Monday, 18 June 2007

The launch

I forced on 8 coats of varnish in three days, painted on her name and finished off the hardwood pieces with oil and then we were ready to go. But our old friend the Mistral wind gate-crashed launch day in a playful mood, while, to compound matters, a more distant wind was pumping in a rolling swell from the south. Two weeks of flat calm had come to an end and as I stood on the beach that morning with sand whipping about my ankles looking at the spray being torn from the incoming crests I thought, ‘There’s no way Onawind Blue and I are going out in that.’

But all the preparations for the launch were in motion, I’d driven 150 km to collect the band’s instruments, I’d filled shopping carts with beer, cava, wine, rum, anchovies, smoked salmon, cured hams, cheeses, breads and tomatoes. I’d baked red peppers and aubergines to make ‘escalivada’ and my mother in law had made a pile of Spanish potato omelettes. There was no going back and I could only hope that the wind would slacken as the day faded and that the swell would relax a little, but I reserved the right not to launch if the conditions were too adverse. ‘The sea will decide.’ I told people as I decorated the garden.

I hung my tools and the boat plans from the trees, arranged tables and lamps and set up a small stage covered in carpets leaving a space behind for Onawind Blue. I worked with one eye on the wind and with frequent trips to the beach to check on the waves.

At midday the situation looked grim; the Mistral was swinging round to the southwest adding its own short chop to the southerly swell. I moodily ate a sandwich and watched a well reefed yacht track across the horizon. If it wasn’t to be, then fair enough, we’d have the party anyway and have a damn good time.

Preparations continued throughout the afternoon and it as while I was rigging a spotlight in the olive tree that I felt the wind gasp and drop. I dared not look up but finished what I was doing then calmly went to the beach—no wind. It was 5 o’clock and I reckoned I could wait till 9 if necessary for the swell to subside.

People began to arrive around six and I soaked up the oohs and aahs with modest smiles, nods of the head and helpful explanations. As more folk filled the garden the expectation grew, buckets of iced beers circulated and, as the mood rose I checked the sea and my chosen launch spot again.

At eight I decided to go for it. Sizable waves were still coming in but there were long gaps with relative calm between the sets. It would be like a windsurfing launch on a big day; watch the larger waves come in and hit the water as the last one breaks. I wheeled OB out into the street and off we went with about 40 people in tow. We arrived at the beach and soon OB was surrounded by a loose knot of excited spectators. But we were still a distance from the launch spot—a place where a narrow channel crosses the sand bar and takes the oomph out of the waves. With ten or so close friends we carried the boat over the sands and set her down on waters edge.

Older guys who know this beach, who bashed out through waves like these in Optimists when they were in their teens gave me advice on the launch. But I had my plan and the idea was to get out with as little risk as possible.

The boat prepared I shouted a short speech above the noise of the waves. And then my partner, Sunset, smashed that bottle of champagne that’s been hanging around the bottom of my tool box on Onawind Blue’s bow.

Now was the moment and my friends gathered round the boat gripping her sturdy gunnel and waiting for the word from me as I watched the waves come in, waiting for a gap.

As the last wave of a big set broke we ran forward and into the surf, Onawind Blue's bows skimmed over the sea and smashed through the white water. As we got out of our depth I hopped in and stood to the oars. OB responded immediately and her bow rose high over the next wave. She pulled away like a thoroughbred amid whooping and cheers from the beach and then we were on the outside and I evened up my stroke and headed out to sea.

She was a joy to row, comfortable, settled, surefooted and fast. Later people commented that they couldn’t believe how rapidly I was reduced to a speck. A smooth straight wake with no white water and no eddies spread behind us like a ribbon over the sea. But I didn’t want to go too far, it was late and although Onawind Blue seemed to be revelling in the conditions, I felt they were less than perfect and didn’t want push my luck. Besides, now that I was on the outside there arose the question of how the hell I was going to get back in. My biggest worry was that we’d turn side on to the waves and get rolled. I rowed back in to where the waves were breaking but seeing a large set looming I turned back out to sea. This boat tracks beautifully but the trade off is that she doesn’t turn on a sixpence. I cranked her round with a dry throat and we just made it over the last wave before it broke. I came around again, put my weight behind the oars and headed in. As we crossed the sand bar a wave caught up with us. Onawind Blue’s fine stern rose to it and then, to gilt edge our little jaunt, she started to surf. She ripped in towards the beach, an oar popped off its thole pin but we were safe, my friends had waded out to meet us and they bravely bore us in.

The celebrations went on till five o’clock in the morning and, having said goodbye to the last of the well-wishers, I headed indoors to bed. But then I hesitated, I didn’t want to sleep inside. I dug out the inflatable mattress, blew it up and bedded down in Onawind Blue.




Baddaddy said...

Ben -

Super blog entry, and jolly pics of what looks like a great party!

And thanks for the call!


bdillahu said...

Congrats! Great job and it looks like you sure did the launching up right!

I posted a link to you: