Little Water Rat re-entered her natural environment in October 2022, but remained tied up in her berth whilst final engine preparations were carried out and the skipper and first mate did more important things like visiting the grand children, Alice (5) and Izzy (3), in Spain. But once the New Year celebrations were done, I could wait no longer to go to sea.
Although I have done 44 round trips to Jersey in my boats, I hadn’t been since 2018 so it seemed logical that Water Rat should head there first and so plans – delightfully simple ones – were made though I am still recalibrating from ocean sailing to coastal motorboating, which isn’t so easy as old habits seem hard to shift. I didn’t care that I had chosen a weekend with freezing temperatures for my first real foray; we were off on a little adventure literally into the unknown. I am not ashamed to confess to a tinge of excitement, born of heading somewhere with the promise of a little excitement and challenges along the way, not that I wish to push too far through the barriers of my comfort zone anymore thank you very much.
Water Rat won’t do less than 3 1/2 knots on tick over, so harbour manoeuvers need a little care if I am not going to thrust her blunt snout into the shiny flank of some gin palace or whizzy outboard thing, but we cleared the harbour entrance without drama and I turned the little boat in the direction of Jersey, 20 or so miles off. It was bitterly cold January morning with a northerly Force 3-4 and choppy sea that threw freezing spray high over the boat as she sits low in the water, pushed into the elements by the big Volvo engine that thrummed away below my bum.
The sun began to rise with Corbiere clear ahead and I couldn’t quite get the idea of how much sea had been covered in such a short time, as I am used to 5 knots or so, and Water Rat cruises comfortably around 2 1/2 half times that. It wasn’t rough, just choppy enough to show she is a sea kindly little vessel that promises to punch well above her weight and yes, I was impressed for I don’t think she is bluffing. If it looks and feels right on the sea, it probably is, and I felt I would rather be in Water Rat in bumpy seas than a yoghurt pot with a 300 hp outboard hanging off the stern.
As I looked around inside, I saw a little leak here and there, which, twenty years ago would have had me crawling around on all fours in a funk hunting for the cause, but I’ve since discovered all boats leak somewhere and if the skipper says his boat doesn’t leak, then that’s because he hasn’t spotted it yet.
With an unidentified leak, the first thing to check is whether the water is fresh or salty. If the former, no real problem. If the latter, get urgent. Half way there, I looked down and saw water on the cabin floor and bending to dip and lick my finger, found it to be salty. Its amazing how quickly an old codger can react under such circumstances and I leapt off my engine box perch and flung open the toilet cubicle door – and found the culprit. A jet of freezing sea water was spraying out of the sink plughole as high as the not very high ceiling, every time the boat hit a wave – of course it wouldn’t have if I had shut the seacock, but I hadn’t yet, as I had just finished using the facilities. Excitement over, it was time for a brew, but I soon discovered that it is nigh on impossible to boil the kettle on an un-gimballed stove, in a little motorboat at speed in a chop. Another lesson learned. Oh well, no worry as we would be there in a jiffy.
Technology is a wonderful thing and Water Rat has all the necessary aids to see and perhaps more importantly be seen. Her AIS system informs any other vessel so equipped of her name and radio call sign and her radar tells me where any vessel within range is, whether or not they have AIS. Useful when Condor is racing up behind you at 17 knots or you find yourself in thick fog, or your just being plain nosy. Just to make absolutely certain Water Rat is spotted high up on the bridge of a vast ship by some myopic watchkeeper, she is also equipped with a radar target enhancer. This bats any received radar beam straight back from whence it came with brass knobs on, which ought to make a very large blob on the radar screen of the transmitting vessel. Indeed, I am informed the image it creates is similar to that of a 160′ steel vessel, which makes you wonder what the watchkeeper high on the bridge mid English Channel will make of it, looking far out but not seeing anything – except a tiny, wee little motorboat trundling along at 12 or 13 knots.
Life is never dull when your on the sea and as I passed Noirmont Point on Jersey’s south coast and began to close St Helier Harbour, I passed a rowing boat with 2 people aboard, rowing energetically the other way. Being a friendly sort I gave them a couple of toots on the horn, which I had never used before and was shocked how loud it was. I thought one of them waved, but it may have been a two fingered salute – after all, they were Jerseymen and I was flying the Guernsey ensign. Anyway, a couple of hours later I listened to the radio as the life boat deployed – to rescue 2 rowers who had capsized off the south coast. It must have been pretty chilly waiting for rescue and I wasn’t surprised that one was taken to hospital. It all seems to happen down Jersey way.
I always enjoy the usual banter with the Jersey marina staff, silly stuff like ‘where have you come from?’ ‘Guernsey’, ‘oh we won’t hold that against you – this time’ and ‘what’s the surcharge for a Guernsey boat?’ ‘It’s just gone up.’ It was gratifying to note how much cheaper it is to moor a 6.7 metre boat, rather than a 10.4 metre boat such as Pippin – you can also tuck a tiddler in almost anywhere, even at the busiest times, another bonus.
Of course the really nice thing about adventuring is that it provides plenty of very good reasons to eat a hearty meal ashore and drink just a little too much hair restorer – after all, it is just and fair reward for healthy endeavour. Back at the boat I crawled into my green maggot (sleeping bag) in mellow mood and wriggled around exploring the confines of my cosy berth. I had never spent a full night aboard and I must confess that it is a good job I am a little lacking in feet and inches, if not avoirdupois these days. It was possible to get quite comfortable, but with not a lot of room to spare. Outside the temperature dropped below freezing, but the little cabin with its heater stayed nice and warm as I dreamed of leaks and teeny weeny adventures.
Sunshine came to see us off and lift the temperature a little, as Water Rat headed back out to sea and I seemed to be off Corbiere in no time. It is often choppy here, with powerful eddies whirling around wicked rocky teeth, all the more visible at low tide but with such a shallow draft and powerful engine, it is quite possible to get a good view as you pass very close. There was hardly a breath of wind and the sea had relaxed, allowing me a fair passage with no leak worries as Water Rat chugged along at 12 knots and the big Volvo sang and I sipped heart stirring espresso from my flask. I had brought my book, but it was all so new and too exciting to settle down and read – I was like a school boy in a sweet shop that sold the banana fudge I bought with my 2 old pence once a week on Wednesdays, my school boy favourite at boarding school. Mind you, sherbet fountains were a close second, or was it gob stoppers? I can’t quite remember, but then it was nearly 60 years ago.
No other other idiot was out there on that freezing January Sunday, so there was little to see on the crossing until we closed Herm where several whizzy things buzzed around and small fishing trawlers chugged home. This provided another childish burst of excitement when I discovered that, for the first time in over 30 years mucking round in boats, I could actually go faster then some of them.
I docked perfectly, but no one was around to applaud – they only seem to be there when you make a hash of it. Safely tied up and engine off, I sat drinking a fresh cuppa in a glow of relaxed contentment, until I discovered a little salty water where there shouldn’t have been any and spent the next 2 hours head down in the bilges. It’s particularly important to be alert to leaks into boats like Water Rat, as she does not have a self draining cockpit, so any water in stays there – unless you help it out. Of course, it would take a catastrophic leak to cause real problems and she does have a powerful automatic electric bilge pump, but its best to learn of such things before you get into trouble. But such is the life of a skipper – but at least I had noticed the problem and was able to fix it before the first mate picked me up, bruised, battered, wet and filthy, but happily chattering way to the patient first mate as she drove me home from my teeny weeny adventure.
I felt I had learned a lot in my ‘new’ boat on my first proper outing with her, and there are now 13 ‘to do’ things in my note book, but I don’t care. Water Rat had proved herself to my satisfaction and that’s what counts and I can happily do all those things myself.
So it won’t be long before I stretch the adventures just a little more, but not until I have made everything just right for the first mate to step aboard.