Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A (re)learning experience

I learned, re-learned or simply had reinforced a few valuable lessons
over the weekend. Stuff I already knew, but should have paid better
attention to.

Sunday's was simply that with an increase in scale, it is ever so easy
to get intimidated into forgetting what should be the instinctive
basics. Such as putting the boat head to wind before hauling up the
sail, watching the main as you haul to make sure it rises clear and
without snag or tangle, the same when deploying the jib, that sort of
thing. I once almost capsized a Troy keelboat because, overwhelmed at
taking the helm for the first time of a boat so much bigger and heavier
than the British Moth dinghy I was sailing back then, I forgot that I
could simply spill wind from the main when a gust hit.

I say "almost capsized". By my usual standards, it was nowhere near.

The lesson here is to take things slow, keep a clear, calm and attentive
mind, do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by events. Essentially all
the things sailing has been trying to teach me about life throughout
this last decade, I guess.

Previous to Sunday, Saturday's lessons were more direct.

It was an early start; a dawn tide from Lydney up to Newnham-on-Severn
for breakfast, then sail back. I single-handed the club's Mirror
"Custard" in the company of friends aboard the sailing canoe "Green
Bean", the Wayfarer "Clubbar" and the club's safety boat to watch over us.

1. If you're going to put to sea, and for the purposes of this argument,
I'm counting the upper reaches of the Severn Estuary as "sea" in sheer
terms of simple brutality, make pretty damned sure it's in a seaworthy
and well maintained vessel. Sailing our Lugger "Ondine", it's easy to
get lulled into the security that the boat is a lot tougher than me.
Really must remember that isn't always the case with every boat,
especially a boat you haven't looked after, maintained and prepped yourself.

2. Water belongs on the outside of a boat. I know that sounds obvious,
but sailing our Enterprise "Buffy" is a very wet affair. Capsizing her
is generally a non event. She comes back up utterly swamped, with the
gunwales below the water, but you just balance her between yourself and
the crew, move back to trim the bow up, and bear away on to a reach.
With a bit of wind (and if there is no wind, why did you capsize in the
first place?) the water rushes out the transom flaps at the stern and is
sucked through autobailers in the floor, and she emerges back out of the
darkened grasp of the murky depths like Nautilus rising.

The same cannot be said of a Mirror with dodgy bungs on three of the
four bouyancy tanks and no autobailer in the cockpit floor.

We did fine on the way up, wind with tide. But the wind increased, as
we'd been expecting, when the tide turned, and the seas became very
vicious and confused. Beating into the wind over tide, struggling with a
jib cleat that wasn't man enough to hold the sheet in, and trying to
hike without toestraps, I got caught out. Hit by a big gust, the boat
bore away, the nose dug in, and she capsized to leeward.

No great shakes. Already hiked as far as I could, I simply rolled over
the high side and onto the daggerboard, and had the boat back up within
thirty seconds, didn't even loose the burgee, I didn't really get wet.
Well, no wetter than I was already in the driving rain, with a now quite
swamped boat.

3. If you're not sailing Buffy, always carry a bailer of sufficient
volume to assist in putting the sea back where it belongs, smartly.
Anticipating such an eventuality, I'd meant to bring a bucket. But on
the morning of setting out remembered that I'd put the bucket at the
bottom of my drive on the night of Halloween, full of sweets with a sign
asking the local kids to help themselves but not knock on my door and
disturb my dogs (and so disturb my neighbour). Somewhere towards the end
of the evening, with the sweets mostly gone, somebody helped themselves
to the bucket.

I was therefore left bailing the swamped Mirror with the somewhat
crushed and worse for wear half a plastic milk carton that had been
placed in the boat to serve such an end. I did manage to get the
daggerboard slot clear of the waterline, which stopped the water coming
in from below, but not over the top, and was almost winning as we
reached the Noose. Once hand for the tiller and sheets, the other for my
sorry excuse of a bailer, weight well back to try and get the
waterlogged boat to ride the confused seas, it was blowing a steady 5 or
6 with gusts upto 8, and we were winning.

Then the clip holding the rudder onto the lower pintle snapped and the
rudder came away in my hand.

Steerage lost, boat completely awash, I struck sail.

I wasn't especially concerned. The Mirror is beamy enough to be pretty
stable even with the port, starboard and stern bouyancy tanks flooded.
The bungs on the bow tank were more robust by design, so we were in no
danger of sinking and only little risk of over turning as long as I was
careful. I had oars and rowlocks, and the tide was still carrying my
along at a good 5 knots in the direction I wanted to go. Lydney was only
about 6 miles away.

However, at this point, seeing me strike my sails, the safety boat took
that as capitulation, and came back to take me under tow.

For once I didn't resist. They had a really big bucket, and it was nice
having the luxury of both hands free to bail.

4. Just because a mobile phone claims it's waterproof, doesn't mean it
is. I can only guess the protective, supposedly sealed flap covering the
slot for the mini-SD card failed. Very, very annoying. What is the point
of having a waterproof phone if it isn't proof against a little splash
or two?

The safety boat cast me off a couple of boatlengths away from Lydney
Slip and I rowed the rest of the way in.

Everybody else made it back in once piece. It was, on balance, a great
morning. Even if the damnable mobile might prove it an expensive one.

The photo at the top of the post was taken a year ago last summer during
a walk with the dogs on Brean Sands. I had wanted to post a photo of a
Troy in keeping with the opening paragraphs, but those pictures are on
my other PC. So Brean Sands it is. Can't remember if I've posted it here
before, if so, my apologies for the gratuitous duplication. Off to the
right of the picture is Steep Holm. We'll sail past that and the beach
we were stood on, from left to right, in a few weeks time when we move
"Calstar" back from Swansea to her new home in Portishead.

I can't wait.

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