A fore deck wrestle with Mr. Rocna on the last day as skipper of my Sadler 290, A-Jay, resurrected an ancient back injury and had me against the ropes weeping like a baby and now gobbling Gabapentin. Oblivious, A-Jay slipped quietly away with poise and dignity to her new skipper on a Monday morning, hours before Pippin, A Frances 34 Pilothouse arrived.
These events combined meant gallivanting to the Baltic became a Willis plan in waiting, but Pippin and I would go somewhere for sure.
If the 290 is a spirited quality GTI thingamy, Pippin is a laid back sporty saloon of a bygone era – an old man’s boat, said son Sam, accurate and to the point as ever. That will do me. Low slung, curvaceous, wayward astern and deadly ahead with a battering ram of a bowsprit she’ll take more than I can.
A few tweaks completed, we left into a hard blue afternoon guided by a gentle breeze South towards Jersey at a canter, ambushing and taking a light weight Frenchie by surprise. Me too, for I was not expecting such spirited performance I thought smugly, as the Rocna bit into the sand of Beau Port Bay. It is a pretty spot, though a busy Nor’Easter scooted at us from the hillsides across the bay. Not enough of a fracas to disturb the consumption of the skipper’s stew, of a consistency sufficient to stun a walrus.
The Hydrovane, as any serious sailor will know, is for the REAL ocean goer, the sort who enjoys playing with the Southern Ocean and there is one perched on Pippin’s transom. True it looks awesome, but in truth it terrified me as it suggested Pippin’s skipper was a hardier sort than I. I would also have to work it. It was therefore with some surprise as, having ‘raised the Rocna’ – surely a term for use in any yacht club – Hercule, as my wife had named him, rather bossily took over and took us out of the bay. True I pointed him vaguely at the wind and pulled a couple of pins out but that’s it.
Showing off, bossy as ever, Hercule had us close hauled at 35 degrees to the wind at a steady 6.2 knots past Gronez Point and on to Sark. Pippin sailed like a thoroughbred and Hercule was more than a match for her; all I have to do now is try and keep up. We hid for the night in Derrible Bay, so calm Pippin barely moved though the ‘Gull chorus’ was as raucous as ever. Things had come together rather well I thought sleepily, though preparation had been frankly minimal for my planned trip and I was carrying a slightly larger crew than before, whom I shall call ASDA – Asthma, Slipped Disc and Arthritis.
First stop would be Teignmouth, to meet up with A-Jay’s new owner. 25th June and a sleepy exit into a quiet grey dawn. My old friend Shetland had a 982 on the way, but for the rest of us more benign conditions were promised for me, a Westerly 4/5, declining. Hercule got the thick end of my tongue in the Little Russell, until I realised that I had left him slumbering in neutral – well, at least I had remembered to attach his rudder I thought over breakfast.
It was surprisingly rough with little shipping, it being a Sunday, but a single Common dolphin came to join me as a destroyer played with his chopper in the distance. As the wind touched 27 knots, an exhausted carrier pigeon crash landed and puked on the poop deck, so I got some water down him and he rejoined his race.
A wave over the wheelhouse prompted me to hand the mainsail, but Pippin didn’t mind, charging happily at 6 knots before we drove into pretty Teignmouth, comfortable in the lee from the hillsides, shaken but not stirred in the evening sun. A-Jay nodded gently as we passed and next day I sat and chatted with Reg, A-Jay’s new 86 years young skipper and his charming daughter Rona.
Reg’s place overlooks the entrance and I just knew that he spotted me run aground in the channel, as I left. “You’re on the wrong side skipper” shouted the trawler captain rather obviously and loud enough for all to hear. I suspect We were front page of the Teignmouth news. Teignmouth, of course, was the home port of Teignmouth Electron, the trimaran skippered by the hapless Donald Crowhurst in the original golden Globe round the World race.
A brief sail before capitulation in the breathless morning, a hearty breakfast, on a smooth sea, guillemots, trawlers, bobbers and me. Plymouth was a new destination for me and both the fierce eddies and the stiff cross current outside the Mayflower Marina took me by surprise. I used to think bow thrusters were for motor boaters and wimps, but not any more. It was the difference between making it or a severe ramming incident.
It was good to meet up again with ‘Team Goss’, previous custodians of Pippin and to catch up with my Royal Marine nephew Ed, who I always enjoy seeing not least because he is too polite to tell me he has heard that story before …. many times.
As ever, it is the people you meet on journeys and so it was I found myself in the cheery saloon of an Irish 38 footer, there to swap notes and charts for each was destined for the others’ home ground. Those who have persevered with my earlier posts will note the addition of the colour blue in the photographs, a colour conspicuous by its absence during A-Jay’s 2015 voyage.
Plymouth is a lovely harbor, like so many full of history …. and bodies. Pete Goss described how the many fortifications round about had been largely built by French POWs, who resided in stinking disease ridden prison ships. When a POW died, he would be unceremoniously heaved overboard. Whatever their conditions, the evidence of the quality of their handiwork is all around.
Smeeton Tower, a candy striped edifice I had aimed for but missed on entering, is a tribute to the inventor of the stone built lighthouse for it was he who designed interlocking stone blocks, capable of withstanding storms. These replaced wooden structures topped by braziers, which were frequently swept away with all hands. The Eddystone was one of his, built by a mixed labour force of French POWs and British workmen all of whom were accorded special status, because of the importance of their work, by both the British and the French King. It was a hapless French naval skipper who on passing one day, captured the workforce, only to earn the wrath of his monarch rather than praise and reward.
I left in the quiet of early dawn, down a diamond road. It was blustery and a reef in the yankee set Pippin up nicely for Eire, our next destination. Lunch took place as Gannets dived bombed a shoal from above and dolphins attacked from below. Who would be a mackerel?
Someone I decided grumpily a little later, was attempting to prevent me leaving the Channel, for the wind had turned as we slipped towards the infamous Lizard peninsula and now perched on the pulpit like that scratchy pinz-nez, though I banished the idea of pausing in Penzance being full of the idea of a straight run to Eire. Pity.