I have given up asking my Polish barber for a number cut and don’t know the Polish for “just a tidy up please“. Whatever I say he just smiles and does a Nelson, ignoring my signal and carries on in his own way, as if he was a Polish Army barber shearing a new recruit; but I guess old habits do die hard. But he is cheap and we have a good laugh. I say all this to explain once again why I set sail, this time for Alderney, resembling a slightly hairy gooseberry.
Newly shorn, the wind tickling my scalp, I steered Pippin up the Little Russel on the morning wings of a near spring tide heading for the Swinge and the family rock once again, just ahead of a messy little front, a gift from Ireland.
Others left at the same time and soon the inevitable light weight Frenchie slipped past aiming for Cherbourg – I’ll pause here because it occurs to me that such comments may cause offence. Indeed it might explain why I only have 3 readers but if truth be told, they are excellent, comfortable boats that do what they do very well and 75% of the time, better than Pippin. What’s more, as I succumb to the ravages of Anno Domini, that 25% becomes less important as I am less inclined to go there.
This short sea passage to Alderney soon became an excellent example of how local knowledge is of little use, when your nose is stuck too firmly in a good book as mine was. I was too engrossed in scrambling amongst the bombed ruins of Monte Casino with a youthful Lt. E.D. ‘Birdy’ Smith (‘Even the Brave Falter’), as the Casquets loomed a little too close. As a result urgent corrective action became necessary to bring Pippin to her RV, just off Pierre au Vraic (literally Seaweed Peter), which allowed another well crewed light weight Frenchie to slip past Pippin’s bows, having taken a much better course.
It is amazing to crab almost sideways at well over hull speed up this little strip of water, to arrive just off the end of the Braye Breakwater having aimed anywhere but. Today the eddies, whirls, counter currents and tumbling white water were in relaxed mood, 1 1/2 hours after HW, much more so than a sail-less forty footer that shot out of the harbour hugging the end of the breakwater (tut tut!), crew and fenders akimbo bashing into the remains of the flood, engine roaring.
I regained a little lost pride, entering ahead of my erstwhile opponent, only to demonstrate complete ineptitude picking up a buoy that had no tether – which of course was why it was empty; but it was the one I wanted so there. In my defence I was solo and it was by now a little gusty, but it took me 4 attempts watched of course, by everyone pretending not to watch. Meanwhile my opponent sailed up to his buoy, which a smartly dressed crew member caught first time – indeed, there was a fore deck fight for the honour. Humiliation complete, I slunk below and sought solace in a Fat Boy’s, which I did rather better.
Its a tight fit in Alderney but they seem to manage
Later, I flagellated my sense of honour with a 2 hour penance draped over the inflatable dinghy, arms immersed scrubbing a beard of weed off the water line like a manic little automaton, after which I felt much better and Pippin looked a little smarter. Pretending not to, I watched everyone arrive whenever I could and hoped, but had to wait until my penultimate day, when a busy little British yacht arrived with 3 crew; they took 3 attempts to secure their buoy (it had a tether), with much shouting and a final cry of “pass the f…..g boat hook you pillock!” I may have felt better, but embarrassed too, for of course it was yet another British sailor who had ‘failed’, unlike our French compatriots over the past few days.
It blew up a little in the night as predicted, and I awoke to showers and strong winds, so summoned the water taxi, sharing it with a neat French couple from an even neater craft, which they undoubtedly moored neatly on first attempt. “You had a little trouble with your buoy yesterday I think” said the neat husband smugly. “Well actually I think the buoy had a little more trouble with me, but hey ho, I got there in the end.” Don’t get me wrong, they were lovely people, but one doesn’t have to rub it in.
A Newly Discovered Family Headstone on Alderney
My mission over the next 3 days was a mix of genealogical exploration and Maritime Symposium, the latter hosted in conjunction with Kings College London. Fresh ashore, I paused after an hour in the graveyard for refreshment with the Alderney News, which that day was full of very rare but rightly triumphant rugby news. The Ridunians (Riduna being an ancient name for Alderney) had thrashed the Sark Shags (the name has more to do with ornithology than anything more racy) in a Thriller from the Isles. Level pegging at full time, the advantage was with the Ridunians at the start of extra time, for they had the uphill end there being a fair slope to the Sark pitch, the preparation of which relies in no small part on the ever popular summer lawnmower racing events, followed by sheep racing.
Profs Andrew Lambert left, Richard Harding centre, French academic right and unique, lovely Alderney defaced blue ensign behind
Making the most of their advantage, the Ridunians eventually pulverised the shagged out Sarkees with 3 late tries. Their next match will be a much sterner test against those Crapaud (Crapaud = toad = Jersey man) potato heads, the Jersey Royals, on a level pitch tended in a rather more conventional manner. I doubt there will be much to crow about in the Alderney News after that match, but then look what Ben stokes did. You never know.
You can come at history in so many different ways, each casting different but inter locking shadows, many I had never previously noticed. Being a bear with little brain though uber keen on maritime history, this symposium seemed just the job and so it turned out. Genially lectured by French and British experts, we were at one point transported through the legal intricacies of fishing areas, customs limits, international territories and offshore limits. That I not only survived this journey but thoroughly enjoyed it was testimony to the skill and humour of our teachers, and so the two days passed most satisfactorily, boosted by lemon cake at Mel’s tea shop.
Braye is open to the NE and even in quiet weather, its an unsettled anchorage worse on the flood, better on the ebb. For me unusually that night, flood or ebb, I lived every roll, creak of the boom and sigh of the waves so sleep was like an elusive wraith. So, I was grumpily up with the lark to “get cracking”, the order of the day, but not before a pint of tea.
I know nothing of the science of why ropes twist and tangle, even less about why mine seem to be the worst (though that is probably art, rather than science, bad art), but I have a sneaking feeling I probably contribute to the latter point. By the last morning in Braye the 2 x 14 mm diameter ropes I had eventually secured to my tetherless buoy had mated for life, and it was an even more grumpy skipper who finally engineered a divorce between the two – I am certain my neat French neighbour never had the same problem. Ever the showman, I flamboyantly whizzed the mainsail aloft before casting off the mooring rope with exaggerated casualness, but no one was looking as it was a tad early for any sensible sailor, even when I had to gun the engine to clear a sleeping neighbour.
I like the word ‘splendid’ – it makes me think of a laid back old army codger, exclaiming “SPLENDID!”as his batman hands him his first gin as the sun dips below the tropical horizon, casting shadows on his pith helmet. Anyway, it really was a splendid morning as Pippin nosed out into the Swinge, though the promised NE 2-4 was a downright lie I thought, watching the ‘windex’ pirouette through 360. In fact the wind had absconded North to bully the Irish, but I was ok with the benign friend it left behind – and I really don’t mind motor sailing these days, particularly if I can keep the galley on the level at meal times. For this breakfast, I had purchased the makings of a good one from the butcher’s shop on the Hight Street, the forerunner of which was the family business – I always knew I had a butcher as well as a bit of a sailor inside me.
An old salt once asked me which side of Pierre au Vraic I passed, but as an Alderney virgin at that time, I had no answer so I thought about it that day, as Pippin popped out of the Swinge at a modest 8.6 knots on a gentle tide. It turns out I invariably aim to pass close by its West side, sometimes more by accident than design. As I passed my old ‘seaweedy’ friend I noted off to port on my chart the Schole Bank, which incredibly is but 10 metres deep in places at the lowest of tides. Today no trawler fished its water, but it was a Sunday.
Chart plotters are wonderful things for they tell you which direction you are really going in, despite where you might be aiming, a most useful feature in this area of sweeping tide and deadly rock, and right then I smugly noted the long green line on my plotter was aimed at the very heart of the Little Russel 10 miles off. Back to my book.
After a pleasant, gentle 3 1/2 hours I tied Pippin to a buoy outside the QE2 Marina to await the tide, managing neatly first time but no-one was looking – I know, because I checked. As I prepared for harbour an exodus of boats roared from the marina to explore the delights of Herm, all of 3 miles off, tossing Pippin in their wakes.
I struggle these days to bring Pippin neatly alongside her pontoon, for I am surrounded by lovely but large boats and I have no wish to poke a hole in an expensive shiny flank. One chap spotted my approach and kindly handed me my spring, so helpful with a wind off pontoon situation, for the wind typically had piped up, just as I came home – Sod’s Law. As I tidied up the Coast Guard asked if anyone could assist a 45 foot motor yacht in the Little Russel, but the airwaves were strangely quiet. I felt for them, after our recent experience, but big boat means bigger trouble.
The sun shone, the sky was blue, time for a splendid lunch and the First Mate was on her way with a picnic. Oh the travails of the sailing life.