Kick me again !

Just Kick me harder.

Blog time : it’s late September , we’re temporarily alongside a pontoon in Dartmouth harbour , sheltering from the same nor-easter that dismasted us a couple of days back and now are waiting for the short weather slot that will allow me to motor and maybe sail back towards Plymouth.

It’s been a diabolically bad cruise-cum-holiday and i will be glad to just get the boat back to Calstock without any further damage or anything else going wrong : so far the score being one dead engine and one sick one, one broken mast and other broken gear, and a huge amount of un-necessary hassle from so called harbour masters and other pompous officialdom. Just now we walked up and back down the long hill outside Dartmouth to get a can of fuel , easier than trying to get alongside the fuel barge here in a strong wind and tide with a sick engine….and as i got back i noticed that the inshore Lifeboat has gone out so maybe someone else is having a worse time of it*.

Yesterday, strangely we had the first positive contact with any harbour official when the Dartmouth harbour patrol guy stopped alongside us while were at anchor outside Bow creek , asked if we were ok and suggested we move onto a more sheltered mooring over by Ashprington point ; which we did and after which we had a much more comfortable night.

Broken stick.

Well, it’s all been a huge contrast to last year when i spent 3 months continuously on board while we cruised around western and southern Brittany, then, we did much more challenging sailing than we have just done in a poor couple of weeks and without either damage or ‘jobsworthy’ hassle from officials. This year i just seem to be completely out of kilter with the boat and the sea despite that i still seem to be sailing competently enough ; it just seems to be problem after problem and one bad experience after another with harbourside officialdom.

For many years now it’s been our regular habit to take a holiday early in the summer, just before the school holidays start, and then again in September once all of the schools go back : the reason we’ve always had to do it that way is because both of us were then working in an NHS hospital and school holiday time is always jealously appropriated by the mummies…who ‘have’ to have their holidays as and when they want them and always claim that they ‘have to’ have priority !. Mostly, it’s worked out for us to slip away before the school holidays start and after they have finished : the campsite down in the Landes region of France we have used for years has always been quiet then and last year i made sure not to be in France during the mad 6 weeks when schools are out and every anchorage is rammed with boat’s and their drivers who haven’t been out all year…..bang….crash….bang…. and then there’s the ones who really should try something else…

This year, i don’t really need to say has been a bit strange !….we couldn’t and didn’t take a break in June this year so when September leave came around we both felt that we really needed a break from home and our routine, even our daily hikes had started to pall when we basically had the same choices of route day after day. With the things that we do we really have 2 choices, either go off with the boat somewhere or go land based and camp although with WABI’’’ up for sale and mostly out of commission it looked this year that our first choice was camping or camping. Our first choice was somewhere in France, the south Biscay coast of the Landes, down at Arnaoutchot, would have been nice but ‘out’ for the obvious reasons. Second choice for me was the north Norfolk coast except that none of the campsites i looked at seemed to want tents…only large self contained camper vans, i almost booked us a camping ‘pod’ up in the lake district before i looked at the weather for Cumbria ; not the best place to be in rain day after day.

So, the boat is was and everything that followed.

Here’s a little sea story, not from this years fiasco of a break but from the end of my own circumnavigation some 30 years ago : once upon a time in a bleak and miserable port in the north east of England.

In September 1991 i sailed from the UK as mate aboard an old Whitbread maxi yacht with the aim of doing a fast circumnavigation via the great capes just as the Whitbread race did in those days except that we would stop in many more ports but for shorter periods. Thus we sailed from the south coast of England, down the Atlantic and visiting Madeira, the Canaries and so on until we got to Cape Town in south Africa, from there across the wild wastes of the Southern ocean and the Kerguelens, Australia, New Zealand and the long passage around the Horn and back up the Atlantic via both south and north America, then the Azores and finally up to Iceland, Scandinavia and then ‘home’ via our own north sea. As we sailed around the world we were met with almost total kindness and helpfulness everywhere we went, even, surprisingly military ports in Argentina and Chile.

Sailing south back to the UK we ran into a severe gale in the North sea and we made the decision to put into Hartlepool overnight before making for the Thames estuary and the official finish of our circumnavigation. As i remember it we surged down the short entrance channel between the pier and breakwater and as quickly put the big yellow boat alongside…several of the crew including myself jumping ashore to take the lines. I remember it feeling a bit strange to be standing on English soil again…..or at least on the dockside of a grim and bleak North-east fishing port at dusk with a cold keen wind blowing. It felt weird and out of place until a scruffy white van came over and it’s officious ‘security’ driver got out to tell us , and i quote : “you can’t park here lad”. Later, i wondered if he meant that dock, that port or England itself, at the time i just told him that we had ‘parked here’ and were going to be ‘parked here’ overnight and i think he came to the sudden realisation that he was surrounded by about 7 or 8 big tough circumnavigators who would quite happily thrown him and his white van in the dock.

It was a welcome back to England of a kind : mean spirited, rule-bound and petty-officious and it seems that little has changed in 30 years except that the petty officials like that security guard are now even more puffed up with their own importance and their ‘rules’ and of course ‘because’ Covid !

Oh…and the cherry on the icing on the cake……

After we had dealt with the immediate aftermath of our dismasting we managed to get in under the cliffs at the river Dart entrance where we got the remains of the rig back aboard and sorted ourselves out with a coffee : after that we motored upstream a ways, got onto the first mooring that was easy and started to tidy up…..it was then that i looked in the big cockpit locker and found it more than half full…..yes, we were actually flooding as well. I thought at first that the rig must have pierced the hull somehow but it wasn’t that but one of the cockpit seat drain pipes had come off it’s fitting and the sea was simply siphoning back up the pipe and into the locker : weirdly when i emptied the locker right out to finish scooping out the sea and chucking it back where it belonged i found the jubilee clip in the bottom of the locker…..clearly off and as clearly mis-shapen and iv’e absolutely no idea how it came off : so yes, we nearly sank at the end of that as well.

*As i write……the RNLI boat has just come back in with……you guessed it : another dismasted yacht, this time just down by start point, and as i write their rig is still in the water and they’re looking a bit shell-shocked but also all in one piece.

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