Ms. Goldfrapp of whom I am a new and ardent fan, is keeping me company tonight on the stereo, as I sit in my cosy little cabin to write this, the first front-line ‘blogspatch’ of my round Britain trip.
In life I find there is rarely a best time to go or indeed to do, but often there is a better time to go or do, so 17th April 2015 was, for me, that better time to go and do. Farewells said, my team and I slipped slowly between the ghostly pier-heads at ‘o-sparrow-fart’ on 17th April and out into a cold grey dawn. I left Smiley in bed as this was going to be a bouncy motor-sail straight into a keen wind, destination Weymouth – one for Harry the Autopilot, Yanny the Yanmar and me, there being no sign of Ari the Arachnid, a stowaway discovered during our previous trip. Maybe he had a sixth sense about what was to come and jumped ship. I did wonder if spider’s get sea sick – with 8 horizons to control probably yes.
How different things are alone in the cold dark! It always surprises me and for a moment I was disorientated and it took a little while to identify flashing navigation lights and unfamiliar shapes. Anyway, we eventually got our act together and headed out down the Little Russel and past the Platte Fougere Lighthouse bound for a close rendezvous with the wicked Casquets, with their long history of shipwrecks, as the good burghers of Guernsey slept soundly in their beds, dreaming not of shipwrecks or cold, dark dawns.
We marched into an irritable sea driven by a North East wind blowing from 25 to 28 knots, as dawn broke and the Casquets loomed to starboard. Rounding close to the West of them, we turned to head out into the shipping lanes, the crossing of which I always think, is a little like pushing a three wheeled pram across a motorway, except today someone was also spraying us with a hose. The wind touched 30 knots mid Channel, which made me wonder whether I was being an idiot, but A-Jay and the team seemed unperturbed so I took courage – after all to turn round would be little better and to run before the elements to say, Brixham to the West, would have meant many more hours at sea.
We held our course perpendicular to the shipping lanes, one eye on the radar screen in return for which we were left alone by the lumbering giants ploughing up and down the Channel, for they knew better how to avoid me than I them. It was a long journey so I set up a routine of munching, drinking (coffee and water), snoozing in the cockpit for a few minutes at a time, writing up the log and marking up the chart. Normally I also read, but it wasn’t long before my copy of Motor Cycling News disintegrated in the salty wetness …..
Gradually my waxed pencil smudges crept slowly across the chart until Portland Bill, with its wicked race where ships have disappeared without trace, flanked to the East by the evil Shambles, came into view, a great moment and none too soon, for frankly I was fed up with being bashed around. The wind eased from Force 6 or 7 as we closed the coast and it was a pleasure to tie up alongside Cove Quay, less than 12 hours after leaving Guernsey. OK, I know, the Condor Express ferry can do it in 2 ½ hours!
Time, I thought, for my reward – a well-deserved glass of hair-restorer, in the form of a wonderful 2008 Rioja, the gift of a dear friend who shall remain nameless.
In retrospect if I was to do a cold, rational analysis of the logic of making such a crossing in a small boat, in those moderately challenging conditions, I could only conclude that it is not something many unfit old boys would want to do. But for me, the elation of doing it, even though that elation accounted for a tiny fraction of the experience, was enough. And it has got me to the start line for THE VOYAGE!
Time to rest …
“Sleep for me, either friend or mocking foe
Which he will be, I never know
From night to night whether dark or light
If mocking foe, I cannot smite
Lying still upon my back, arms out straight
Breathe deep, erasing thoughts till late
But mocking foe usurps my welcome friend
Sadly now a regular trend
Action thoughts bring worries too, like dark wraiths
Oft real enough to test my faith
Now lying on my side I watch those sheep
Or count to ten to help me sleep
Sleep like smoky wisps seeping through my brain
Stills my mind, takes me down again
To depths where dragons roam and seagulls fly
And the moon looks down as I lie
Soon comes the dawn with cockerels crowing
And with the light comes wind blowing
From the North gives chill to the new day
With no sleep I’ll cope as I may…..”
That night, he was a friend.
Weymouth is a lovely spot to tarry a while, particularly if friends and loved ones are due to visit you, as was the case for me….mind you, it is here that I also re-discovered how useless I am at packing. Having triumphantly and hastily stuffed my clothes into water proof vacuum-seal bags, I found I had no idea of a). what was in each bag and b). where I had stowed the wretched bags. It took 20 minutes to find a fresh pair of pants which were lurking up in the forepeak locker. Maybe I’ll repack – but then again, maybe I won’t.