In the rigging, the foul weather gear drips beige water onto the deck. The dinghy floats obediently astern, looking as though it’s just come out of its box – and in the cockpit locker, the kedge anchor sits snug in its stowage with the chain and warp flaked into the canvas bag awaiting the next emergency.
I hope it’s a long time coming. I’ve had enough of the kedge for a while.
All this started with the non-existent oyster bed and the big orange mooring buoy which you may have read about the other day (www.oldmansailing.com/captain-calamity). At the end of that slice of embarrassment, we left the kedge on the bottom with a fender marking the spot. Ever since then, I have been trying to recover it.
Since it was quite clear that pulling it up from the dinghy was never going to work, Plan B was to use Samsara’s famously buoyant bow to exert the pull. All I had to do was get it over the anchor, keep the stern straight with a line to a buoy and reverse off, pulling the wretched thing with us.
There was only one flaw to this plan. The anchor – which I set with the idea that it was somehow going to pull me off into deep water, was not in deep water at all. Maybe I’m being naïve but since it wasn’t far from a mooring buoy, I sort of imagined that this would indicate a reasonable depth. Instead, the recovery attempt stopped a good 20metres short as the keel met the bottom all over again.
Never mind, Plan C was to tie the warp to the spinnaker halyard to increase the angle and trick the anchor into thinking the pull was coming from above. This idea was brilliant: The boat dipping forward and anchor popping out with the sort of sound eight-year-old boys make with their fingers in their cheeks.
Not so. That will only work if the pull is exactly over the bow. A couple of degrees off and the boat just heels… and, of course, gets dragged further over the shallows. By the time we were at 300 and things in the cabin were falling over, this seemed like a very bad idea.
Time for Plan D.
I was not looking forward to Plan D. It came under the heading of “Last Resorts” and involved going out there to dig for the anchor. I knew, with great foreboding, this was going to be messy.
One option was to do it wearing next to nothing – or even nothing at all since Walton Backwaters is proving to be one of the most desolate places on Earth. However, there are only five weeks to Christmas. Maybe full protective clothing was a better idea – my top-of-the-range foul weather gear and Southern Ocean gloves. Also, I would need something to dig with – at least, in that department, I was prepared: Samsara carries a shovel…
Well, she carries one of those little scoops that used to tuck into the back of Edwardian coal scuttles. I use it for doling out charcoal for the stove.
So, fully equipped at nine O’clock in the morning, an hour before low water, I plunged into the mud.
…up to my knees.
You know those stories you hear about people getting stuck in the mud and the tide coming in and drowning them? That’s what I was thinking about as I discovered that the more I tried to pull one leg out, the more the other drove itself deeper into the goo. By the time I was in up to my thighs, it was obvious there had to be a better way…
There was. I remember seeing it years ago on those huge mud flats in the Bristol Channel: Mud horses – the sledge-like contraptions fishermen use to get out to their nets. The horse supports the man’s weight while he pushes with his feet. The dinghy could be my mud horse. It was brilliant, I scooted up the slope in no time at all. I found the fender, found the chain. Taking the trusty shovel, I began to dig.
You remember I said the shovel came from a coal scuttle? That I used it for charcoal? What I should have packed was a garden spade. With the first scoop of mud, the shovel bent at right angles. There was nothing for it. I would have to dig with my bare hands – or, rather, with Messrs Gill’s very expensive Leather&Gore-Tex Helmsman’s Gloves.
But, what did it matter? By that time, the even-more-expensive Henri Lloyd offshore suit was the colour of cappuccino.
I found the Fortress about 30cms down, clearly headed for Australia. Down there, the mud was a serious blue-grey colour and the consistency of potter’s clay. There was no other way this was coming up without the shank going vertical. It was one hell of an advert for an anchor.
It took me another three hours to get cleaned up – a matter of endless buckets of water and going round the dinghy, the topsides, the deck, the cockpit and, of course myself again and again until everything ran clear.
Well, this being the East Coast which is four parts mud to six parts water, beige is the best you can hope for.