Will we ever make Scilly?

Friday 31 March

The moorings master was spotted doing his rounds, but we escaped charge and later decided to stay a second night. Although the trees are still bare, as at Fowey, the Helford is very pretty. Exposed rock and undergrowth adds much colour, while elegant houses and landscaped gardens enhance every view. My crew enjoyed the free cabaret laid on by a large workboat, whose crew and pair of divers were working hard to service and clean the mooring buoys ready for the new season.
My people took advantage of daylight to rearrange our mooring by setting up a bridle warp around my bow – as they should have done last night. Leaning forward over the dolphin, Skipper noticed considerable further damage (from the accident in Falmouth) to my bow roller, rendering my anchoring mechanism unusable, a serious problem when there aren’t any marinas in Scilly, and ‘slinging the hook’ will be our main method of securing ourselves around the islands.
Plans were changed once again, as a fair forecast to Scilly was also a fair forecast to Cherbourg: it being Friday afternoon, a hurried e-mail was dispatched to the boatyard where I was built, followed up with a phone call, and initial arrangements were soon in place for emergency repairs to be carried out the following week. Skipper prepared a detailed passage plan, and it was decided to depart for a longer-than-usual channel crossing the following morning.

Onward bound

Thursday 30 March

Both crew and Bertha set off on the 5km-walk to Sainsbury’s to stock up in case there’s no shopping to be found in the Islands, and replenish the dwindling supply of their favourite red wine while it’s on offer. It’s a pleasant stroll along the estuary, and a slow pull back when Bertha’s fully loaded.

Mate cleaned the heads while water was plentiful, due to Skipper washing down my decks and then filling the tanks just faster than she was emptying them, and then went off for a last land shower before slipping the lines and heading across the bay to the Helford river. It was showery, with a cold wind and a lumpy sea; just as well it was only a few miles, and the crew were grateful for the shelter of my smart new porch.

Looming out of poor visibility in the mouth of the river was a huge superyacht, My Amadea, far too posh to want to say hello to li’l ol’ me, so we pottered on past into calm water and pretty views, all the way up to the famous Frenchman’s Creek for a look, before we went back to Helford Pool to pick up a convenient visitor’s mooring. By this time it was nearly dark, and the crew struggled to secure the chain around one of my bow cleats, over a pair of fenders to avoid it scraping my hull all night. As it was, the pick-up buoy bumped into me repeatedly instead, but otherwise no wind ensured a peaceful sleep.

Inside jobs day

Wednesday 29 March

I felt the patter of tiny raindrops on my decks this morning, so Mate got the sewing machine out and ran up a set of smart new black fender socks from one of the rolls of knitted tubing she’s got stashed in her supplies store. Next she used some of the porch offcut to make a new cover for the large hatch over the master cabin…after Skipper let the old one blow off into Plymouth over the Winter. Meanwhile, he resealed the piping for the Electroscan heads waste treatment system, so that will work properly (and not leak – euwwgh) when we’re away from marina facilities. Then he finished installing the AIS, and walked into town for a (very short) haircut.

Another plan forms

Tuesday 28 March

Mate decided to take the opportunity of still being in Falmouth to load up Bertha with another batch of laundry, and trundle her through town and up the hill to Bubbles for another washday [chat with Nathan, I reckon]. While she was away, Skipper took it upon himself to move me on his own down the pontoon to make room for another boat to join me: a small one, I hope, as there’s still not much space here.
It seems our helpful insurance company are happy to wait until it’s convenient for us to have the repair work done, as the damage is not integral to my hull structure and won’t deteriorate if not remedied immediately. I suppose I’ll just have to put up with showing war wounds for the time being.
The weather’s looking good for next week, so my crew have decided to head for the Isles of Scilly on Friday.

Fresh light of a new day

Monday 27 March

Skipper spent most of this morning with his mobile phone plugged to his ear, discussing possibilities of having me lifted out of the water, and finding someone qualified who has the time to do the work. This is the busiest time of the year for boatyards with cranes, as most owners lift their boats out of the water for the winter, and want them back in around now for the new season’s sailing. Similarly, experienced welders familiar with working in aluminium are few and far between in this country, unlike in France and the Netherlands, where metal boats are much more common. Those in the know have full order books. Skipper was somewhat frustrated to be told that a lift-out could be booked for after 7 May, and the nearest metal worker could fit us in in five or six weeks.

Thank goodness the weather was calmer today, and the evenings are now definitely longer, ensuring a happier atmosphere on board.

Mothering Sunday

Sunday 26 March

At 0400, just after the clocks had sprung forward to British Summer Time, Skipper was awoken by the howling wind and put on wet weather gear to go and check I was still safe and securely tied up. He spent some time hauling extra fenders out of my sail locker, on a bow bucking more than it often does at sea, and tying them securely along the pontoon to protect my hull.

The crew had just about settled back down by 0500 when a series of huge crashes at their heads propelled them straight back into outdoor clothing and up on deck in double-quick time to see what had happened. Both the mooring lines of the little motor boat in front of me had broken – completely come apart, not chafed through, obviously not adequate for the task – one of its fenders had popped back into the cockpit and the other had broken free of its line and was floating between my bow and the edge of the pontoon. Waves were breaking frequently over the pontoon and these had lifted the boat and surged it into my stem.

Skipper grabbed one of my spare lines and managed to tie it onto the stern of the other boat, securing it to a cleat much further away down the pontoon. He then reached again across the black frothing water, the splashes regularly soaking him as the boat seemed to be trying to mount the pontoon atop the waves, to retie the boat’s own bow warp into a pair of joined bowlines to fasten it to a forward cleat. It was obvious, even in the pitch dark, that the little ship was sustaining considerable damage as it slammed repeatedly into the pontoon, with no protection left.

Grateful for daybreak, my crew surveyed the apparent damage to my bow, took some preliminary photos once the light was strong enough, and made their weary way to the ‘Welcome Booth’ of the harbour, at the top of the gangway from the marina. Lovely Anne was on duty that morning, she of a wealth of local knowledge, an empathetic manner and oodles of common sense. She listened calmly to our sorry tale, took a full report, and went straight down to the pontoon with camera and mobile phone. She surveyed both vessels and recorded the immediately visible damage to both with a series of photos.  Usually I love to pose, but on this occasion, I wasn’t feeling my best.

She was able to identify the motorboat and a swift succession of phone calls soon pinpointed the owner, who was duly summoned. As it happened, this was out of something of a hangover-slumber: it was his 30th birthday, and he’d decided the evening before that a boat was a preferable means of transport home to the car that he was in no fit state to drive…It transpired later that he had built this boat, he’s the son of one of the oyster fisherman, and has grown up around boats and the sea. One can’t help hoping that this will be a life lesson hard learned. At least he’s unlikely ever to forget this particular ‘special’ birthday.

Meanwhile, Skipper made the initial call to the insurance company, having obtained the young man’s particulars along with a humble apology. A metal-working acquaintance he’d brought with him gave a rough assessment of a couple of hundred pounds’ worth of repair work, following a lift out in a boatyard.

The weather remained windy, so willing hands were gratefully accepted to help me move into a more sheltered berth on the landward side of the marina [shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted?]. Plans for a day out having long since been aborted, my tired crew retired to my warm and comfortable saloon to lick their emotional wounds.

The calm before the storm

Saturday 25 March

My crew decided they needed to return to Falmouth Visitors’ Yacht Haven, to refill my water tanks and buy some fresh provisions, ready for the planned passage to the Isles of Scilly early next week, when the weather outlook seemed to be improving. Mate was hoping to catch an early bus to Truro tomorrow morning, to enjoy the Mothering Sunday service in the country’s youngest cathedral, and take time for a little sightseeing.

We gave my lovely big genoa (foresail) an airing for a short reach downriver in the Carrick Roads, playing tag with the local oyster fishermen whilst enjoying pleasant weather and pretty scenery. The River Fal is the only place in the UK where traditional methods of gathering shellfish are still employed: to reduce pollution and keep alive ancient skills, the men are not allowed engines and must balance sails and oars against wind and tide – a fascinating and humbling sight from my shiny, modern, all-mod-cons decks.

Mate felt brave enough to take me back into the alongside berth I’d occupied on our last visit, once Skipper had set up all the lines and fenders (I won’t embarrass him by mentioning how much quicker Mate does this: obviously a little more practice needed). We came in smoothly and soon Bertha was ready for the 10km round trip to Sainsbury’s. After supper, Mate enjoyed a well-earned long hot shower up at the facilities. Coming home, she noticed three men bring in a small motor boat just ahead of me, and was unhappy that they seemed to be very close, having tied one of their ropes over my bow line on the forward pontoon cleat. The wind was already building to a strong Easterly, blowing us onto the dock.

It takes two to…

Friday 24 March

This morning was definitely a two-handed job, as Skipper fitted the AIS ‘mushroom’ to the aerial tree on my stern arch: Mate prone in the cabin below with an arm right into my nether regions to pull the wire through on a mousing line so Skipper could connect it into the wiring panel behind the navigation seat.

If you think the British have an obsession with the weather, you should listen to sailors (of any nationality) – watching the weather becomes all-consuming, especially at the beginning and end of the seasons, when it’s very unsettled and therefore difficult to predict with any certainty. It seems my crew prefer to cruise under blue skies, in pleasant breezes and preferably sunshine, and today produced none of any of those, so they decided we’d stay on the river one more night.

Still waiting on the weather

Thursday 23 March

The trouble with not being connected to shore power (mains electric) is that there’s never enough juice in the house battery to start the heating, so Trevver has to be roused from his slumber to put some charge back in the bank and get me warmed up inside.  Still, there’s nobody else close enough to be disturbed by him running for a while, and the crew just have to put up with it.

It turned out to be a very wet afternoon, which gave Mate an excuse to curl up with some reading, e-mail correspondence and a puzzle book – to keep her brain exercised – while Skipper pottered with new electronics, fitting the indoor elements of a new AIS transponder.  This will allow other vessels to ‘see’ us, and our identification details, on their onboard computers.

The wind was forecast to blow from the East, so the crew aborted plans to explore the Helford river, famous for Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, and stay where we were, hoping for better weather in a few days.

Unfriendly native

Wednesday 22 March

After enjoying a little early sunshine in the cockpit during coffee and lunch, with the help of the new porch shelter, Mate rigged the washing line and spread the fruits of yesterday’s toil all around me to dry in the breeze. It proved a good opportunity to air thoroughly my interior – there’s few enough of those when my crew live aboard all winter.

We were visited by a dory apparently steered by a spaniel, the human in which, with unnecessarily bad grace, demanded £15 for overnight use of one of their (several) unoccupied mooring buoys. He didn’t have the courtesy to offer us a receipt for said fees, and we declined a second night of such hospitality, electing to move maybe three cables (half a kilometre) downstream to anchor off Church Creek for free.

Supper was a steak for Skipper and a ready-made gluten free vegetarian pie for Mate, with roasted Charlotte potatoes and green beans. My crew were careful to keep lights to a minimum as there was no wind to keep the wind generator rotating to give us power in the batteries. They did remember to switch on my anchor light, so any vessels passing in the night know I’m here.