Tuesday, 30 October 2018

LYC: fish pie and muddy Mirrors

The weekend began here.

Friday night at Lydney Yacht Club. My good friend Chris Orme's fantastic fish pie, copious amounts of fine ale served by Barney and Martin across the Club bar, followed by a substantial tipple or two (three?) of a dubiously named Scotch. I say "dubiously named", but that's about all I recall of it, other than Barney was very generous with his estimate of the measures he served and it went down very smoothly on the back of all that ale and fish pie.

Entertainment of a more conventional nature was supplied by our friends Hedley and Eric as they regaled us with tales and photos of their lengthy retirement cruise earlier this summer aboard their respective yachts "New Dawn" and "Darteign", which seemed to cover most of the west coast of Wales and Scotland and the east coast of Ireland before returning home to Lydney.

It was a good night to catch up with old friends and make a couple of new ones.

I was supposed to be meeting up with Steve to crew for him aboard his sailing canoe "Green Bean" first thing Saturday morning, so had brought a sleeping bag, a self-inflating mattress and a plan to sleep in the back of my car. However, in the event, Lydney's Commodore Sarah and her partner Martin took pity on me and offered me a bunk on their Westerly moored up in the harbour.

Only catch was the rather perilous, icy boarding plank we had to navigate to get aboard. Oh, and the other peril, being the comfort of the bunk. I woefully overslept the following morning. Sarah and Martin woke me at 0800, reminding me I was supposed to be meeting the others to go sailing. 90 minutes late, I thanked them again for their hospitality, crammed my sleeping bag into it's bag, and made a dash for it.

By the slip I found two Mirror dinghies already rigged and waiting for the tide, crewed by Annabel and Tina and Tom and his son Harry respectively, but no sign of Steve or Green Bean. A moment's confusion and concern was dispelled however when I glanced at my phone and finally caught a message he'd sent at 0600, apologising but crying off sick.

Steve is pretty unstoppable in his enthusiasm for sailing Green Bean, so if he had to call a sickie, I had nothing but sympathy for him, it must've been bad. Feeling pretty rough myself, albeit entirely self-inflicted, I almost felt relieved. The morning was crisp and bright. And very, very chill.

"You've been drinking" remarked Annabel, it being clearly that obvious. And then Annabel and Tina press-ganged me into sailing with them. Despite the hangover, despite the chill, and despite a mild concern as to how we'd possibly fit three fully grown adults into a little Mirror, of course I found it quite impossible to say no.

The tide was tanking past off the end of the slip in full flood as we launched. Annabel and Tina appeared to have proceedings well under control so I lounged out in the sun on the foredeck and tried to ignore the dull thumping headache and numb chill of the morning seeping into my fingers through the fabric of my wet gloves.

Tom and Harry launched their own Mirror behind us and soon we were both close hauled on port, beating into the stiff northerly blowing hard down the estuary. The bank on the Forest side gave a little shelter in its lee, but on the Sharpness side, with the tide running hard against the wind, the overfalls made pointed, wet comment about the lack of freeboard you get when you put three adults into a Mirror.

Annabel and Tina were unruffled however, and managed the boat skilfully, tacking away and back towards the calm of the western shore whilst I tried valiantly not to get too tangled in the jib. Yours truly then continued to lounge, the hangover slowly receding, even if the damp chill continued it's onslaught against my poor abused bones. Discomfort aside, it was a gorgeous morning, and the silted, muddied, violent majesty of the Severn was as unsubdued and as unapologetic as ever in her glory.

I do truly love this bit of local water.

Through the narrows off the Sharpness Old Dock we hit the claptopic churn that always kicks up on the edge of Ridge Sands. The GPS on my watch recorded a high of 11.3 knots, which is a silly number for three folks in an 11' Mirror, but most of it was, of course, the tide.

It's a bit like white water rafting. Except the water isn't white. And it's kind of running up hill.

We crossed close to Tom and Harry to discuss the plan; some thought was given to simply pushing on up river until the tide turned, but the conversation turned in favour of landing in Brims Pill for coffee and breakfast.

The idea of any kind of solid breakfast caused a minor revolt in my somewhat abused and still struggling to recover system, but coffee felt welcome. And with heavier weather due in around lunch, not pushing our luck upriver seemed the more sensible choice.

Tom and Harry, taking a more conservative line, judged their approach perfectly, but caught further out in the full throated pull of the flood tide, we overshot the mouth of the Pill. We turned towards the shore, bearing away to a broad reach, and for the next five minutes our ground speed turned to the negative as we took a slow ferry glide in towards what we hoped would prove to be a back eddy to take us back to the Pill

The physical feeling of forward momentum coupled with the contradicting visual sensation of going nowhere but gradually backwards is a very Severn specific phenomena.

As the back eddy took its grip on our little boat, we gradually began to gain ground against the rushing tide, and finally turned into the shelter of the narrow creek. Having contributed nothing else to the voyage so far except my wit and my charm (quote from Tina: "Stop talking about capsizing Bill!") I finally stepped up to the plate and was first to step off from the boat as we made shore, struggling through knee deep mud to take the painter up to firm ground where we secured both boats to a metal corkscrew pin Annabel had brought along for the purpose.

Brims Pill is a picturesque spot as any to sip strong, hot black coffee and what the flood tide flush in. It doesn't offer much shelter from the biting wind though. Although the clocks went back on Sunday and winter is finally here, most of the trees around these parts still haven't quite given up the ghost of the summer just gone, and still cling to a few leaves.


The tide finally began to turn, the wind was continuing to build, and after a little bit of fuss with the rudder of Annabel's Mirror, we were back aboard and casting off from the shore to begin our trip back to Lydney and home.

Downwind all the way, the gusts at times became quite lively and, for the sake of trim, I had to surrender my lounging spot on the foredeck and move my weight aft to stop the bow from burying. In the building conditions, Tom and Harry astern of us sensibly elected not to haul up any sail and instead row back to the club. 

Or rather Harry rowed, whilst his Dad presumable supplied a few words of encouragement to spur him along in his efforts. 

Under sail, at times the overladen little boat almost leapt onto the plane in the grip of some of the more boisterous gusts. Annabel is a stead hand on the tiller though, and knows the river well. We stayed clear of the overfalls off Sharpness, wind-flattened now even as they were with the turn of tide.

There was a moment of concern about Wellhouse Rock. We were hugging the shore off Purton, Annabel relaxed in the view that the tide always washes you around things and rarely into them, when we realised we couldn't actually see the rock because most of it was still submerged.

We arrived back at Lydney without mishap however, easily stepping ashore and Annabel guided the boat to a gentle landing on the slip, snug behind the shelter of the breakwater. Tom and Harry were still in view about a mile astern, hugging the Lydney shore as the rowed back down with the tide.

We dragged our boat up to the top, and then headed back down to the water's edge to greet them as they caught up. It didn't take them long.

8.5 nautical miles travelled in 1 hour and 35 minutes underway, albeit in my hungover stupor I failed to start the log on my GPS until we'd already sailed a mile or so. As I packed up and got in the car to drive home, conscious of a promise to take my youngest son and his mum out for lunch to celebrate his 20th birthday, the wind continued to build, bending the surrounding trees, and the sky blackened over and it began to rain.

We'd certainly picked the best of the weather for our morning's sail. And sailing out of Lydney is always an adventure.

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