Monday, 5 September 2011
A cruise through blues 2
My destination was Cadaqués and the XXIV Festival of Lateen Sail. It was only 35 miles away but with a firm wind on the nose it seemed to recede rather than approach. I’d lost masses of ground outside Palamos harbour sitting to the sea anchor while I double reefed the sails, stowed and lashed gear. All this should have been done on the beach of course, but as often happens when someone accompanies you down to the water, shakes your hand and says good-bye, you feel like your cue has arrived to exit stage left (rowing). I hopped in the boat, struck a heroic pose at the oars and before I knew it was blown out of sheltered waters and into the thick of it, drifting backwards over yesterday’s won ground.
A long day beating in stiff winds gave me a chance to reflect on OB’s windward performance and answer a question that’s puzzled me for a while. Why at times does she seem to perform so well and at others so poorly? It seems obvious now but the answer is sea state. OB heads up well in flat water. Even if there’s an underlying swell, if the wind is young and hasn’t yet ruffled the water, all’s well. It is chop that slows her, every breaking crest that slaps the bow knocking her off course.
There was plenty of wind blown chop on this afternoon and a northerly swell underneath. We must have sailed 20 odd miles but only made about 7 in the right direction. The wind died later on. I got an opportunity to bail and then I sat at the oars for an hour or so in order to reach a reasonable anchorage.
The rocky cliffs of the Costa Brava plunge steeply into the sea. Deep inlets and coves abound and the holidaying populace spend their days lounging on motorboats in the bays. At 7 o’clock they all head home. It’s rush hour. The sea from the cliffs to about 300 metres offshore becomes a motorway. It’s no place for a small boat under oars. The water gets so confused with wake rebounding from the rocks that forward progress becomes secondary to keeping the boat flat and dry. For every decent pull forwards you need at least four just to stay even keeled. As the throbbing craft thunder by and you change course to take the wake, first one way then the other, you can feel yourself beginning, under the fatigue of a day’s sailing, to unhinge.
It is madness.
But in this watery hell, almost more dangerous than others I’ve seen created by wind, I saw a splash and thought ‘dolphin’. I stared at the patch of water and a swordfish rose out, silhouetted against the sky. It jumped three times, a vision of grace, power and beauty. I wonder if anybody else on that crowded sea noticed it.