Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Maiden deflowered

And so I'm home. Still swaying slightly. But in one piece, as are my crew and boat.

We had perfect weather - light winds (although yesterday ended up being a little too light and I hadn't considered the full effect of the tide, so we motored the last hour back to the channel) and sunshine.

Of course the weekend didn't pass without hitches:

1. The starter motor fuse decided to finally corrode completely when we were practising man overboard. Fortunately: it was only a fender and and old coil of rope whose existence was at stake. Second fortunately: John knows what an engine without a starter motor sounds like and where a starter motor fuse might be located (unlike me) and could suggest suitable temporary replacements. Third fortunately: my natural ignorance in all things mechanical enabled me to hold up a funny piece of metal I found in the tool box and ask "what's this?" Fourth fortunately: it was a switch John could fit (see second fortunately). Fifth fortunately: we completed the above manoeuvre before the smell of diesel, the slop of boat and our position of head upside down in various lockers and comparments combined to make either one of us puke. And then to cap all those fortunates: with the engine started, the 'man overboard' fender and rope we'd lost sight of in the excitement was suddenly spotted, hauled on board and given the kiss of life.

2. The furler that allows the foresail to roll in and out easily without dropping or raising it jammed halfway open. Tug. Tug. Tug. John and I managed to get it furled in. When we picked up a mooring buoy for lunch, we unfurled it as far as we could, finished the furling by wrapping it round the forestay and dropped it to discover the twizzler that enables it to spin open or wrapped was grinding nastily. We hoisted it again, hoping it'd get us home so I could then have a proper look at it (with the help of other owners I hoped) on dry land.

After a day in dock sorting out the above problems, I was back out, with two new crew members, one experienced one not. One could show the other how to coil a rope and tie knots that wouldn't come undone (surprisingly difficult to the uninitiated). Immensely useful as I had enough to think about:

1. The bay is very shallow. We had two channels to follow that shift with the sand.
2. Getting acquainted with our second foresail on board (the furling twizzler for the foresail needs fixing so we were back to an old-school hoist up/down kind of sail).
3. Areas of where we were to anchor dry out. We needed not to be in those areas, so not fall over at low tide.
4. Light winds dance far more than stronger ones. This makes steering a more concentrated endeavour, and tweaking of sails more frequent.
5. Making cups of tea. No one (except me) really wanted to go below while we were underway.
6. Explaining exactly what we were going to do about ten minutes before we were going to do it. And trying to read faces for comprehension or bafflement.

It was knackering, exhilarating, dehydrating, frustrating (my own cautiousness more than anything), nervewracking (the depth sounder alarm beeped madly on two occasions at us being in dangerously shallow water), uplighting and ultimately hugely satisfying.

While I know I'm privileged to have a boat to take people out to sea to spend days away from our normal landbound routines, I am also extremely grateful to myself for having the skill (despite my doubts) to pull it off. There's a methodical approach to sailing (and skippering) that I wasn't sure I possessed.

The last poem I wrote came from cutting up an unsuccessful piece of prose, shuffling the best phrases about on my floor and resetting them in a list. I'm not sure this would work with working out tidal heights or coming alongside a pontoon. I had to do all that cut up and shuffle stuff in that ten minutes before the ten minute explanation to my crew. Little strips of paper are so less recriminating than stone walls or human beings.

But I do believe that my poetry brain helped me imagine cause and consequence in the same way balancing on a heeling boat trims your core muscles.

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