Pippin is of the ocean, quite at home whatever the elements might choose to throw at her. If she was an aquatic creature, she would be a dolphin, elegant, sleek and delightful. If she was a dog, she would of course be a Retriever for she does I sense, love her master and wags with delight when I get her going properly, which I wasn’t doing very well the other day 15 miles off Guernsey during my 2021 work up.
It was a spirited forecast, without being too challenging though the seas, disturbed by the wind battling a Spring tide played a different game as they so often do out here. Building to perhaps 2.5-3 metres, they broke frothily with unbounded joy wherever and whenever they felt like it. Of course I wasn’t looking when one decided to join me in the cockpit, exploding with delight over the wheelhouse reaching foamy fingers 1/2 way up the reefed mainsail. A real show off of a wave and clearly one that had my name on it, as there is always one somewhere waiting for you.
Naturally I wasn’t wearing oilskins, nor had I shut the cabin door but I can report that the sea seemed quite warm on the skin, and the automatic bilge pump works just fine. Typically things went a little downhill from there, for my sailing skills are rusty and my body more beach ball than hunk, but Pippin responded in her calm patient way never criticizing or complaining and eventually I turned Pippin round across the seas onto a long tack to clear Les Hanois invisible in the distant haze.
The sail ended most pleasantly aboard a friend’s gaffer (2 gaffers aboard a gaffer!!) with a can of cold Doom Bar, which could very easily have become 3 or 4, but I had to get Pippin back into her berth in good order, as I had an important visitor in the shape of Alan, MD of Sail Shape/Quay Sails of Fowey, coincidentally on holiday in Guernsey yet volunteering his precious time to check out an issue with my reefing system. Good man; can be in my platoon any day.
Amazingly he met me on the dockside as I docked and it soon became apparent that Alan, a professional racing skipper as well as a sail loft proprietor, did not take prisoners and set the bar very high, certainly higher than diminutive me can reach. As he buried deep into Pippin’s running rigging, like a surgeon picking over ligaments and tendons, he muttered and corrected a little something here and there, with the occasional expletive and questions like “who tied this knot!” Of course I probably had, but like the coward I am, I managed to think of others to blame until I could think of no one else.
By now, feeling like a schoolboy who has both failed the grade and displeased the teacher he was trying to impress, I asked him if average, or perhaps satisfactory – grades I am entirely comfortable with – were acceptable. His glance told me all I needed to know. Alan doesn’t do average. Ever. Period. At last he found something that met with modest approval and I levitated with pleasure and near burst with pride as it was indeed a Willis DIY job.
This all reminded me of another reason I sail solo, for I suspect if Alan ever had the misfortune to sail with me, he would soon be looking for the first passing vessel to jump ship to and in the meantime would be checking the life raft very thoroughly. You see, I tend to do things my way …..
That evening ended badly when, having hauled sails up and down, in and out as evening turned into night, Alan recommended new sails sails for serious offshore stuff for reasons I shan’t bore you with though they are not all of my making. The good news is he will get a set made and fitted before I leave Plymouth and the even better news is my wonderfully supportive, first mate, who as a professional accountant had every right to chafe at the further depletion of our retirement capital, happily agreed we should go ahead. You see, boat ownership can never be a solo thing – sailing the boat yes, but not ownership because that affects us both.
I usually never leave without a visit to my Polish barber, an event that has become something of a pre-voyage ritual, one that begins by my instructing him very clearly – “not too short please”. But it makes no difference, l might just as well say “I’ll have steak and chips please”, for he simply looks into the far distance and proceeds to reduce my thinning pate to a near stubble. As my barnet is still recovering from his last ministrations, I risked not visiting him. After all, I’m not superstitious ……
Of course being ex military, one would imagine that I keep the 6Ps in mind as I prepare, but that would be to overestimate me. The truth is I spread my preparations over such a protracted period, that I generally muddle through with most things aboard by D-Day, which is 4th June. Gosh that’s tomorrow!
All being well, I will sail safely across the Channel for new adventures.
See you on the other side.