do. And now we can go away feeling only eversoslightly awful about the whole bloody thing. Lesson learned (always put the tender on deck), crab eaten, pints drunk, parents enjoyed.

Idiots

Idiots

On the much better side of things, this afternoon provided much needed rest and tomorrow we start our two week holiday on Gwen. We’re going to try and get her as far down the south coast of Cornwall as we can, perhaps even to the Scillies. Where doesn’t really matter. It’s a practice run for running away, and it’s our last yahoo before the hard work and darkness of winter. I’ll let you know how it goes.

PS If you want to see a real idiot, here’s me, just awake, testing out an old lifejacket before Rich replaced the canister last week: