Friday, 28 August 2009

Back into UK Waters

As I watch the sun rise over Lymington Marina I reflect over the sailing trip this past week. For the very first time I sailed where the horizon had no land in sight in any direction. Water surrounded me for 360 degrees. It was a strange and lonely feeling....I wouldn't want to be there for long. What an amazing adventure!

Hurricane Bill had left us wind swept just sitting in the marina all day on Wednesday. Any plans to sail to Saint Vaast were completely scuppered as the wind whipped through the marina and not a single boat departed.

We took the opportunity to walk around Cherbourg and enjoyed a glorious lunch at Cafe du Theatre. I wanted a goat's cheese salad and an omelette but no matter how much I tried to tell the waiter that I did indeed want 2 main courses he was not going to bring it to me. In my really poor French and in his unbelievably persistent French (he spoke NO English) I relented and enjoyed a really large salad. Boy, was I glad he was adamant. I headed back to the boat for a nap with Sebastian and the others went for a wonder round the supermarket.

Sebastian and I got a wee bit way layed by a gorgeous yacht, Northern Child. She looked divine and we just wanted to have a nose about. We met Lucy, the 1st mate, asked permission to board and a long chat with her and the Skipper about what it's like to live on a boat 9 months of the year sailing all over the world. They are headed for St Barts over the next 45 days. Don't think I'll be doing that anytime soon but it was fascinating.

We departed Cherbourg Marina in the pitch darkness that is 4:00 am. Neither Marc nor I have ever sailed in the dark and the feelings of dread had moved into my stomach. My body was in knots from being so tense with the anticipation of a miserable return sail. Every sway and gust I clenched my jaw and closed my eyes. It is scary in the dark at sea. Duh! We had given both Abigail and Kerry dosages of sea sickness medication in the hopes that we would minimise the extracurricular over the side activity. It worked in that it meant that Abigail slept for nearly 6 hours of the journey. We just had to keep her propped upright.

Soon the sun began to rise and France drifted away on the horizon. The wind blew a manageable Force 3-4 over the stern and we had a comfortable run all the way back to England. I was thrilled to see the Needles of the Isle of Wight on our bow.

Sebastian had a brief moment of sickness over the side but this was due to eating the entire family size bag of Doritos I handed him. Since I was paying more attention to sailing than what he was eating he ate the entire bag. We even managed to have a few cups of tea and some lovingly prepared sandwiches during the trip. The only fatality was our carafe of perfectly pre-prepared tea. A gust of wind hit the boat just as I was returning from the galley and knocked it into the chart table. It shattered and I'm afraid we didn't get a single cup from it! Never mind.

On the trip over I was amazed (and mildly disappointed) that we saw very few (6) ships in the shipping lanes. It just didn't live up to its billing as the busiest shipping lanes in the world. I had visions of spaghetti junction on the M6 in Birmingham. Not only that but we didn't see a single yacht on the way over. Maybe they knew something we didn't. But on the way back we saw loads of ships in the lanes in both directions although we only had to slightly alter course once to avoid one. Our top speed for the day was 8.16 knots and there were very few white caps (salt surfers, as Seb calls them) out on the waters. The waves were completely manageable. We also saw several yachts sailing pretty much the same bearings we were on. Some were smaller than us and we sailed away from them. Others were bigger (and motoring) so they overtook us. One thing about sailing is that it is a lonely activity but also a close quarter activity. It's you and your mates and that's it. You better have great mates.

We were lucky. We had the best mates in the world. Eddie is an ancient mariner. He was in the Royal Navy and has done a few Atlantic crossings so we were in safe hands although I started to get worried each time he knocked his head on the hatch over the companionway. You would think he would learn after the first time. He is nearly 70 years old so we'll forgive him this time.

Kerry was brilliant in helping me out with the children. Whenever we were tacking or jibing or vomiting she was hanging on to the children and just making sure they stayed out of the way and were safe. She kept Abigail warm for much of the journey and we couldn't have done it without her. She even steered for a bit and managed a tack. And you should see that woman use a winch. Once she figured out which direction the sheet needed to be wrapped she was a cranking maniac.

We turned right after the Needles and sailed into the Solent only to come face to face with boat congestion looking like rush hour traffic. Guess everyone else was having a lovely sail as well. On a jibe our Genoa got itself all in a twist. No matter what we did we couldn't get it sorted. We pulled and tugged and let it out and wiggled it and then as if by magic, she filled with wind and we had a glorious smooth sail into Lymington Marina after only 11 hours of sailing. We would have made it in 10 if the Genoa hadn't messed about. Oh and if those idiots out sailing in the Solent could have been just a bit more considerate and gotten out of our way. It seemed that our predicament was entertainment for all and they just couldn't help themselves sailing back and forth in front of us and despite them having right of way they could have made a nicer decision and just stayed out of the way! Neptune will get them.

We struggled to find the berth reserved for us but eventually found it. A man looked like he was going to be superbly helpful but then just stood on the pontoon looking up at us as our fenders bounced off the boat next to us. Finally, Eddie just threw the rope at him and when it hit him in the face he decided to grab it and help. Cheers mate.

Seb made a dash for the toilets in the marina and returned with a report that the toilets at Lymington Marina were 5*. Kerry was just grateful to be able to pee for the second time that day since she was not dehydrated from hurling over the side all day. The marina was filled with some of the most beautiful speed boats and yachts we've ever seen and Seb has announced that he wants to have a few of those when he is older. I have explained to him that he better do well at school since the one he liked the most goes for roughly £600,000 (used).

We enjoyed a dinner of filet steaks, baked jacket potatoes, halloumi cheese and sauteed peppers with a brilliant bottle of red wine then tucked ourselves up into bed ready for the final leg of our journey. Back to Gosport!

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