We spent a couple more nights between Tresco and Bryher, taking occasional quiet walks on one island or another, moving and changing our anchor as the tides and winds got stronger and trying to reconnect with each other with what little energy we could muster. In the evenings, after the turn of the tide, pollock swam through the fast moving water and we ate their boring cod-like flesh with lemony rock samphire, which grows freely and plentifully on all the islands we’ve visited and has become a regular part of our diet.
Bryher provided us with more windswept viewings of seals, and fresh vegetables from a choice of little farm stands. Tresco, which is privately owned, was a less comfortable visit – the accommodation, shops, paths and fields were all tidy, branded with the soulless uniformity of a commercial resort, and expensive – the £15 per person charge even kept us out of the tropical gardens. While rowing home after checking out its (free!) views of trees and beaches we stopped to admire another boat’s dinghy. We were soon invited for dinner with the lovely German couple who owned it, and were fed three courses and good whiskey by them and their travel companion, chatting late in to the night while sampling ginger and salt fudge. I felt normal again, sociable even – the passage’s tension was finally lifting. The next day we set sail for St Agnes, our last one night stop before we were to head out for France in a promising weather window.
The engine has worked fine since our very first motor trip, but after a lumpy sail to St Agnes Rich decided to check the oil level, and on hoisting up the cover found that an oily spray was covering the engine head. Three of the four studs that hold the exhaust manifold on to the side of the head had sheered off, leaving it mostly unattached and its exhaust fumes escaping. Over the next day or two he drilled them out, retapped them and screwed in new studs, and then he did the whole thing again more thoroughly over another couple of days when one of them didn’t hold. We weren’t going to France any time soon.
I have never known frustration like that which Rich feels for our engine. In all the time we were getting Gwen ready it was the only thing that depressed him enough to stop work on her altogether for several months. Some years later, in the last week it has, at times, brought him close to tears. But in between three or four hour sessions of hope turning to desperation, as fix after fix failed, even he was able to appreciate the astounding good fortune of the location of our confinement.
St Agnes had all the things we had hoped for from the Scillies – peaceful isolation when required, beaches, farms, nearly tame thrushes and sparrows, gardens, wild moors, a fantastic pub, a gallery with genuinely interesting pieces, and clear turquoise waters revealing all manner of life beneath. Oyster catchers and seagulls shrieked on nearby hills as we watched jellyfish of all sizes, from big blue splodges and creamy striped tendril bulbs to tiny shuttlecocks pulsating with movement, bumping by the boat over fat seaweed fingers. Our fisherman anchor held strong. Our moods improved, and we made friends with a fantastic Dutch couple who were anchored nearby and had just sailed round the world for two years in their ketch with their four year old daughter.
We had a great ferry day out on St Mary’s, exploring its ancient burial sites and scarily overcrowded supermarket, and on another day we walked across the thin sand bar at our anchorage to the neighbouring island of Gugh, home of the seagull horde. I started sanding the toe rails and rubbing strakes for painting, which ended in us enjoying a gin and tonic on the boat of my childhood doctor who happened to anchor next to us for the night. We played our musical instruments, Rich read books, I drew, and we grinned, actually using this holiday destination for holiday activities.
One day I noticed a crick in my neck, which seemed mostly to go away by the next, so I rowed ashore in Bob for a run around St Agnes, and rowed back to be helpful on Gwen. The next day my neck hurt more, and by the next I had to stop rowing as any effort using my shoulders was shooting shocks of pain to the back of my head. By the time Rich sailed off to St Mary’s in Fanny to buy more supplies for the engine I was in constant pain and taking as many pills as was safe to maintain some sort of function, but failing. On two days, when the weather had finally got to tropical, I begged a lift ashore with him and created seaweed pictures in the sand on silent beaches, my movements restricted to those of an uptight robot, my head unable to look left or right. I found to my delight that I had enough forward neck movement to be able to swim in the sparkling turquoise waters. I came home to sit still in the evenings before a sleep disturbed by throbbing aches, consoled only by the idea that someone might have happened upon my creations by surprise while on their own solitary walk in the sun.
On the night before we left we visited the boat of our new Dutch friends. Rich had probably fixed the engine this time, he thought, and we would need to get away to St Mary’s for vittling before we attempted the crossing to France. I was still in pain and so was Hajo, the man whose boat we were visiting, so it would only be a quick visit for one drink. Two beers each, a whole bottle of delicious rum and several hours later we returned to our boat quite squiffy, heads filled up with anecdotes and inspiration. What Hajo and Jeanette had told us about their trip made us ever more convinced that we could go where we wanted, that eventually we would stop fighting, that the world of cruising sailboats was full of good people. But also that our boat would always require a crazy amount of work, and fill our heads with the endless jobs lists and practical necessities that it has done over the last month and a half.
We sailed here to the main town island of St Mary’s last night, and it was another tense sail. Rich is stressed and nervous of using the engine, and we’re both below par physically, particularly me. My neck is improving and I am coping better with Rich getting agitated when we sail, and though it isn’t fun it isn’t the huge trauma it has been in previous trips – we both get tetchy, but it passes – my annoyance at his attitude is well suppressed but for the odd sarcastic comment, which I quietly suspect he deserves. The latest engine fix hasn’t worked either, but at least we know the thing will get us out of trouble if we’re in danger and get us in to an anchorage when needed, and the engine place on St Mary’s have been hugely helpful and lent Rich a kit to put in heli coils when we get to France. I’m looking forward to going – I think we’ll get better because I think we have to.
I’ve vittled with as many passage snacks and treats as I could carry, and now we’re passage planning for tonight. Catch you in France. Probably.