Thursday, 18 December 2003

How to rescue a cat.....

Well here we sit in the harbour of Puerto de la Restinga on the island of El Hierro about to set off, as so many thousands of others have before us, on the start of our trans-Atlantic trip. The island, the most southern and western of the Canaries was, at one time the end of the known world and we leave tomorrow for the Cape Verde’s, some 750 miles to the SW. From there we will head west across the waters to Tobago, Trinidad and through the Caribbean. But all that’s ahead as much has happened in the month since we last wrote…….
We finally left Arrecife on Lanzarote for a couple of weeks cruising the Canaries. Our first night out was ‘orrible as the anchorage was rocky, rolling and uncomfortable. But Fuerteventura proved to be an absolute contrast to Lanzarote and made us want to spend a summer cruising the local waters. For once I would have to say that the pilot books DO NOT over estimate a particular phenomena and that is the very aptly named acceleration zones. In the space of a hundred metres the wind strength can increase by several Beaufort scales and the boat takes off seemingly out of control and on the latest bash through one we came out the other side to find our Max Speed has gone up to 12.3 knots on the GPS. And that under a reduced rig!
At our last stop on Fuerteventura we pulled into a harbour intending to anchor but spotted an American and a Kiwi yacht tied up so followed suit. That night we found the local population used the roadway, to which the quay was attached, as a meeting place to listen to football matches, play loud music or simply conduct their relationships away from family gaze. About 6 a.m. we heard Toots cry out and a thud as she arrived back on deck. Leaping out of bed and up the companionway I was just in time to see one distressed cat leaping for the jetty wall, slipping and plunging some 9 or 10 feet into the sea. Screaming to Bee that “Toots was in” I tried to grab the swimming moggy (between the hull and the wall) but her stroke carried her beyond my hands and I rushed, stark naked up the jetty ladder, barely noticing a car parked opposite with a, no doubt surprised, couple in it. I had somehow snatched up the fishing net we keep for these occasions although it no longer has a handle and so treated the bemused couple the rare sight of one hairy arsed Englishman bent over the jetty wall pathetically waving the said fishing net at the water at least a further 7 feet out of reach. Bee maintains that the woman confronted with such horror will have taken up vows of celibacy.... Meanwhile Superwoman had also joined the stark naked affray, though wisely remained out of sight, on a ladder by the bow. By now Toots having swum some 20-foot ahead of the boat was persuaded to head back towards us by dint of me rushing along the quay shouting and waving my arms. Bee, seeing she was heading for the wrong side of the boat, launched herself from the ladder, grabbed the bobstay and snatched Toots from her intended circumnavigation of the hull. Now our troubles are about to begin. Clinging to the ladder with one hand, moggy in the other, Bee is unable to defend herself from one very frightened, agitated and extremely sharp-clawed cat. With one heave Bee threw Toots up onto the deck where she promptly scarpered. However with Toots rescued and on deck we went below. 

I found a towel and then Toots as I wanted to dry her off.... Picking her up remarked to Bee that she was remarkably dry…….
We looked at each other. Bee had deep scratches across her chest, a gaping wound in her bottom lip where the cat had dug its paw in, as a means of leverage and the blood seemed to be flowing everywhere…….
Bee said the water was very warm
I thought it would have to be dry not warm and donning shorts I went up to see the spectators on the jetty. In excited Spanish they confirmed that there had been a catfight, and that both were still on board.
We had rescued the wrong cat!
And to prove the point one bedraggled and very scared cat slunk out Toot’s shelf, and made another leap for the jetty wall, succeeded and raced off into the rocks.
Toots ignored us and our dilemma and kept on filing her nails.
The serious side of all this was two fold. One we were obviously concerned about rabies and two Bee beat me to the first alcoholic drink of the day as we both downed stiff brandies.
Another hard day in the office
It was in this harbour that we had a conversation with the crew on a Czech boat. The skipper was looking bemusedly at Hannah and asking me about her. Told where we were going he asked “was it safe”? The Atlantic? I asked. “No” he replied “your boat”! We were not impressed at his lack of sailing awareness and when they left for Gran Canaria some hours later we doubted we would see them and their very new, very expensive American built speed machine. But there is a god, as leaving some 5 hours after them we arrived at our anchorage the following morning to find them at anchor. We scurried round like demented flies, stowing sails, tidying up and generally out to show we had been at anchor for hours rather than just arrived whilst they slept on. Needless to say they had gone without a word when we surfaced a few hours later no doubt putting in calls to American builders about strange looking craft following them at high speed……….
The trip to this anchorage gave us our first real taste of acceleration zones and the seas that can build up. We spent most of the time under mizzen, stays’l and No1 but still felt overwhelmed at times but we had a fast sail, encountered our first flying fish and suffered from a reluctant Stanley who having lavishly praised him could be turning into a Diva. Only joking Stanners.
The sea here is really something else, and at times is like looking into an aquarium. Bright blue Angel fish abound and the sea colour is a wonderful blue. Diving is extremely popular and thankfully so as at one harbour where we anchored the holding was so poor we dragged. We persuaded a passing dive boat to take our kedge and dump it further out. 2 days later we needed him again and found out that not only was he very helpful he also owned the company so a great big thanks to Chris of Tenerife Diving who enabled us to lay out 150 metres of anchor line when the squalls were giving us a hard time in Las Galletas on Tenerife.
Finally, as we were about to start this scribble our phone rang and we heard the dulcet tones of a good friend from the yard, Alastair. Whilst we were battling across yet another piece of swell ridden water we both decided that yotties have got their heroes all wrong. By and large we idolise the Hiscocks et al for their exploits but Alastair dismisses all thoughts of wandering the oceans for a quiet life aboard his schooner with the occasional foray to France or the wilder parts of the Solent. Stand up and take a bow Private Dilley as Bee swore we would join your ranks in between “chatting to Hughie” on a recent trip.
And finally, finally. As we left our last anchorage, the sun shone, the main and stays’l were set and we were preparing to hoist the No 1. I gave the nod to Bee, then noticed a squall about to hit us and tried to warn Bee about the danger. But Bee had already begun hauling the sail up and then the wind arrived.
The sail flew away from the boat, Hannah turned toward the cliff face and accelerated and Bee screamed for me to help her control the sail. Together we managed to hoist the sail 2/3rds the way, up before I raced back to the tiller to stop us careering bow first into the cliff face. Bee finished the job and returned to the cockpit, holding her hands. The wind had hit us with such force the jib sheet had raced through her hands removing several layers of hard calluses and leaving the hands raw and bloody.

Saturday, 22 November 2003

A Graham Taylor fortnight…….

Misty morning on the Guadiana
OK, to get you in the right frame of mind for the crossing from the Guadiana to the Canaries you need to do the following. Install a sea saw, connected to a malfunctioning motor. Instead of gentle lifting you up and down it behaves erratically and sometimes dangerously stopping and starting, twisting or turning with no apparent reason, a close friend stands by armed with a sea water bucket which they alternate with a fire hose and douse you at the most unexpected moments. You must also install a wind turbine to ensure you stand a serious risk of being blown off your seat and that the water hits you with additional vicious force. Finally crank up Chris Rea’s wonderful “Road To Hell” and settle down for the next 12 days. Or so it seemed to us as we sailed slowly down to Lanzarote from Spain. 580 miles the distance between the two points on our charts turned out to be a very real 983.
But to start at the beginning. We left the Guadiana in company with Lilly B one sunny afternoon. Both boats sailed away from the entrance and a fine sight we will have looked, sun on the water and sails as we reached out into the Atlantic.

The forecast we had had gave us about 3 days to enjoy ourselves before a small low appeared. In the event we had about 36 hours during which tie we suffered a serious loss when our fly swat fell overboard. Despite going about, and causing Lilly B to come galloping to assist, fearing the worst, we were unable to find it and had to suffer the misery of flies for the evening. By morning our companions on LB had left us and we had the ocean to ourselves. That evening we witnessed the gathering of heaped, huge and very black storm clouds. Out of nowhere I heard myself say to Bee “I’m going to get the self –steerer working” and within minutes I had. We were amazed as Hannah responded to this simple gathering of stainless steel, plastic and plywood. No event in history can compare to that moment! Sailing with Hannah will forever be BS or AS and we can well understand how people come to worship inanimate objects as Stanley came into being. We were ecstatic as the drudgery of hours at the tiller would now be a faint memory but little did we realise how much we were to thank Stanley over the next week or so.
 The seas built up, the favourable wind swung round to head us, increasing in force, leaving us unable to distinguish sea from sky and the heads’ls were changed, the main reefed and slowly we headed toward the Moroccan coast. At one point we were reduced to staysail alone, as the wind grew stronger. At other times, under main and stays’l we could sail either 150 degrees or 310 degrees. Our course lay at 220 degrees. It seems for several days we struggled over the same piece of water, guided by Stanley, who not only did all the steering but enabled us both to go forward to reef or change headsails. What a difference! The whole job became much easier, almost pleasurable and certainly much safer. Once, when we were both moving forward to take the storm jib off as we were burying the bowsprit, we were hit by tremendous squall, seas flattened and the crests were blown horizontally in a driving spray before a wind that temporarily dumped Hannah on her side. Absolutely frightening and yet there is an strong element of exhilaration too, not of taking on the weather but simply being part of something so powerful that it can literally leave you breathless.
But the days went on. We called up passing ships to ask for weather forecasts and were told a low was stationary over Gibraltar, we scanned the clouds looking, desperately, for any indication of a change. We shook out sails, we reefed sails, we had all our headsails lined up on deck ready for use and still we seemed to get no nearer. Day after day we had seen the weather building, the seas growing as evening came. In the end the effort of changing sail became too much and we settled for a combination that kept us moving at 3+knots. One yacht we spoke to, Running Bunny gave us a forecast and then rang back 5 minutes later to say they had had an update from the States saying the front would be coming through in 3 or 4 hours. 
It did, with a wildness that convinced us to heave to and rest. But that was it, the weather began to improve and we gradually shook out the reefs, hoisted the genny and roared on to Lanzarote. Land hove into view for the first time since leaving Spain some 11 days previously.
Of course we didn’t manage to arrive in daylight and we worked our way into an anchorage for the night. And the gods left us with a final snub by making us lay out the anchor 3 times before it finally held. Sleep came as heads hit the pillows having almost nodded off into the pasta bowl. Even Toots who had survived the journey more or less intact slept long and deep. After getting drenched, confronting a flying fish on her deck and then being carried through the streets of Lanzarote for a rabies booster jab there is no truth in the rumour she is digging an escape tunnel……..
 you wouldn't put a milk bottle out in this weather
So we arrived, wrote out our list of jobs to do and began shopping for the next stage. The tri-colour has been repaired, the solar panel bought cheaply in Portugal keeps the batteries topped up and we have bought, from the local copy shop, charts and a pilot book of the ICW in the States. We’ve sealed the skylight that poured water down onto a sleeping Toots when we shipped a greeny. Toots was not amused and we hated the incursion of water below decks. But as ever in these storm situations it is usually the crew that find the going hard whilst the boat gets on with what they are designed to do. Hannah, left to herself and Stanley’s touch, simply got on with the job and kept us safe and for the most part dry.
So Lilly B was here and had been for several days. They like us spent a lot of time wondering how the other was doing. They, despite suffering seasickness in most of the crew made good time and are currently anchored in the next harbour up. Lanzarote hasn’t changed since our last visit 10 years ago and remains a favourite. Having sorted out the jobs and rested we will leave in a day or so to visit a few of the other islands, Gomera, Hierro and La Palma before heading south with the trade winds to the Cap Verdes.
A week on from our arrival the legacy of Stanley’s intervention in our lives is with me still. In all our previous sailing on Hannah I have remained faithful to the tiller and directed Bee as to which sails needed changing. She, of course, relishing anything physically demanding simply got on with the job. Now with two of us working the foredeck it is undoubtedly easier and safer but my hands have still not recovered from the constant immersion, hard ropes and physical effort involved. I’ve often said we have a role reversal in our house but I was generally referring to Bee and sport, particularly football. Now I find it is my hands that are dishwasher soft whilst Bee, calluses an’ all just gets on with it. But it will pass no doubt and we are looking forward to the next few months of reputed trade wind sailing. 
 Toots has recovered, shows no inclination to go ashore to concrete docks and spends much of her tine kipping in the day only to race around deck in the evening. Boats are arriving, some leaving and we often meet up with people we last saw 500 or 600 miles north. As with any port we find those who have stopped, picked up a mooring buoy and settled into the local community.

Wednesday, 11 June 2003

Rock and a hard place

And here we sit in a wonderful scrubbing berth in Lezardrieux working hard with cement and trowel………… but more of that later.
We finally left Cherbourg and headed along the coast toward Cap de la Hague and on toward Carteret. As with many of the harbours along this coast, timing is everything as entry is controlled by a lock or sill. Of course we had our fastest recorded speed ever of 10.7knots over the ground and under No 1, stays’l and main we roared along the coast and down past Alderney before the wind died and then headed us. The last hour was spent plugging into a tide before finally gaining the sanctuary of Carteret. We spent a few days there awaiting an improvement in the weather and met an English couple who come from Hedge End, small world etc. Conscious of the budget we left even tho the forecast was promising 6 or 7’s, with gusts of 8, it didn’t disappoint!  Westerly winds meant Lezardrieux was always going to be difficult and the slow going in the end had us turning south and into Granville. The two problems we had here were: we didn’t really like the look of the place and we had no passage chart to get us there. We managed it with a lot of care and attention to sea states but the whole experience was physically & mentally exhausting. Granville turned out to be a good place, cheap and interesting with a free shower. We bought a passage chart to cover the missing spots.
We left Granville in misty, lumpy conditions and used “Henry” to help us make some progress against headwinds and contrary tides. By late afternoon we’d had enough, despite a visit from a school of dolphins and headed for St. Cast picking up a buoy outside the harbour for a swell ridden night before leaving early the following day for Lezardrieux. The forecast was for 5 or 6 but we left with gentle 3 and sunshine and made good progress despite the headwind. Closing the shoal waters off Ile de Brehat the wind picked up to a 6 with us doing 7 knots + we headed down the south side of Brehat toward the river. No problem picking up the marks and under main and “Henry” we made it into safety, serenity and a peaceful night’s kip, if only that’s how the story went…. 
Tacking across the narrow channel under main and engine we cleared the Rade de Brehat and were NW of an isolated danger mark called Rompa. We’d tacked each time as the depth dropped to 4 metres under the keel only this time I took my eye off the sounder for a few seconds at the wrong moment. Looking back the depth had dropped to 3.2 and as I swung the tiller went down to 2.5…. I was about to shout to Bee that we could have a problem when we heard a crashing sound, felt a lurch to starboard, the bow rose ominously out of the water and all forward movement stopped. The boat tilted upward toward a sunny, blue sky, the stern was a foot lower in the water than it should be, the exhaust note muffled by the water that covered it. Dropping the main, no time for harbour stows now, we looked at each other in dismay. The wind was blowing strongly onto the port bow and if we managed to get off would simply pile us further onto other waiting rocks. A very rapid check below showed no water in any of the bilges but with the wind getting up and the tide beginning to flood we needed to work quickly. The only luck in the whole scene had been the lurch to starb’d as we found we could easily launch the dinghy over that side, away from the wind and waves. Thanks be to Yamaha as without the outboard the whole job would have been so much more difficult. We lowered the Danforth, 10 metres of very heavy chain and 50 metres of line into the dinghy and motored slowly away paying it all out. Tipping the anchor over in a hurried fashion gave me a ripped finger but once back aboard Bee slowly took up the strain and the anchor held. Every time we have used that anchor and combination we have had success but this was the most important to date. We waited. Every few minutes I would go gently astern and in due course we came off. The “only” damage we had been able to see was a long white gash on the keel but how low down we couldn’t work out. Having sorted ourselves out an hour and a half after running aground we set off tentatively up river toward our nights destination. Subdued and dry mouthed we followed the river watching the depth and twitching nervously when it dipped below 10 metres. Had one attempt at anchoring, dragged and picked up a nearby buoy for convenience before eating and DRINKING at midnight. 

The pilot book says Lez has a scrubbing hard...It has. Its free, has both water and  electric laid on and your boat sits on a well drained concrete base. We had to wait until after the w/e as we were still on neaps but 4am on Monday we made our way gingerly onto the berth with 10 cms to spare. We’d met a French couple on Saturday whilst out in the dinghy with Toots, invited them back to Hannah and subsequently been taken out, by car, to a local Chateau and the next port down river from here. Called Portrieux it offers Hannah sized moorings for £250 a year. True you can only get out when the lock gates opens and you are a long way from the sea but it is very tempting. Anyway at 4 am there stood Philippe waiting to take our lines as we nosed into the berth. Over a period of five days we repaired and painted, found one side didn’t take and had to turn Hannah around, more drama and once again Philippe was on hand to lend a much-needed hand. People use the adjacent slipway to launch Ribs etc and seem bemused at the sight of a scruffy couple, watched over by a sunbathing cat, diligently mixing up a batch of cement. Once again John & Minnie have reached out and provided a solution, as it was their donation of quick drying cement that has enabled us to make the repair. Today is, we hope, the last day on the berth. The sunshine is wonderful as is the NE wind, all in all a day to be out and heading for our next destination, Treguier.
A couple of asides. So far we haven’t found French libraries to be as Internet friendly as other countries so emails may be more sporadic than we had hoped.
Toots seems to have adapted well. True, when it gets lumpy she sometimes feels she should be allowed up top where she can demonstrate her balancing skills by sitting on the self steering bracket or leaning over the top of the capping rail. Both these activities leave me anxious and Bee needs to hurriedly sweep her below before I start bellowing. Toots has also started going ashore and seems to spend most of the night wandering in our current berth, chasing bats, eating flies or insects and seems to look forward to the next mystery destination.
We have settled into this trip much more quickly than the Danish one and have, for the most part, enjoyed it more. Hannah goes extremely well and gets lots of attention, including a free nights mooring from one friendly harbourmaster.