Monday, 7 October 2013

The final leg - Plymouth to Ipswich

27-29th September

To set the scene properly, Friday was moving out day from the home I had lived in for two years, and it did not go well. Everything had to be cleaned, and the landlord stood over us as we scrubbed parts of the house that were simply not cleanable. I tried to reassure him I would have my gigantic pile of stuff out by Sunday night. Finally I was able to catch my taxi to meet Giulia at the station for the long journey to Plymouth. Typically, had I walked, and not waited for the taxi that never arrived, I would have made it on time. Instead, I missed the train. We managed to get a later train to London and practically sprint across London to make it onto the Plymouth train. Not a relaxed start. Let’s call this the beginning of the stress.

On the way to Plymouth we called the water taxi driver. Turns out, he finished work two hours before we would arrive and was not at all prepared to stay and wait for us, so we were on our way to Plymouth with no way on to our boat and nowhere else to stay. We had no option but to continue, so we got to Plymouth, and, with things looking up, missed the ferry across the river. Somehow we did get to the boat that night. Igor managed to win the locals over with his tales of Biscay daring and the harbour master gave us a favour and drove us out. Now it began to become clear just how strong the wind was. The harbour master gave us a stern warning not to go sailing that night.

With pride touched a little, we took his advice and we decided to sleep. I always feel bad about a risk not taken and now our timetable was set back several hours. To compound our delays I messed up again and managed to lose the topping lift to the top of the mast while replacing the old rope. To her chagrin Giulia climbed up and got it. Climbing a mast is not easy and I couldn’t pull her up with the power of our small winches.

We finally got away and, after a brief stop on a buoy in Plymouth bay when the wind got too high to motor into, we had the smallest jib up and were on our way. I don’t remember much of the following 36 hours. One thing is clear. Giulia got sick. Incapacitated really, and I was not sympathetic. I do try to be sympathetic of seasickness, but Giulia is usually made of tougher stuff, and with just two of us I needed my crew mate! I should really point out, it wasn’t seasickness at all as she remained ill for many days afterwards, but we weren’t to know at the time, and hindsight isn’t much consolation. We had a miserable journey into a strong Easterly wind (F7/8?), making poor progress against foul tide around the famous Start Point headland and I confess, I was not a pleasure to sail with that night. With the delays and everything else I was breaking down. I need to learn to toughen my resolve, or how will I cross an ocean?

At about midnight on Saturday, with no. 3 jib now up I saw the storm jib, previously tied to the rail, hanging entirely in the sea. Before I could get to the bow and save it I watched it taken by a wave and sink into the sea. I sat on deck beating my fists and cursing my inefficiency. The perils of boat ownership: “how much does one of those cost!?” is an unpleasant thought. But then, before I went back to the cockpit I noticed in a flick of my head torch the sail following us, being towed underwater at 7 knots by a single sail tie through the head. I didn’t waste any time getting it back this time!

Another memory that sticks out for me is waking about 3 a.m. to the sound of the AIS alarm. Groggily I swung my feet out of bed to investigate, and see how things were on deck. I put my feet on the floor and into a foot of icy sea water. So, add a soaking sleeping bag to the list of my problems. And also sinking. This problem was well described by Igor, but it was my first time on the boat and I didn’t realise how deep the water would actually get!

Fortunately regular bilge pumping was enough to keep us afloat. It doesn’t help, though, to have another thought at the back of your mind – “but what if the pump breaks?

By Sunday lunchtime it was obvious we wouldn’t make the Solent. The target became Weymouth, a miserable 80 miles from Plymouth. Worse, as we got there it became obvious we maybe wouldn’t make the last train home. We pushed hard… and missed it. So now back to thoughts of house moving out and the pile of stuff I left behind. I called my landlord and explained my predicament, and that I wouldn't be back until Monday. Helpfully he told me I had to get the stuff out by Sunday night.

Fortunately after a 36 hour battering we finally arrived, tired and stinking at Weymouth. The late night guy there is my new hero. He ordered us a curry and managed to find us towels and soap so we could take one of the most welcome hot showers of 2013!

4-6th October

Igor put in a good few miles East from Weymouth on Friday to set us up for our final leg back to Ipswich. The rapidly accelerating leak got the better of him South of the Isle of Wight, when the amount of time spent pumping got high enough to prevent any sailing. He pulled into Portsmouth and finally found the problem – the pipe between the cockpit drain pipe and the hull fitting had come loose, and was allowing water into the open pipe. The hull fitting is above the waterline, so wasn’t continually flooding, but was taking on water with every wave, or as heel angle increased.

With no wind we set off from Portsmouth under engine and, sadly, continued that way for the rest of the weekend. The only interesting part was outside Dover. At about 3 minutes to midnight I looked at my watch and decided to finish my coffee before waking Giulia for her shift. Out of nowhere a big black rib came careering into the side of our yacht and three guys threw themselves on board. Pirates? No, UK border patrol, who wanted to search us for drugs and immigrants. Fortunately we had neither on board. I feel they could have been a bit more relaxed – maybe announcing who they were before crashing into us and leaping on board? It was funny to see Giulia, woken by the collision, pop her head out of the hatch. “What the fuck!?”. Evidently it is disconcerting to be woken and find your boat full of strangers. They had been chatting to us for about half an hour when the guy in charge got a call from the patrol boat the rib had come from announcing we were all dangerously close to the mouth of Dover and a big ship was about to depart. Well at that point I thought they may spare a thought for our safety and escort us across the shipping lane, but the guys just jumped back on their rib without a word and sped off leaving us feeling a little exposed!  

We caught the tide all the way round Dover and past the wind farms off Ramsgate and were nearing Ipswich by Sunday morning. Motoring North of a sand bank Giulia discovered that out chart was a couple of years out of date when the depth alarm notified her of an impending grounding. Thankfuly, with quick reflexes she dodged the danger and put the boat in safe water, the sand bank being now a few hundred meters North of the marked position.

This passage was a lot more smooth than last time and I was able to get back in time to make it to the conference I had to attend on Monday while Giulia cleaned up the boat. The final surprise was the height of water in Debbage. We knew it got shallow, but didn’t realise it dried to mud until Giulia looked out and saw a duck waddling around the exposed rudder!

Well, the sailing part of our adventure ends for now, and we embark on refitting and making Auriga safe for an ocean.  The following e-mail from Giulia sums up our joint relief at getting Auriga back home:

"Guys, we have a boat in Ipswich!! and we can go to see her whenever we want!! I was too tired yesterday to realize all of this but I feel so happy now."

1 comment:

  1. I promise, next time I'm sailing I'll take more pictures!