The Logical Route

Carlingford Lough and the Mountains of Mourne

So that’s it: I’m going by the logical route.

The “Logical Route” has a certain ring to it. This was what the great French singlehander Bernard Moitessier suggested to his wife as the best way to get home from the South Pacific in time for the school holidays: Instead of flogging all the way over the top of Australia, across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean to Marseille, wouldn’t it be much quicker and certainly a lot less distance to nip round Cape Horn?

This was 1966. Hardly anyone had sailed a small boat round Cape Horn – and those who had told terrible tales.

The Moitessiers made it – and, in doing so, set a record for the longest voyage in a small boat – 14,216 miles in 126 days.

But I’m not going round Cape Horn. I am going to Blyth in Northumberland – and I have been sitting here in Carlingford Lough on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic debating how to get there.

First, a little explanation: When I bought Samsara, she came with a good solid spinnaker pole and a flimsy little stick which hardly deserved the name of whisker pole. The first thing I did with this was to bend the piston mechanism on one end.

Then the mechanism on the other end.

In fact, I bent the pistons and had them straightened (and weakened) so frequently that it might not have been an accident that on the way back across Biscay in the aftermath of Storm Ellen, the wretched thing slipped its lashings and disappeared over the side.

What I needed was a proper spinnaker pole to replace it. For one thing, I wouldn’t keep bending it. Secondly, if I were to get a spare headsail, I could fly matching twins and (thirdly – and not insignificantly) quite the best jury rig is constructed by using two identical poles as an “A” frame.

I posted on the Rival Owners Facebook page a plea for anyone who had a pole they didn’t need – after all, how many people fly symmetrical spinnakers these days?

Sure enough, another Rival 32 owner said I would be welcome to theirs.

In Blyth.

I was in Liverpool at the time and feeling rather delicate after a particularly good evening with my son Theo, the medical student. As the crow flies, Blyth is hardly more than 100 miles from Liverpool.

Another point in its favour is that it is not terribly far from Matlock in Derbyshire – and I was due in Matlock for the annual family walking weekend in the Peak District. I could get a train from Blyth.

The only trouble was that the 100 miles from Liverpool to Blyth was all land.

The sailing options were to go over the top of Scotland or, alternatively, back down the Irish Sea, up the English Channel and north from there – 900 miles in all. Also, I was beginning to think of the English Channel rather as a trucker thinks of the M1.

Obviously this is going to provoke all those South Coast sailors to catalogue the delights of Salcombe, the Newtown River and even Brighton Marina. So I should explain that, if you don’t stop,  those 300 miles from Land’s End to the North Foreland really can feel like Newport Pagnell to Donington Services (I did it six times, one year).

The northern route, on the other hand, had a lot going for it: Not only was it only 560 miles but it would tick a lot of boxes. Regular readers may remember that when Lockdown was first mooted, I had a notion to self-isolate in the Orkneys (until the local authority up there pleaded with second-home and campervan owners – and, by implication, yachtsmen – not to come and swamp their little hospital).

Also, I have never visited the northern Hebrides or any of those dramatic sea lochs. I could go to Mull and Skye. I would see Cape Wrath…

Admittedly, this would be happening at the end of September and for most of October and all the books tend to dwell on how quickly the weather can change and how very rough it can get up there with wind over tide in the Minches. But weather forecasting today is remarkably accurate these days up to 48 hours.

After 48 hours, it becomes rather more like newspaper astrology.

For instance, this time yesterday, I had decided that the Scottish option was a non-starter when the Windy App offered this for the four-day forecast.

 

By this morning all that “red wind” has shifted south:

Still, if it does shift back again, there are more anchorages in the Hebrides than there are salmon and I have a whole month to cover 560 miles. I can afford to spend a few days snugged down in some deserted anchorage with the stove lit – self-isolating.

 

 

All the time in the world…

When you get old, there is great satisfaction in re-visiting youthful passions. When I was a teenager I discovered the writer Nevil Shute who, most famously, wrote A Town Like Alice and On the Beach.

Now I have joined a Facebook group called Shutists and discovered several of his books that I knew nothing about. In particular, Pilotage, written in 1924, which centred around the author’s twin passions of sailing and aviation. The publishers felt these were not of general interest and rejected the manuscript with a politely encouraging note. However, they did publish his next effort which was full of spies and murders and, to my mind, not nearly as good.

The “lost novels” were found among Shute’s papers after his death in 1960 and published in a single volume since they contained some of the same characters. One passage, describing sailing in the 1920s, I found so evocative that I posted it on a sailing group and it seemed to strike a chord:

There was nothing to do on deck; he remained in the cockpit till the vessel had found her position and was riding quietly to her anchor; then he went below and trimmed the riding light. He spent an hour working in his little vessel, an hour of occupation and comparative happiness that carried him on till after dark. He trimmed every lamp in the ship, filled the tanks of the engine, cleaned the Primus stove, set his riding light on the forestay, pumped out the vessel, unpacked his bag and arranged his clothes in the tiny cupboards, put the patent log in a safe place with a bottle of rum and another one of turpentine to keep it company. Then he laid his supper very elaborately and supped off cocoa, bully beef, and a boiled egg, topping up with bread and jam. He scraped the mildew off the top of the jam and deposited it in the slop-bucket; he was particular about what he ate.

The ensuing discussion got me thinking about the pleasure of just being on your boat and pottering about doing the sort of things which, in a house, you would consider boring domestic chores.

At the moment, I have no choice but to be on my boat. I arrived in Liverpool to see my son who is studying at the University here. No sooner had I passed the bar buoy than he sent me a text saying that one of the staff in the bar where he works part-time had tested positive for COVID and now he had to be tested too.

Providing he gets the all-clear, we will meet for dinner on Monday. He apologised for having to make me wait another five days.

“No problem,” I replied. “I have all the time in the world…”

And I do. I am anchored in the river opposite the marina (and therefore not paying daily charges) and I spent the whole of yesterday pottering and tinkering and as perfectly content as Nevil Shute’s 1920’s yachtsman.

I re-fitted the foot of the main into the boom track where the clew had pulled free. While I was at it I marked the halyard to ensure that in future I let it off just the right amount for reefing…and while I was about that, I simplified the lazyjacks which had caused so much trouble for the old sail and had me sewing for eight hours en-route to Rockall.

I glued the piece of wooden trim back onto the galley where I had stepped on it during the passage up from Falmouth. I wriggled into the engine bay to tighten the stern gland and, while I was there, topped up the oil in the gearbox – and for good measure, checked the engine oil as well. Then there was the first of the winter supply of charcoal to be decanted into paper bags – and the chimney to sweep – that’s done by dropping the pin from the old anchor shackle down from the top with a piece of line dragging a kitchen scouring pad behind it.

I spent a happy half hour experimenting with new ways to stop the halyards slapping and, I must say I’m pleased with the result.

Not half as pleased, mind you, as I am about inventing a new knot for attaching a temporary headsail sheet when poling out. Yes, I’ve looked it up and didn’t find anything like it. We shall see if it works better than the reef knot which shook loose when there was no tension on it. Only then shall I claim my place in history.

And there was more: I removed the eyelet for the cockpit grating which was stopping the petrol can fitting into its chocks, I investigated the overheating trouble with the engine, cleaned the saloon hatch, re-distributed the stores from the bilges to the ready-use lockers, mopped up the puddle from the leaking washing-up liquid bottle, threw away two jars of mouldy peanut butter, investigated the fo’c’sle locker and discovered a bag of very soggy onions, a somewhat suspect sweet potato and a perfectly good butternut squash…

By the time I was ready to change out of work clothes for the evening and sit down with a beer at six o’clock, I wouldn’t have given you tuppence for indolence.

Sticky and smelly

Writing this, I am a bit sticky and also rather smelly. I have just completed the most unpleasant task on the boat. I feel so good about myself that I have the urge to share it.

I have cleaned out the greywater tank.

“Greywater” is that euphemism covering everything from washing-up water to the mixture of seawater, mud and rust that dribbles out of chain locker.

The reason the tank needs to be cleaned is because it is emptied by means of a float switch and in time the grease, decomposing crustacea and nameless gloop from the shower tray collects in a jelly-like, putrid mass around the switch and stops it working.

When this happens, the pump does not run and the “greywater” oozes out of the top of the tank into the bilges where it slops around making everything else sticky and smelly.

Then the whole apparatus has to be disconnected from its four hoses (three pouring in, one pumping out) and also from the electrical connection which, of course, has rusted solid.

Just to add to the fun, since this relies on gravity, it has to be sited as low as possible in the bilge so you have to do all this upside down.

Which is the easy part.

Once you have it out and into the blessed fresh air of the cockpit, you have to put your hand inside the revolting receptacle and fumble for the nuts to remove the switch. Any satisfaction in discovering that indeed it has been immobilised by a deposit the consistency of blackcurrant jam but smelling strongly of drains is outweighed by the disgusting process of spooning the stuff out on the blade of a screwdriver.

I hope I haven’t put you off you tea but now that I have it sealed once again out of mind beneath the cabin sole and have washed my hands three times to remove some of the whiff of putrefaction, I have a request:

Can anyone suggest anything I can pour down the sink that might do the job for me?

A bouquet of violets for the first person to come up with a workable solution…