Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Muddy Sundays

I got stood up by my crew this weekend, and Dad was busy jet-washing a caravan, so left to my own devices I managed to snag a sail with a friend in her Wanderer out of Lydney. I've got a soft spot for Wanderers, but also have an unfortunate habit of falling out of them as the toe straps are tricky to reach in the helm's position of you're hiking. That's my excuse, anyway.

The wind was in the southwest pushing past the top end of force 4, but the tide was on or nearing neaps, so only about five or six meters in it; slight for the estuary. All the same, it had the promise of being a little lively, especially once the tide turned to the ebb and started to run back against the wind.

It was an unusually busy day for Lydney, with two Wayfarers, an Enterprise and an Osprey joining us on the water. We launched an hour and a half before top with no mishap, and crossed the river, punching against the tide in a series of close tacks and tight beats along the far bank to enter Berkley Pill, just behind one of the Wayfarers.

It was then lots of tacking close hauled with the occasional bear away to a dead run and gybe or two within the claustrophobic and meandering path of the pill until we reached the top. The only real drama happened when I misjudged the bank on one tack, had the centre board pop up as it hit ground, and the resulting lack of steerage saw us indignantly pinned to a muddy lee shore. However, we managed to push ourselves back out with a paddle until deep enough to get the board back down, and were soon underway again.

Back out of the pill with another forty minutes until top of tide, we spent the time reaching back and forth across the turbulent river between Sharpness and Lydney; pure, unadulterated joyride, plain and simple. We were treated to the unexpected but pleasurable company of an old double-masted tall ship leaving the Sharpness Dock to head down channel. No idea who or what they were, but she was a gorgeous sight all the same.

Shortly after, surfing down the swell on a beam reach, I hiked out hard to pump the mainsail in as another gust hit, and missing the toestraps just as the next wave picked us up, tumbled inelegantly out of the back.

In such circumstances, I find it best to just cling onto whatever you've got. Better the crew joins you in getting wet than have them sail away without you. Not sure the crew would agree but you rarely have time to consult on these occasions!

I came spluttering back to the surface, mainsheet in hand, to the sight of the Wanderer beginning to heel hard as my dragging weight pulled the boom in and forced her to turn up into the wind. All the while the boat was still tearing along at a fair rate of knots in the blow.

Dragging myself up the mainsheet, I somehow managed to get a hand onto the starboard stern quarter before she heeled to far, hauled my face up above the gunwale and politely requested my crew take the tiller and hold it steady for a moment. Their face is always a picture when they turn around and realise you're gone; yes, this has happened to me before. Then as the next wave surged under us, I hauled myself in to the surprise and amusement of my host and crew. She later told me that as I slid aboard over the transom that I looked like a performing seal.

The rest of the day's sail went without mishap and we were back ashore at Lydney within the hour, washing the boat down before retiring to the bar to recharge and refuel.

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