This was being sensible: Tom Fisher was on his way over for the Yealm in Bonny. The first time I met Tom for a drink, we sat up over the rum bottle until three in the morning.
Add to that Connor Brosan and Alan Laine on their way from Salcombe in Feeling Groovy, and obviously it would be better if I did not try and row back to the boat at closing time without falling in. Just this once, I would fork out the £38 for a berth in the Haven marina.
I must say this hurt a bit because it was only the day before that the smart new harbourmaster’s launch came alongside and the harbourmaster’s polite assistant had informed me that no longer could I anchor for no charge in my favourite spot (it had been my favourite spot since about 1979.) Now the harbour commissioners wanted to charge me £10 a night for it.
While my mouth was working with nothing coming out, he added that, if I liked, I could pay for a year’s harbour dues instead: £10 a metre – £97 until April.
It seemed a lot, but I would be able to use the showers and launderette at the marina. I could land at the dinghy pontoon instead of climbing the ladder at Customs House Quay (and wading through the mud to get back in the water at low tide). Hey, I could fill the water cans with the marina hose and get my Amazon parcels sent to the Harbour Office…
I paid the £97 and rather looked forward to getting my money’s worth. Then I set about winching up the anchor. That was when things started to go wrong. It wouldn’t come. I couldn’t understand this. I had anchored here countless times before – that was why I hadn’t bothered to buoy the thing.
Although, now I came to think about it; this wasn’t my favourite spot after all – not the one marked by the anchor symbol on the Navionics app. Another boat had pinched that. I had been obliged to pick a spot a little further over towards the Falmouth side and a little closer to the mooring field – a spot where there was something on the bottom fouling my chain: I could raise about ten metres, and then the windlass started straining and making screeching noises. There was still 25metres down there, so it must be the chain that was fouled, not the anchor (so at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that an anchor buoy wouldn’t have helped, anyway.)
I did the obvious thing: I slackened off the chain and drove around it – first one way and then the other. It made no difference. Eventually, the windlass went on strike (well, the thermal cut-out stopped it burning itself out). I pulled by hand. Something shifted. The chain came in with a rush, and I had to pick myself up off the deck with a bump on the back of my head the size of a pigeon’s egg.
Then the chain jammed again.
There was nothing for it. I pulled out the phone and started Googling “Divers in Falmouth”. There were plenty of dive centres. They all said they weren’t insured for anchor recovery. I phoned Seawide Services, commercial divers “subsea welding, cutting and repair work”. They could offer a five-man dive team at £600 an hour.
Alternatively, they could send a workboat with a winch. The workboat arrived. It was enormous. The winch was enormous. The chain hummed under the strain. I stood clear. The workboat heeled alarmingly. This wasn’t going to work.
I turned to Facebook: Did anyone know of a diver in Falmouth? Of course, I had to explain why – which meant the advice came in thick and fast, everything from “drive around it” (tried that) to “get a mask” – I did think about it. I even have a wetsuit. But in five metres, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay down there long enough to do anything useful.
Seawide services called back. A couple of their lads had volunteered their own time for £200. I grabbed at it.
Sure enough, two young men turned up in another workboat. One of them climbed into a drysuit and disappeared over the side. Five minutes later, he came up to report that my chain was wrapped around the biggest anchor he had ever seen in his life. It must have been down there for 150 years.
What happened over the next quarter of an hour proved the claim on the Seawide website about “diligent project completion”. What this young man did down in the mud and weed at the bottom of Falmouth harbour was to take a 5mm Allen key, undo the retaining screw on the anchor swivel, drive out the bolt (which I always find difficult on the foredeck even with the big hammer) put the bits in his pocket without dropping them, remove the chain, untangle it from one turn round the Victorian anchor shank and another round the fluke – and then re-attach it.
“All OK, now,” said his mate. “You can winch it up.”
Well, actually, I couldn’t. The windlass was still on strike.
“Never mind,” I said cheerily. “I can pull it up by hand. I’ve done it before.” I have, too – all through the summer of 2019.
The two young men looked at my grey whiskers, considered how they would explain a dead old man to the authorities and pulled it up themselves – hand-over-hand in a trice.
I must say, it all made an excellent story in the bar of the chain locker that night. My greatest regret was that nowhere in all the drama did it occur to me to take any pictures – the workboard solemnly winching itself down to the bottom was most dramatic.
The following morning – after a good deal of urging from a beer-fuelled Tom, not to mention Con and Alan on Cornish cider, I presented myself at the harbourmaster’s office ready to claim a refund of my £97 harbour dues; the argument being that the said harbour was not fit for purpose (i.e. anchoring).
The harbourmaster came down to the front desk, ponderous with authority, his shoulders creaking under gold-braided epaulettes. He sympathised with my experience. He explained that the Harbour Commissioners could not guarantee that the seabed was totally free of obstructions. He suggested that I might be able to claim on my insurance (it’s third party).
The end of the story played out today – 48 hours later. Somewhat delicate after the previous evening’s welcome for Tom’s brother Sebastian and nephew Joe – who obviously deserved a session in The Stable and dinner at Balti Curries (brandy on the house), I returned to anchor in my favourite spot – now free – and was just having lunch in the cockpit when this turned up.
Over the next 20 minutes, while I raced to inflate the dingy so I could get round the other side of it and take better pictures, the peculiar craft raised the offending anchor as if it was nothing more than a 10lb CQR.
The diver was right. I had never seen an anchor as big as that either. The shank must have been three metres long. The flukes dwarfed the man directing operations from the deck.
I would love to know who paid for this operation on a Saturday. Was it the Harbour Commissioners? (ensuring without delay the harbour was free of obstructions after all?) Did Seawide services’ staff have their eye on a bit of scrap value in their spare time? Do I get a cut – after all, I discovered the damn thing.