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:

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.

First motor trip: Dandy Hole

Note: I wrote this post 10 days ago. My computer broke and I couldn’t post it. Now it’s fixed. 

It’s 11am and I’m jammed in to the port sofa, shuddering a little, wearing all the clothes I can with my dressing gown wrapped over my legs. The boat bounces from my left to right and back and stirs occasionally forwards and backwards, port and starboard, like a novelty dashboard toy gone haywire, shifting shards of hatch light. Though dust hangs calmly in the air some wind from the (dr)aft cabin finds the bread’s paper bag. It trembles as it hangs from the galley storage.

I can hear Rich out there, keeping watch, readjusting his waterproof attire. More than that I can hear the constant drone of the wind, rising and falling in pitch but never abating in volume, multi toned, harmonised from time to time by thin whistle squeals.

We are anchored out in the Hamoaze, our marina in sight, waiting for the wind to die down. Though the tide is high enough to get back we’ve just battled our way down the river and have decided not to risk re-entering our berth on a 30-mile-an-hour gust. It’ll be tonight then, after seven, after a day of bouncing about here.

While we bob around doing nothing, Grayhound set their apprentice to work.

While we bob around doing nothing, Grayhound set their apprentice to work.

Yesterday morning we woke down there at 6.30am to a nearly high tide. The water was still, the sun was warming itself up for a blazing day and we made coffee our first priority – one for now, one for the way. While Rich attended to ropey matters I drove us out of the marina and away, past Grayhound in to the main channel of the Tamar. From there we passed the dockyard, scooted between two Torpoint ferries like an easy level game of Frogger, and took the left fork in the river in to the Lyhner.

Once the marker buoys thinned out the video game stepped up a level and I used Gwen as a giant joystick in a game of “follow the channel” on the GPS programme on Rich’s tablet. The wind picked up a little, the countryside consumed us and by the time we approached our destination at the tree-lined deep spot of Dandy Hole there was barely a sign of Plymouth left. Gulls, herons, ducks, crows and an egret watched us make anchor, with me steering and yelling the figures from a freshly fitted depth sounder as Rich dealt with the anchor and yelled back engine advice. Once anchored it took a good while to stop the boat from continually turning between tide and wind, and where a storm gib and a rope on the chain failed a second anchor eventually succeeded. Three buzzards circled briefly overhead before we crept back in to bed for a midday nap.

Look at me, I've got a boom.

Look at me, I’ve got a boom.

The sunny afternoon was blissful. It began with a game of Scrabble on deck which was abandoned when the boat turned around and a breeze lost the letter I to the drink. Most of the time I is a surprisingly horrible letter to have in Scrabble so I’m not too upset to have lost one. The tide went out leaving a mudflat full of birds and drying leaves which fluttered along in the breeze. Rich saw a crow picking up mussels and dropping them on to rocks to eat their gooey contents and we both caught a glimpse of a deer wandering between the trees of the deserted shore. Some chap came along early on picking up worms but soon disappeared, and so unlikely was the sight of anyone else that when we later set up the storm gib as a wind shield to make the cockpit more bearable I had no problem spending a merry hour stark naked, free as a cheeky toddler to bear my bottom to the world.

Neighbours

Neighbour

The mud man cometh.

The mud man cometh.

At rest

At rest

Scrabbling

Scrabbling

In the early evening we jumped in the dinghy and headed further up the river to St Germans, a favourite of ours because of the marvellous annual festival at its Port Eliot estate, but not somewhere we know well apart from that. Leaving Gwen was a nervous affair – like that first day you take your kid to school we felt like we were abandoning her, and we gulped as we lost sight of her round the corner. Once we’d ditched the dinghy at the sailing club under the advice, if not permission, of a local boatman, we walked up a ramson-lined path past the viaduct to the village and successfully located the pub. There a friendly throng of drunkards welcomed us on outdoor tables that the sun had just left, gave us some tobacco “we’ve got to look after the boat gypsies” when we told them we’d missed the shop and then disappeared to the warm of the pub while we stayed and got surprisingly drunk on only two drinks each. When we got back to Gwen last night I sat on deck and serenaded the sparkling darkness with a badly banjoed tipsy rendition of The Rainbow Connection as potatoes boiled in the galley, and figured everything must be pretty brilliant with the world.

Gwen alone and looking like a real boat.

Gwen alone and looking like a real boat.

Tipsy motor back from St Germans

Tipsy motor home from St Germans

Today, not so brilliant. Not terrible either, just windy and cold. The journey back up the Tamar was as different to the first as could be, the sky swiping both body and face with blows and occasional sprays, but I still felt confident in handling the tiller despite its more erratic pulls.

Rich has just come in and jammed something white between the big galley cupboard door and its frame, finally keeping it shut. In our bubbly bobbing movement it’s been swinging open every few minutes and flapping about, and is on a short list of jobs we’ve drafted based on experiences on this trip. He turns to me and smiles “tampon door catch!”. Nice to see he’s keeping busy. Now to find my own ways to pass the non-day.

I love the boat, but I’m a bit sick of the boat (sorry, Gwen). It’s been all “boat, boat, boat” for months now so I’ve demanded some time when we do something other than think about the boat with our days off next week. I’d like to go to the beach and see Age of Ultron and have a bike ride, I think. That’ll get me feeling ready to be boaty again. Cheerio until then.