We’re in recovery mode.
It’s been a long and, at times, difficult week. We knew beating into the wind for a few days would be a slog, but I fear we rather underestimated how bloody tiring it was going to be. At the start of the week we had rather romantic notions of sailing Conyer to the West Country in one hit, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it to be honest. Those of you who think sailing is nothing more than sipping cocktails in the sun are sorely mistaken! (Well, not yet. In a couple of weeks, perhaps.) This sailing thing ain’t easy sometimes, and as I looked up the trains from London to Dartmouth for our friends who are joining us tomorrow and saw that travelling by rail takes a mere 3 hours- as opposed to 3 days by boat- I simply sank my head into my hands. And then fell asleep, because we’ve been in a permanent state of exhaustion all week.
Last night we motored into the stunning Dart river in the gentle yellow sunlight of early evening, wearing only short sleeves and shorts, our wet weather gear back in its cupboard where it belongs, and we were met with the spectacular sight of Dartmouth’s pastel houses spilling down the hillside to meet the narrow river full of boats of all kinds- ferries, dingies, motoboats, sailing yachts, fishing boats. And we realised all that hard work was worth it. There’s a sense of achievement that, frankly, just isn’t the same as when you board a train and then spend a few hours alternating between staring blindly out the window and leafing through a trashy magazine. I mean, where’s the challenge in that?! I know the English Channel isn’t exactly the Southern Ocean, but we’re still young and naive. For us, it was challenge enough for now. I’m sure by the time we’ve returned here via the rest of the world, we’ll look back on this week fondly.
So, to bring everyone up to speed, for those who are hankering after the finer details of mine and Nick’s week so far (hello Mother!), the last time we touched base was in Dover. We woke to an overcast and windy day, Westerlies again, and agreed that our time was probably better spent exploring Dover castle and having a pub lunch. Nick left to find the shower block, but returned moments later to announce that the plan had changed: we were leaving. Our neighbour from the night before, a Dutchman called Yap (yep), had intercepted Nick and declared that he was heading to Eastbourne in a few hours with his wife and two teenage children. In the spirit of “anything you can do, I can do better”, Nick immediately decided that we, too, were leaving today, sod the weather. A couple of hours later Nick and I stood in our wet weather gear, waving goodbye to Yap who, while maneuvering out of his berth, collided with our stern despite the efforts of 4 people fending off, leaving us with a scratch in our gelcoat as a souvenir of our Dover stopover. We took a certain smug satisfaction in that, and I wondered if I should ask for my bottle of wine back.
That day, Tuesday, was rubbish. The wind was right on the nose, the sea state was lumpy making the boat slam and I spent most of the day wiping sea spray off my face. We couldn’t even face the palaver of making a cup of tea or getting the crisps out of the cupboard in those conditions- things were getting serious. After a very long day of sitting in miserable silence, making far less progress that we were hoping, we decided to stay the night at Eastbourne marina. Nick made a truly stupendous sausage and bean casserole which we inhaled while staring blearily at the tidal charts, forcing our sluggish brains to make the necessary calculations to form a passage plan for the next day which would hopefully have us making progress above walking pace. Then we crashed.
Wednesday was an improvement. The sea state had calmed and the winds, still Westerly, were lighter. The sun was shining and we were happy. Nick even made a proper lunch: burgers! Nothing makes me happier than burgers. Later in the day, we got the sails up and belatedly realised that we’d failed to check our possessions were stowed properly that morning when the contents of the entire boat went crashing across the floor. We’re still a little rusty.
We possibly could have continued through the night because the sky was clear and we were making good progress, but the tide was starting to turn and we decided that, instead of punching tide and making only a few knots, we’d anchor in the Isle of Wight to get our head down for 6 hours and rise early the next day to sail the 105 remaining miles to our destination.
Thursday therefore started at 3am. That’s early. Did anyone know that this time of year, dawn is actually breaking at 3:30am? I didn’t. Sunrise was shaping up to be a real stunner, but once we were away from Southampton’s shipping lane and set on course, I stumbled right back to bed leaving Nick to enjoy it by himself.
We were in high spirits on Thursday, despite getting up at such a ridiculous hour. The winds had swung around and were now coming from the east- to anyone a little rusty on the basic geography of England’s southern coast, and/or hasn’t been paying attention to what I’ve been saying (can hardly blame you; I am going on a bit), this meant the wind was coming from directly behind us. However, now that we finally had a comfortable point of sail, the winds had dropped off completely, meaning we still had to run the engine all day. Never mind, the sun was not only shining, it was meltingly hot, and we were soon stripped down to the bare essentials. The crotch straps of the life jackets ensured underwear was, to Nick’s consternation, classified a bare essential in this instance, but still. I’ve been living in the UK long enough to appreciate that just being able to bare your arms and legs is a cause for celebration.
As mentioned, that evening we arrived in beautiful Dartmouth, was directed to a mooring, and we’d barely cleated our lines off before hailing the water taxi. He asked where we wanted to go. Our answer was immediate: “The pub!”
Today, Friday, we had grand plans of a lie in, but were rudely awakened by water slapping against our hulls thanks to the windy start (don’t worry, earplugs- two types!- have now been purchased). This morning was dutifully spent getting started on our long list of chores on the boat, mostly of the cleaning variety, before heading back to the town center to run some errands: bank, post office, pharmacy, chandlery, fishing tackle shop, groceries, lunch and, ahem, bakery. Twice.
So now we await our friends who will get the, as far as I’m concerned, absurdly timely train from London tomorrow and as soon as the forecasted thunderstorms pass we will be turning south towards the sunshine.