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.