Thursday, August 26, 2004

island hopping

I decided that since I only had around a week on the Isles, I might as well use that time doing some recon, if only for getting a feel of the place.

So at 0930 the following day Chris ran me over to the old stone jetty to await the inter island ferry, going down to St Mary's. Some time later I found myself on St Mary's main high street with lots of shops, banks and places to eat. Quite frankly it freaked me out somewhat, since I'd been used to the quiet of the boat and a lack of facilities for some time. I found a very nice public convenience cum fishermans 'locker area' and proceeded to give myself the first decent wash and clean up in several days - getting all the salt out of my hair and beard was certainly good. Then I had an ice cream and beat a hasty retreat back to the ferry. I was'nt really bothered which island I was going to, I just wanted out of the hustle and bustle of St Mary's.

As it happened I was on the the Bryher ferry, the island just to the west of Tresco.
Now, if Tresco can be termed the 'Isle of Chelsea' then Bryher can be likened to 'The Beach' from the novel of the same name. To say it is a bit hippyish would be to denigrate the place, but it is a bit rougher, less tidy, even more laid back and gives the impression of being a real community, rather than a collection of holiday homes and support workers that Tresco invoked.

So, landing at the island's new quay [the Anneka quay - since it 'starred' in the TV series, challenge Anneka] I made my way in the opposite direction of everyone else on the ferry, towards the north. There was a definite mediteranean feel about this place, reinforced by the heat [it was hot] and the red tiled house nearby. Before too long, I came upon the island pub - Fraggle Rock [which came first, the name or the TV series?] where I partook of a pint and a sarnie. Both very good, so worth a return visit then. Wandering off, I eventually crossed the island to the wild west coast and found a horseshoe bay, with a crescent of white sand at it's head, and completely empty.

Since I had the place for myself I stripped off and had a quick and chilly dip in the Atlantic, before stretching out for another nap.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Thoughts on the Scillies

Our first full day on Tresco, what can I say. White sand, blinding sun, warm water .....err, no bloody cold actually. The islands are 50 miles out into the Atlantic with vicous tides, so a lot of water gets moved around, so it never warms up properly.

I went for a walk, in full beachcomber mode, bare feet, canvas bag slung over one shoulder, looking for bits of storm wrack and interesting objet'de mer. But of course I found little since this was August and the season was in full swing. Previous walkers had snaffled everything. [later I discovered that the islanders themselves tend to walk the beaches regularly, flotsam and jetsam being one of the things that make the place what it is. All in all I found very little of note]

Later on I found myself, together with the others on the western side in New Grimsby, at the pub having a very congenial pint of Surfers ale, and coming to the conclusion that Tresco was the 'Isle of Chelsea' or 'Knightsbridge-by-the-sea' given the amount of home counties dialects I was hearing. Apparently this was only because the holiday lets were booked up for 10 years ahead [20 in some places] and so you had several generations of the same family coming, year after year at the same time. Only middle class England can do this! The Island Hotel by contrast appeared [according to the nice girlie serving behind the bar] to be full of balding Essex wide-boys and their mutton-dressed-as-lamb slapper partners/wives/mistresses/girlfriends, and were given a wide berth by everyone.

The mix was supplemented by the yotties, [like us] but not your usual yellow welly marina crowd, but die-hard sea gypsies [like us!] who were here for some time, or just passing through. Brits, French, Dutch, Belgians even a yank family from Maine.

Later on I wandered off and then back to the rock opposite the boat for a bit of quiet contemplation [ie a nap] before returning to the boat, only to find Chris in full BBQ Man mode grilling up steak, langoustine crab ets, not only for us, but for a crew of Bretons from a boat behind us.

Thus went the first day on Paradise Island, for the next day I had decided to explore further afield..............


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

a digression....

wrote this a while ago, and in lieu of having nothing else that I want to write about today............

Back into the groove.

Imagine if you will, dear reader, an overweight 40 something white male, who looks like a cross between the late lamented Ernest Hemmingway and the equally late and lamented Jerry Garcia, sitting at a picnic table on the south side of Half Moon Bay, watching a couple of no-longer-young-themselves surfers riding the beach break on longboards. Wistfully he looks on, putting himself into their place, moving and tensioning his leg muscles in concert with the riders offshore.

“Bollocks” he thinks “I need to get back into this”. But not now. It’s November 2002, he’s unfit and the cartilage in his right knee needs replacing. He is also a visitor to these California shores, knowing no-one who rides waves here. What he does know though is that he could become an accident statistic if he decides to surf down at Steamer Lane, he has witnessed the crowds and the dog-eat-dog attitudes of most the wanna-surfers-be at that spot.

Fast forward to June 2003 and our hero paddles out into small but sparkling evening surf at his local break, some 9 hours time difference to the east and on a different continent. He sits there on his recently acquired, but previously much travelled [and dinged] Hobie 9’3” and thinks how good it is to be back. It takes a while. His first few waves mark him out as a complete novice and questioning looks and disparaging comments are aimed at him by a few of the others in the water. But he knows it will be only a matter of time, and timing.

He thinks back to the year he started - 1973. He remembers asking an older guy if he would teach him to surf. “Sure” came the reply “have you a year to spare?” And a year it was too, what with the lack of consistency that marked north Wales surf. But there was a hardcore crew of surfers, mostly from the north-west of England, who made the 3 hour trek down from the industrial centres of that region every weekend; rain, hail, snow or shine, surf or no surf. And made the place their own. He was the only true local, but over the years some of the regular crew got out of the city rat race and made the move to the coast. Many more started up, but it was still a mellow laid back vibe, a four mile beach with at least a half dozen viable beach breaks, reef and point breaks at either end kept crowding to a minimum.

A couple of weeks later, and after some consistent if small swells he’s starting to work the rust out of his system, making more waves than he misses. The evening paddles and waves have been mostly alone, midweek the beach is virtually empty, only those who take the effort to make the long drive out, and anyway, since the first session he’s tried to stay away from the more populated peaks until he’s happy with his efforts.

But today the best spot is well stocked with a motley assortment of surfers of all styles and abilities and due to the vagaries of the swell direction, this peak is undoubtedly the best. It’s a while off high tide, time to go in and hope that the increasing size after the turn will thin the herd somewhat. A hard paddle and 10 minutes later he’s sitting with a crew outside the peak. They all studiously avoid him, thinking back a couple of weeks to the fat old bearded guy who spent most of his time falling off and getting in their way.

He lets the first couple of sets, now an interesting 4’, go by and feels the longshore drift take him down the beach, away from the cleanest area. He knows that he will have to paddle back into the west to get into the best spot, hopefully for a leftie. As a goofy that’s his preference. Yes it’s all coming back now. The crew watch him paddle off, no doubt happy to get this antique out of the way so that they can perform for their mates on the beach. He reaches a spot that might just be right, and gets confirmation from the pull from a set. He scratches for the horizon, making it over the first couple easily, but he knows from experience dredged up from memory that the next two will be bigger. He makes number three, just. Number four then. The Hobie is usually a pig to spin, but this time it’s easy. Two stokes and he’s up. A right hander. Can he fade left? No it’s gonna close. Right it is then, straight down the line. As it backs off he cross foot’s forward into a cheater-five, gains speed, steps back and executes a drop knee cut back to keep in the green. He repeats the move again a couple of times before the wave dissolves into white mush and he kicks out, vaguely aware of hoots from inside. Ignoring them, he paddles back out and watches for the next set “Damn but I missed all this” are his overriding thought.

The looks he gets from the crew are a little friendlier now. He may look like a dinosaur, but he’s no kook, they seem to say. As the joints ease and he gets his second wind, he finds that the waves he makes are his own. there is little or no blatant dropping in. It's as if he has reasserted his right to be there and not be hindered.

Afterwards back at the car, he dries off thinking “It’s good to be back in the sea”. Even though he’s stiff and tired, he knows he’s had a good session. As the crew turn up to dry off in their turn, conversation ensues. Pleasantly surprised that these youngsters would even be remotely interested he chats with them awhile, until as he is about to leave a guy asks ‘Can you teach me some of your techniques?’

‘Sure’ he replies, smiling in recollection, ‘you got a year to spare?’

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

dazed and confused

So, I got dumped today.

In my long and sadly unsuccessful list of various relationships this was a first. It’s not happened before, being dumped via a hastily scrawled message pushed through the window of my car, especially when I was inside the house having lunch, and wondering if Juliet would call by. I have to say I was somewhat bemused and perplexed by this turn of events and the abruptness of it all.

So if she want's nothing more to do with me then I will just have to accept it and get back to my own life, even if it leaves me wondering what it was that I did [or did’nt do] for this to happen.

Well that's my male pride bit of the situation out of the way. The 'confirmed bachelor' part of me say's 'phew!', because, to be perfectly honest I was having difficulty in keeping up with J's take on life and how to deal with it. Apart from the over-analysis bit, she was also having 'issues' with her job, animals, house and sister, and she also reckoned she was neglecting her mother. Now, if she thought that she needed to simplify her life then she ought to have considered one of those above issues, not the one that was easy going and simple to start with. But there you go, who can fathom the thought processes of a woman, especially one who has so many self-perceived problems as she evidently had.

So I am free and single once more, and to tell the truth, I feel kinda relieved.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

the trip, the log

Day 1 Sunday August 1st

After a barbecue on the beach at Pwllheli we decided to go for it. When I say beach, I mean the foreshore by the slipway, complete with lumps of concrete reinforcement, seaweed and dead fish. Chris likes to be Barbecue Man as we will see.

Anyway, you will remember that I had reckoned that a 3am start would be good, to get us in the south going tide when we got to St Davids around 14 hours later. Well we threw that out the window and went at 9.30pm, [2130hrs] straight after the sun went down. This was OK, but in retrospect midnight would have been better. So we powered out into a beauitiful sunset and a date with a nasty bit of sea the following morning.

Day 2 Monday

Jacki woke me at 0400hrs gleefully telling me that Strumble head light was ahead and to port and that we were doing 9.5knots over the ground, but that the self steering had packed in. Happy as I was to hear that we had made good progress I knew that the worst bit of the whole trip was coming up, and we were going to be there with the full force of the spring tides ahead of us. At least the wind would be with the tide, and not against which would have made it a tad uncomfortable, to say the least. I had originally argued that we should go inside, with the tide and have a sleighride through Ramsey Sound, past the Bitches, across St Brides Bay and through Jack Sound or past Skomer. It would be quicker, more comfortable and with Milford Haven only a few miles to the east, easier to bail out if we had to. But no, Jacki and Chris were adamant, outside it was, cos it worked for them last time. By 0700 the Bishops were abeam and our vmg [velocity made good - the 'speed' over the ground towards our destination as shown on the GPS] was down to 4.5 knots, the same as our water speed, so we were in slack water. Chris came up and we hoisted the main to help, 10 minutes later we put a reef in to make life a little easier, and the rolled the genny up a bit. I went for a kip. At 1230 I came up to find we had managed the grand total of 10 miles in the three hours I had been down below. The full northgoing stream was now against us, and I felt somewhat hacked off that we had'nt - a] waited until at least midnight to leave; and b] had'nt gone inshore.

By 1400 we had clawed our way to the Smalls lighthouse, motorsailing all the way, with the wind a close reach and increasing to F5 from the SE, with the odd squall taking it to F6. I remarked that it was'nt fun any more, Chris and Jacki agreed, although Rhiannon wanted to press on cos she reckoned it could'nt get any worse. We invoked the 5 minute rule [reappraise the stuation in 5 minutes after a period of reflection, and if everyone was of the same mind go with the decision] Five minutes later we kicked our course to the east and fed in the coordinates for Angle.
There then followed the worst half hour on the water that I have had for many a year. First off, Chris declared that with our present vmg it was going to take 6 hours to get to Angle [WTF?]. A few minutes later I was somewhat perturbed to see an empty water bottle that had gone over the side a few seconds earlier, re-appear as we were knocked back by a large wave. We were making 0 headway [WTF2?] and then it started shoaling, fast [WTF3?] . I shouted to Chris, who was helming to bail out big time, which to his credit he did without querying me.

Running off to the SW he remarked that it looked a lot quieter to the south. A quick think and it was 'Bollocks- lets go on'. Jacki did the math and we realised that the worst of the northerly stream was behind us, so onwards it was. For a while it was still rather lumpy, but the wind seemed to be easing. Jacki plotted a new waypoint, to keep us to the east of the shipping lanes and this eased the wind a little more. Vmg was a steady 5.5 kn so we felt better, so good in fact that we decided that pot-noodles for all were in order - nothing tastes better than a cheapo pot noodle when you are cold, wet and hungry, or in my case soon to be very wet as a green lump transfered itself from the Bristol Channel and straight down my neck, by-passing all that lovely neoprene and gore-tex and sluicing me down right into my sea-boots.

Mid afternoon - I suppose around 1600, I can't be sure, the engine stopped. Just like that. No clunking, or nasties, It just stopped, liked somebody had, turned it off. I looked at Chris, thinking that was what he had done. He looked at me, thinking the same. Then 'O, bugger'.

Now, the theory of accidents is that, in general, there is no such thing as the one-off 'accident'. No, what happens is that lots of little things happen, which within themselves are of no consequence, but when put together produce a geometrical progression which lead to a potential disaster in the making. I think chaos theory covers it quite well.

So whilst Jacki and I got the genny out a bit and squared the boat off towards the south west under sail so that we could sort things out in some degree of stability, Chris went below to see what had happened to our engine. Now, I had negelected to tell you that the day before we sailed, Chris had replaced all the push rods in the valve gear with new ones and re set the valve clearences. The engine had then put in some 19 hours of work when it stopped. So there were some major ?????? in our collective minds.

Chris quickly ascertained that the engine had overheated and needed some oil too, so that was done. We decided that as the boat was happily doing 5 knots under sail on the heading we were on, we would continue for an hour or so to let the engine cool down and then restart it, hoping that all was ok. At this point the noise of the ignition circuit beeper drew our attention to the fact that the circuit was on. Jacki reached down to turn the key and realised that it had broken off, sometime in the previous - whenever. So we couldnt restart the engine until we had extricated the broken bit. No problem, the boat was sailing happily along close to our course, and the engine needed to cool anyway, so we had a couple of hours in which to defeat the broken key syndrome.

Half an hour later we were no further forward. Rhiannon was on the helm, I was keeping a watch to windward and the other two were playing around with tweezers and needles, still trying to retrieve the broken key. Rhiannon suddenly let out a yelp as the Swansea-Cork superferry appeared close on our starboard, downwind side and passed some 400 meteres astern. To say it was heartstopping was an understatement.

Rhiannon - 10 years old, helm extraordinaire

We quickly recovered from this, and Chris radioed the Ferry to relay a message to the coastguard informing them of our situation, but that we were quite happy thank you and would contact them again when we had sorted it out / made landfall. Imagine our horror when we heard the relay go out that we required assistance! Argh No! Chris was back on the radio in an instant stating quite categorically that we DID NOT REQUIRE ASSISTANCE, Thank you. What we got back was, 'Sorry you are breaking up, did not understand your last message' Bear in mind that the ferry was still no more than 1k away and we were broadcasting on 16 at 25w and this was rather disconcerting. Luckily I had brought my handheld with me and Chris managed to patch through the message that we were Ok and did'nt need the full weight of the UK SAR to swing into action, and if we had needed assistance why was the ferry receding towards the horizon at 20 knots? This time they got the message. But it was annoying that our brand new DSR radio was not giving out at 100%. However it did'nt unduly worry me, hell I started sailing when cotton sails were only just being replaced, there were no radios, let alone cell-phones, GPS and electronic logs, but I could see the others were, given that at that moment we had no engine and no means of starting one.

But the boat was Ok, she was sailing along happily. Jacki got our position and plotted courses to Padstow, and Cork, in case we had to, and started a DR plot on the chart, in case the gps went down too..
An hour later and the engine had cooled down, Chris had decided that we had been sucking air into the water intake, because we were heeled over so much and that had set up an airlock which resulted in the overheating. Jacki had had a brainwave - use the stub of the key to turn the ignition, it worked a dream. So with engine back on we came back onto our course and motored on into the evening. As usual just as I was about to go down I had a quick look around and noticed... no radar reflector. "It was there when we left" Jacki asserted. "never mind. There's a spare in the stb'd locker" No there was'nt, nor in the port hand locker, the aft cabin or downstairs. No radar reflector, and we were about to go into the second busiest shipping lane in the UK. Time for some quick thinking. Jacki made up a reflector out of 2 stainless pan lids suspended at right angles to one another. We re-set our waypoint to close inshore of Pendine Head, so that we were well clear of the lanes until daybreak, when we would dash across at right angles. The plan would work, all we had to look out for was stuff coming up or down channel from Cardiff or Avonmouth. A couple of largish ships were going up channel, but were well clear of us.

The wind had by now started to track around to the south, as was promised by the forecast, eventually it should settle into the NW F3. But for now it meant powering directly into a short chop. A visit down below to check the chart and the change in the boat's rhythms was enough and I came charging up the gangway to be seasick for the first and only time on the trip.

At around 2200 I went for a kip and Jacki took over with the promise to wake me at 0300. Thus ended a fairly action packed never-a-dull-moment day.

Day 3 Tuesday morning.

The morning started for me at 0300 hrs with Jacki waking me up to a cold and dank scene. There was no wind and the sea was totally flat, apart from a small long period swell from the SW. However there was also no visibility, a cold and clammy mist surrounded us, whilst directly above the full moon was clearly visible, although every now and again it disappeared into the murk. Jacki scuttled off below to make us a cup of something hot and then to bed.

Sometime later Chris came up, unable to sleep and for the next few hours we avoided phantoms in the fog. We only ever saw one blob which could have been a ship, away off to our starboard side. Every so often we would stop the engine and glide soundless through the mist, straining to hear something. Our feeble foghorn was discarded as being a waste of time. Chris tried the old trick of putting his ear to the hull down below and try and hear the thump of an engine, but there was nothing. We were alone in the murk.

Eventually the sun came up, as did Jacki, and started to burn off some of the mist, but we were still surrounded by banks of fog. At around 0800 we reached the waymark, Chris plotted in the IoS and we turned right, crossing the lanes in patchy fog, vis about 1k. We could hear a foghorn up to the north of us, which eventually emerged as a mid sized tanker in ballast, coming down the wrong side of the separation lane. A hand bearing compass showed us on a collision course so we changed course and slowed up so that we would pass behind it. It then changed course back towards us to avoid a fishing boat which was hauling nets.

err... Jacki?

We just could not get clear of the damned thing so had to bail out completely to let it go by. It passed by us less than 400m away. no acknowledgement, nothing.

After this the day cleared considerably and so Jacki and I went to sleep and left it to Rhiannon and Chris to do the last 15 miles or so. We raised Men 'a Vaur at about 1200 and by 1300 was snuggly secured to a mooring boy in Old Grimsby.

Our voyage was over and we had arrived in the Isles of Scilly. Now to go exploring, but first - a deep uninterrupted sleep. Bliss.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Back home....

Well here I am, back home after and interesting week away in The Isles of Scilly. For those who don't know, take a map of the uk and look down the coast of Cornwall until you reach Lands End. Then keep going. Twenty miles or so to the west are the IoS.

It's a long way from North Wales to Tresco, our port of call, and so I'm going to carry on with this Blog as though it's the Ship's log, which in a way I suppose it is.