Monday, 3 December 2007

In the company of sailors

Recently hanging out with a couple of French skippers both owners of sturdy aluminium yachts, one leaving for Brazil the other making ready, I noticed a greenish hue infusing my skin. Jawing in the cosy wood-panelled saloon of Philippe Herzog’s 36 footer, Le Grobedam I contemplated throwing him overboard and taking off for Brazil myself.

It seems that all the liveaboards and long distance sailors are leaving this stretch of Mediterranean for cheaper climes. I don’t blame them. A berth in the local marina for a 12-metre boat now costs 500 euros a month in the low season.

Torredembarra used to have good reputation as a decent place to winter and six years ago there were maybe eight boats on extended cruises or circumnavigations passing the colder months refitting here. This year there are none.

The marina’s still full, there are plenty of boats to look at even if they are gleaming bulbous things with acres of freeboard, but the migration of the blue-water bunch means less people to chat with.

Liveaboards wintering in a foreign port love to meet people, yarn about boats, swap books and party. Maybe because they know that we’re all equal in a force eight Atlantic gale, or because their ownership is an expression of their philosophy rather than a brash demonstration of their socio economic status, this class of sailor is approachable in a way that I haven’t yet experienced from the owners of the latest plastic boat show gizmos.

But there’s only one cure for a lack of like-minded sailors and that’s more sailing.

November has seen continuous northerlies blasting out of the Gulf of Lions. This is the Tramontana wind that, blowing at over 30 knots, heaps up the seas and launches five-metre waves at the coast of Minorca—I believe the port of Mahon has been closed all month.

Some of this marauding swell, fanning out from the Gulf, curves round to break on Onawind Blue’s beach and, while it might be great to photograph, it’s a bitch to launch through.

But last weekend brought flat seas.

Unconcerned by the lack of wind I got out at 11am and stood to the oars. I rowed for about an hour—as far as the marina and, had there been any interesting people berthed there, would have thought about paying a visit. As it was I continued rowing until my hands started to blister. Luckily this coincided with a light breath from the southwest and gentle cat’s-paws scurrying across the water. The growing wind caught the sails and with relief I stowed the oars while we headed towards the horizon with the rudder still raised.

After close reaching for an hour we went broad, sailing parallel to the coast but way out to sea. Controlling our course by raising or lowering the centreboard, and with judicious use of the main sheet, we scooted northeast. When well downwind of our launch spot I put the board fully down and went back to close reaching out to sea. Having regained some ground to weather I tacked with a push-stroke of the windward oar and we made a course for home. It took a little over an hour to gain the land. Arriving slightly up wind of our chosen spot I struck the mizzenmast and raised the centreboard, letting OB sail herself dead downwind onto the beach.

Apart from my extremities behaving like far-away frozen appendages I felt better than I had all month. While I hadn’t exactly made a passage to Brazil I’d carved up the local H2O and felt like a sailor for it.

This short film (quite similar to the last one) shows Onawind Blue flying over the briny the way she loves best. Note the (green) line holding the mizzen boom to leeward, this keeps the sail more firmly sheeted and allows us to sail a straighter course.


Gaff Horse said...

I like the piano on that last video - did Moni write that music?
The temptation to keep sailing west in Brazil's general direction must get stronger as the winter kicks in. I went there a couple of years ago, and i remember writing something like 'the coffee alone makes you want to just stay here til the money runs out and then worry about the next day' or something like that. Sadly, I guess that as we get older we lose something of our impetuous idealism. But I guess, what we lose there, we gain in other areas.
I still haven't managed to even look at your story I'm afraid. I keep trying to prioritise things - getting a teaching job should be top of the list, but other stuff keeps getting in the way. Children and printer cartridges and invoices and rubbish like that.
Well anyway - good to see you out on the water.
When are you leaving for England? Are you going en famille?
My mum will be coming out in January so preparations have already started...

Baddaddy said...

I love it... From my perspective behind a crowded desk under flourescent lamps on a grey, wet and flat day in England your video seems like a small piece of heaven.

I'm not sure I wouldn't sheet the mizzen in a bit, lower the rudder find a way to fix the tiller in a way that keeps the boat straight, but each to his own. Your method must seem wonderfully tranquil...


ben said...

yeah that's Monica playing, it's recorded with the mic on my laptop hence the quality.
Didn't you have a wierd experience in Brazil? They spiked your coffee or something. It made a good story anyway.
We're going to the uk on the 21st til the 31st.

ben said...

Gav, I think if I set up the tiller with shock cord, I will ultimately sail a straighter course. I'll definitely do this when I start cruising long distance but for the time being it IS wonderfully tranquil.
P.S I wish I'd had your book before I started on OB

Baddaddy said...

I'm still impressed by the lack of wake. It's clearly a good hull in terms of keeping drag under control.


Baddaddy said...

You could write a book now! I did... ;-)

ben said...

Gav, I reckoned you'd like the wake shots.

Maybe there is room for another book on small boat cruising...