There were several senior live-aboard ‘Captain Fry Ups’ in Penzance Wet Dock; you could tell by the smoke and heady aroma of ancient cooking oil, mingled with sausages and bacon that wafted across whichever Quay you chose to walk on. I was keen to become one of them, though with an eye for the healthier option I used fresh olive oil and a little black pudding for a more sophisticated approach, to create the perfect ‘Fat Boy’s’ breakfast.
With showers for a pound and very reasonable daily rates Penzance makes an excellent and cheap holiday base for the ever welcome ‘yachtie’, as the crew who helped dock a wayward A-Jay had discovered – they had stayed 8 weeks, long enough for their basil plant to look very lush.
‘Prep for sea’ checks revealed Yanny had a modest thirst but otherwise looked to be a happy Yanmar; the bilges sparkled, Barry the Barometer remained in high spirits, 2 mainsail battens had been refitted and the skipper’s stew pot refilled (recipe available on request). Passage planning was refreshingly simple; on departing the lock, bear 135° T for the Lizard and thence 109° T for Les Hanois lighthouse 120 nautical miles hence.
Porridge fired the skipper up next morning and Team A-Jay slipped quietly through the lock at 0730 and jogged light-footedly across Mounts Bay with St. Michael keeping a close watch, towards the creepy crawly Lizard Headland, Espresso to hand and sadness in the heart at the end of a modest life journey, with a tinge of excitement too, at the thought of returning home after 4 1/2 months at sea.
At 0920 something hit A-Jay lightly but noisily beneath the waterline, though the oceans didn’t enter the bilges, Yanny’s life blood did not dribble down his chin, A-Jay never flinched and the skipper didn’t spill a drop. There was no visible evidence and we were in open, clear water. Strange but all part of growing up and being British..
Anyway the wind off the Lizard had gone on vacation and Team A-Jay’s tide assisted headway created more apparent puff than the real wind, but at a heady 7.5 knots, the skipper wasn’t complaining for the miles were being guzzled faster than he could manage his Espresso. Rain clouds puffed up their pigeon chests and postured ineffectively, as the Eddystone Light stood tall and proud in the brighter distance and 40,000 tons of ship throbbed past a mile off. Lunch approached and the wind teased, enough to sail for a few minutes before it would stop for a rest like an overweight jogger, before trotting on again. Oh well, at least lunch could be taken on a horizontal level for today, 2nd September.
It was just after lunch, as the sun was shining and the wind remained spent that the sinister, sleek black hulled submarine slunk past 2 miles astern; impressively scary but she didn’t play with us as her sister ship had done up near Mull in July. Alone now with nothing visible to the MK1 eyeball mid Channel I decided to play ‘spot the ship’ with Ray the Radar – he won 11 – 3! Continuing with the maths theme, the skipper did a little in-flight refuelling before dark, for conditions were still benign. Fuel consumption calculations suggested 0.5 gph, as it had been throughout the voyage, so there was enough in the tank to continue under power if necessary.
Reading a certain yachting magazine as the light faded, two things struck me; a new 24 hour sailing record of 642 miles had just been set – that was not a misprint and was 5 times what the good ship A-Jay had ever managed. The second was a photograph of a small yacht, the size of A-Jay, impaled on a Scottish rock very close to where we had passed. The solo skipper had fallen asleep and not only struck the rock, but was so disorientated he had been unable to give an accurate position. No dishonour – it happens.
The Royal Navy were out in force, for a svelte frigate now hissed busily ahead of Team A-Jay on a mission, a complete contrast to the rusty floating suitcase that huffed and puffed past heading West. As darkness fell the wind picked up and pushed for the next 3 hours, shipping now just twinkling lights and purple blobs on Ray’s screen. Occasionally the dark clouds peeled back to reveal shy stars, as 23 ships came and went about their business around us in the dusk, though illuminated evidence of just 5 could be seen.
To the East, the faint loom of the Roche Douvres could be discerned though Les Hanois still hid 35 miles ahead and the moon levitated from the dark horizon like an orange egg. It was cold. In the early hours, the peace was disturbed by another collision. Two fenders, tied together, wrapped themselves around the starboard keel banging angrily against the hull before escaping and shooting under the stern. 30 minutes later, the prop slowed – we had either picked up something else, or the residue from the fenders had caught in the prop. Into neutral, slow astern, then ahead, neutral and forward. It seemed to do the trick and off we went again, the sails barely filled by the flagging wind.
Exhaustion and sleeplessness impair judgement and play tricks on the mind, but the results can sometimes be amusing. For example I had been convinced that up ahead, a very large brightly lit oil installation was being towed Northwards by a tug whose port light could be seen. Wrong. It was the airport lights on Guernsey and very soon the double flash of Les Hanois could be discerned, which confirmed this. The sea now picked up and A-Jay wiggled her posterior to surf happily off the playful crests, which hissed white in the darkness.
Time to concentrate, for I had no chart plotter and although I know this coast well, I was very tired and did not want to become a statistic, or a photograph in a yachting magazine. The new master plan was simple, always best ….. take your time, keep well offshore to avoid the myriad lobster pot markers (we had hit enough under water objects for one trip) and avoid the many inshore rocks. It was amazing how the mind could bend images and Team A-Jay was once heading for Jersey, with the skipper wondering who had hidden St. Peter Port for it was a very dark night. Gradually sense was made of the plethora of lights and dark shadows and A-Jay found the right heading and fought the punchy spring tides, heading North for home.
0530 found Team A-Jay alongside a waiting pontoon in St. Peter Port, with no one but the gulls for company, the skipper busy with the consumption of an excellent Fat Boy’s…. 22 hours and 136 miles out from Penzance, 4 1/2 months and 2,000 miles since leaving Guernsey. Life quite simply would never be the same again.
Sitting in the cockpit, coffee to hand the skipper heard a shout. A loyal friend stood on the distant quayside, waiting to take the lines of Team A-Jay in an hour ….what a fine welcome! Such people make the World go round.
That’s it – Journey’s End. Thank you all for supporting me.