Monday, 23 March 2009

Fear and Loathing in the Solent Part two...

Where was I? Ahh yes i was being smug and saying that the next day would be different. I suppose that's one way of putting it.

We headed off, after showering and breakfast back into the Medina and turned to port, heading towards Lymington, following the tide. There was no wind at first, then we had 5kn and, with our newly discovered sails out managed a respectable 4.6 (although 4 of that was probably S.O.G). We tacked over to Lymington, arriving at low water, and crept along the tight channel, mooring on the first pontoon we came to. We got out the sarnies and soup and were having a jolly old lunch, when the harbourmaster turned up to announce that we were on a pontoon reserved for racing yachts and shouldn't really be there. However, as we were nearly finished with our lunch and about to leave, he let us stay for an extra 15 mins.

We were looking forward to an afternoon tacking back and forth towards Cowes Yacht Haven where we were due to meet up with our friends Ann and John who were on their Vancouver 36 ( with our other friends Tina and Robert. But don't expect an uneventful afternoon in the lives of 'us'! Oh no! We slowly motored out of Lymington and as I took the helm, Marco hoisted the sails and declared 'Turn to port and set sail for Cowes' (he really said "Turn it left, bother....."or words to that effect - well i'm still a novice aren't I? ). At this point, our weekend charge decided she'd had enough and wanted to sit next to 'Jack in the Basket' for the rest of the day. In other words she stopped moving. Marco took over and revved the engine (a lot)...but no chance...she was well and truly stuck on something. A quick look over the stern confirmed our worst fears. We had caught on something..probably the prop. Oh joy, Oh happy day!
After the initial panic of having something wrapped around the prop, it slowly dawned on us that we were also sitting rather close to the ferry route that moves between Lymington and Yarmouth. In fact we were so close that we could make out the scowl on the captains' faces every time one went past. It was time to ring 'Sea Start'. After about half an hour our hero arrived in his rib, surveyed the area and declared that we were indeed stuck on something
(well done that man!!). He announced that he would have to go and pick up Mike the diver, who would go and investigate the problem. Off he whizzed. We waited, stranded while others passed us, some offering help, others looking mildy disdainful as if we'd decided to just park there for the night with a nice cup of cocoa and a book, blocking the shipping lane!
Another 45 minutes passed. Perhaps Mike the diver was on holiday?
Suddenly they appeared in the distance and were soon alongside our stricken vessel.
Mike the diver looked like all he needed was a copper diving helmet and he would have been straight out of a Jules Verne film. An old 'cove' with an impossibly long, grey beard, he was already kitted out in his wetsuit and the oldest looking dive tank I've ever seen. Quick as a flash he was over the side in a "I'll handle this" sort of way - I could have imagined he had his serrated dive knife in his teeth......and within two minutes an arm came out of the water like he was carrying Excalibur....except in this case, it was an old buoy.
"That'll have drifted from it's mooring that will," said the SeaStart chap. "It's invisible from the surface. Unlucky that, to get caught on it!" You don't say........
We were presented with the buoy as a souvenir and Mike the diver and SeaStart gave a cheery wave and were off, leaving us to start the engine and carry on. We gave a cheery wave of our own to the next ferry captain we saw...
By this time, it was getting late and we'd telephoned our friends to let them know of our impending non-arrival in Cowes. However, they'd decided (bless 'em) to wait and see if we turned up, so we motored quick as we could down to Cowes. Luckily, the tide was with us and we got there in just an hour. I've never been so glad to get anywhere in my life. The prospect of spending the night in the middle of a ferry lane hadn't appealed.
Lines were thrown to our waiting friends and within moments we were all done. Without even bothering to change clothes, we were out with our friends and hot-footed it to a lovely pub called the Union Inn. Cosy and welcoming, we managed to get a table for six and spent a very happy evening supping beer, eating tradtional pub food and recounting our sailing tale of woe.
But hey, Sunday had to get better didn't it!

Errrr......well.......after a night of booze, food, mariner's tales and rum (yes really), we had a fry up at the working men's club in Cowes high street as it was the only place open on a Sunday. It was pretty good too. After a bit of browsing in the chandlery, we said our goodbyes to the others and headed off back into the Solent for our last jaunt of this trip.
It was great - the tide was heading west and coming back east in the afternoon so we turned again to port and meandered along until we got to Newtown Creek. Decided to go in and have lunch there although it would be low water in a couple of hours so we had to be careful where we anchored. We chose our spot and the anchor held well. Soup, pasties and a large mug of tea went down a treat. We were chuffed with our spot, although the boat next door moved away after half an hour and, as he left, muttered across to us that he thought we were moored too close to him. Couldn't see that ourselves....
Reluctantly we had to leave as we only had three hours left of our charter and wanted to try and sail back with minimal stress. Stress? We don't know the meaning of the word.....yet.
As we left, I heard the call of nature and decided this would be as good a time as any to use the heads (pootling slowly out of Newtown Creek) I was sitting, contemplating the 'incident' of yesterday I heard a thud, the sound of swearing from the helmsman and simultaneously I shot off the seat and cracked my head on the door of the loo. Regaining my composure (and consciousness), I staggered upstairs to find Marco beating the wheel up and swearing, looking skywards....probably how we got into this're meant to look at the water. I however was looking seawards and it rather quickly became obvious that we had grounded. Bugger, balls and bedlam! The boat turned into a competition of headless chickens as we bumped into each other, turned in the other direction, then back and into each other again, both trying to sort out the mess but doing absolutely nothing in the process.
Back on the helm, Marco revved it into astern....nothing. Forward...nothing......oh great! Talk about a comedy of errors!
We could see what had gone wrong. He had cut a corner, not noticing a rather large (now you come to mention it) red can in the distance that we should have gone around.
We remained there chatting (read blaming each other) for about 20 minutes then Marco had another go with the engine. One, two, three, rev it astern! It worked! He gave me the helm whilst he went to re-stow the uninflated dinghy that we'd considered using to lay out an anchor.
Obviously liking us, and not wanting to go back to Hamble, there was another bump, thud and as if by magic, our boat had crossed the narrow exit channel of Newtown Creek, only to drift too shallow on the other side!!!! Fortunately this was just a minor handshake with the bottom and we were soon on our way again. There were no more 'incidents' and we returned our girl to her rightful spot at the marina, rather relieved that we'd made it back in one piece.
Lessons learned today and yesterday...
1) There was nothing we could do about the sunken buoy. We were just unlucky. At the time though it just felt as though we were not cut out for this sailing stuff.
2) Always check the charts and plan your passage. We were lucky at Newtown Creek that it was low water and after 20 minutes we had enough water under the keel to lift us off. Had it happened at high water we might have been there all night - another call to SeaStart???
3) I wrote on YBW scuttlebutt about the 'incidents' of this weekend as we were suffering rather from a lack of confidence afterwards. My post got over 70 replies, nearly all of them really encouraging. Thanks guys. Three months later an article by Libby Purves appeared in Yachting Monthly - all about lacking confidence every so often.and starring 'Mr and Mrs! A picture too...fame at last. We learned so much about sailing and about ourselves this weekend and can't wait to get out on the water again - as long as there's enough of it and no floating buoys!

Fear and Loathing in the Solent.....part one

Ahh the Solent! Training ground of would-be Knox-Johnstons everywhere....and the destination for our first solo UK yacht charter.

Hamble Point Yacht Charter had caught our eye at the Boat Show earlier in January 09, so we'd booked ourselves onto a lovely Hallberg-Rassy 342 for a weekend in March. To add to the excitement, friends that we'd made through Marco's evening classes were going to be sailing as well and we arranged to meet them in Cowes on Saturday night (as one does). We were really looking forward to it.

For about five minutes

Paperwork carried out, inventory checked, we hopped, skipped and jumped onto our new home-for-the-weekend, started her up and Marco reversed merrily out of the pontoon. We ignored the salty old sea dog on the opposite pontoon who was jumping and pointing and he seemed to be calling out and waving at us. Clearly mad, we tried to ignore him until we reversed closer to him where we could hear the words "line", "water", "prop" (he probably said 'novice idiots' as well but we would have chosen to ignore him anyway)....quick as a snail, I shot over to the stern and rescued the trailing line, thus preventing an early disaster.

Once out into the shipping lanes of Southampton water, I proceeded to get a wee bit confused by all the markers and buoys although it all made sense when a large million ton cargo ship seemed to become rather larger than life behind us (astern Lorraine, astern....) and we moved across to generously let it through. We caught some wind and couldn't wait to hoist the sails. As I took the helm, Marco puzzled, scratched his head, chin, arse, whatever and came to the inevitable conclusion that this being a Hallberg Rassy, it therefore wasn't a Bavaria and he had no idea where to find the halyard. Cue lots of stress, frustration, shouting and conclusions that 'we' weren't cut out for this sort of thing. We then discovered the halyard lurking by the topping lift area (what a silly place to leave it), then had trouble finding the topping lift. We ended up taking out the genoa and 'sailing' over towards Cowes at 5knots which made us rather pleased with ourselves (but God only knows why).....

There was much smugness to be had at East Cowes as we successfully came alongside our designated pontoon at the first attempt. Having paid our dues for the night at the harbourmaster's office, we treated ourselves to a beer/wine for the economical sum of £2 each at the marina pub. Having chatted away to our neighbours, who found the topping lift over by the mast for us and introduced us to their boat cat, we decided that we would sail to The Folly Inn for dinner. As i say, we were smug and, having successfully moored up in daylight..hey, why not be REALLY smug and try it again in the dark?!
So we sailed off up the river Medina and moored alongside the pontoon right opposite the pub. This was the life! Having called a 'cab', we waited for half an hour for the river taxi chap to turn up and transport us over the water. We settled down for the evening on squashy sofas with a large glass of wine each and an order of fish and chips and ruddles beef pie to look forward to.

In my opinion, all this Greek sailing with no clouds, endless sun, diving off the back of the boat and Mythos on tap is all very well, but there is definitely a very big place in every sailors heart (well, ours at least) for a nippy March evening, roaring fire and a large fish and chips in a cosy(ish) pub anywhere in the UK after a day on the water.

We stayed until 9, then got taken back to the boat by the same water-taxi chap who had been 'waiting patiently' (read drinking the bar dry).
Ha ha, the idea of a nice easy mooring up sesh at night after a wine doesn't really work. It took 3 attempts!!

OK, so lessons learned from today......
1) Learn everything about your yacht before you take it out of the marina! Sounds obvious but not if you are slightly smug and think you know it all when you dont!
2) If you are a smug novice, revise sailing knowledge anyway just in case. Then you won't be surprised (read:caught out) in the middle of the Solent.

Ahhh....but of course, tomorrow would be different, and indeed it was!