Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Invisible Workshop again

 The local sailing club has some very tired Optimists that, after 12 years without maintenance, have become unseaworthy. Wanting to keep children alive while teaching them to sail the club asked The Invisible Workshop if some renovation work could be done. 

 I chose the one in worst condition first. Looking back on the hours of work it would have been more economical to scupper the boat, had I not given a ridiculously low quote. The more of the rotten and broken fibreglass I cut away the more I knew I’d have to rebuild. But keeping those kiddies in mind I plugged on and was pleased with the results.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The last bit, at last

OB came through the gybe on the inside and I looked back at the other boats feeling rather guilty for employing aggressive tactics. The wind, however, wouldn’t let me dwell on ethics. What had seemed like a fresh following breeze now appeared to be half a gale as we sailed to windward. Even double reefed OB was over pressed and unbalanced, I could only ease the heavy weather helm by completely sheeting out the mizzen sail and raising the daggerboard by half. The main I kept in good and taut and OB sailed at her maximum angle of heel.

I felt confident about driving OB hard. The wind was solid and, away from the land, the gusts came on more gently. I had my legs hooked under an oar lashed across the thwarts and my bum hanging over the rail. My boat was making good progress to windward compared to others further to leeward, some of whom appeared to be over canvassed and spilling wind.

Coming up to the next mark—OB throwing up a deal of spray and riding on a wave of foam—the race boat approached. The organiser, now wearing the hat of race official shouted across. He might have been imparting important information or quoting Cervantes, whatever, the words were lost to the wind. I watched the zodiac whizz off towards other boats.

I tacked OB round the windward mark and she hared off on the second downwind leg.

Looking around I saw that we were alone. I had almost certainly missed some vital information. Reflecting, I reckoned there was nothing for it but to crack on regardless—even if I had messed up it had been an enormously enjoyable sail.

On the long beat back towards the beach I began to see other boats again. But I couldn’t quite work out what they were doing. None were in the buoyed channel that led to beach, most were off downwind in amongst the moored craft. As the beach came into view I could see that it was deserted, I really had got this very wrong. I tacked a couple more times in the calm water in front of the town and let OB waft up to the sand.

In and around the beach bars people were clapping, applauding something out of sight behind me. I pulled OB’s bows onto the sand and lowered the sails. When I looked up from this task I found a knot of people had gather around and as I acknowledged them they congratulated me. OB had won.

Before this fully registered however, another boat arrived at the beach, the captain and crew immediately informing me that I had passed the first windward mark to port rather than to starboard. As such, they reasoned, I hadn’t followed the course. They were right I had gone to port, damn and drat it. Oh well. More boats arrived and eventually the zodiac and Quico, the organiser/official. The case was put to him.

 ‘What course did you sail exactly.’ Asked Quico.
 Twice round the windward and leeward marks, I explained.
‘Ha!’ he laughed, ‘Didn’t you hear me shouting that it was too windy to do two laps and that you should head back to the beach after completing one?’

That news spread and the next thing I knew I was being congratulated again. Everyone seemed to agree that sailing double the distance and still arriving first merited a prize.

I didn’t attend the prize giving dinner that evening however. I was keen to lap up the glory but I’d found a beautifully sheltered spot to anchor OB and I didn’t feel like an overland trek to the venue or a long row into headwinds. When someone called and offered to come and collect me by car I found myself refusing. In truth I just wanted to enjoy my last night aboard OB, tomorrow I’d be going home on the train to collect the car and trailer, it would be a long hot day. No, tonight was for me and my boat. I lay back, looked up at the stars and pondered on rigs that can be well and effectively reefed, unballasted craft that respond well to crew weight and the importance of sheeting in properly when sailing to windward.

Monday, 19 March 2012

A little guy on my shoulder

I ran down the hot sand pausing on the way to undo the line that anchored OB’s bows to a stake. Having squandered the preparation time there was work to do. The race was on and other boats were leaving the beach as I stuffed superfluous gear into lockers and untangled lines. The oars I lashed inboard, lengthways across the thwarts. Each would serve as a brace for my legs when the time came to get my weight out over the gunwale.

OB's nose slid off the sand as I hauled up the stern anchor. Boats jostled on the water, raising sails and crowding each other as they entered the buoyed channel that ran between the moored craft. It was as well to stay clear. Drifting on the gusting offshore breeze I hoisted the mizzen and then the main and just before avenue of buoys turned the bows off the wind.

On OB’s fastest point of sail, particularly in double reefed conditions and in flat water we kept to windward and began catching up. I felt calm and comfortably in control as my boat accelerated in the gusts. The only thing that matters, I thought, is sailing my boat as well as I can. But no sooner was the thought formed than a little guy in a devil’s suit appeared on my shoulder, ‘No Ben,’ he said, ‘the only thing that matters is winning.’ And poked me in the neck with his trident.

Sailing through the pack as we came up to the first mark—the stone tower on the rocks—I looked into the water to judge the depths. We’d been told to give the reef a wide berth, many a year there’s someone who cuts the corner and gouges their bottom. It wasn’t going to be OB, the centreboard was raised and with just the rudder in the water she needed scant depth. All the same I took my time before carefully gybing, lowering the centreboard by half and reaching off for a buoy somewhere on the other side of the bay.

The boats had separated and I was coming up behind a knot of smaller craft. Just as well as I had no idea where the buoy was. The map of the course was floating in the bilges and although I’d paid close attention at the briefing the tensions of the start had wiped my memory. But I wasn’t the only one feeling my way. As I came up with the other boats someone shouted across ‘Where’s the buoy?’ ‘No idea. I’m following you.’ Then a shout went up from the forward most boat and they bore away. Presumably they’d spotted it.

I loosen the sheets and eased away from the wind. There were two boats immediately ahead of OB looking beautiful with their arcs of taught lateen sail bellying towards the briny and windward hulls rising high out of the water. But they were not sailing quite broad enough. I felt a jab in my neck. ‘Cut through on the inside at the mark.’ Said the fellow in red. I was bang on course, it would be a fairly aggressive move but I could nip between the boats and the buoy with a tight, tidy gybe. I looked at the devil on my shoulder and winked.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Part one of the next bit

I wasn’t really in the mood for a sailing festival. A late summer Mediterranean rainstorm had ruptured the night, first with strafing hail then with icy bullets of rain, coming so thickly as to find a thousand ways through the boat tent. I rose to put on wet weather gear and found the water up to my ankles. I bailed miserably while the rain eased and attempted to go back to sleep as the Tramontana reasserted itself.

The bright, breezy morning found me bleary, damp and dishevelled. From the relative shelter of the cove it looked too windy for sailing out on the wider waters. If I were to get to the beach where the meeting was to take place I’d have to row long and hard into the wind. Maybe I could just make tea and doze through the morning.

But I’d met a few other boats the day before, friendly people who’d asked if I'd come to take part and after cheery waves and shouts we’d agreed to see each other on the morrow. What is more it appeared that Onawind Blue was the only boat, of comparable size, that had a arrived in Cadaqués by sea and that in itself was an incentive to make the last mile to the beach. And so I packed up and rowed.

English punctuality is one of the few national traits that I’m still working hard to shrug off after 25 years of living in Spain. It was no surprise, then, to find the beach absolutely deserted of organisation and boats when I arrived with my arms hanging out of their sockets and my palms burning.

I left OB with an anchor off the stern and line from the bow to a stake in the beach, the only sign that something might be happening today. I meandered over to a bar, filled up on coffee and watched the preparations get underway. Other boats arrived (mooring in the same fashion), people sauntered down from the town and a clutch of old timers built up a fire for the traditional breakfast of barbequed sardines. I met my friend Joan Sol and, having just caught sight of myself in a plate glass window, begged a shower.

By the time I got back to the beach not only was the event in full swing but I was as clean and shiny as if I’d just stepped out of an air-conditioned Audi. A large slice of pan con tomate piled high with sardines and red wine caught mid flow from the porrón soon brought my personal hygiene back to normal levels. Lively chat with old friends from now familiar boats simmered down for the skipper’s meeting but as complete silence is never attainable some people missed valuable information. Anybody who felt the conditions might be too taxing was free to stand down and while at first I’d rather hoped the sailing might be cancelled I now found I’d been injected with a lust for competition.

What is it that turns even mild mannered, low-tech sailors into victory hungry, calculating racers? Quite probably it was the wine, but whatever, I stood close to Quico Despuig the event organiser, the better to get an advantage by hearing what was said. There was a course: Out to Els Farrallons—a small stone tower built on a reef—that would be a run. Then a reach over to a buoy on the other side of the bay, a beat back up to the tower, then the circuit again and back to the beach. Simple enough, I thought.

The Cadaqués regatta traditionally has a Le Mans style start. Crews were given 10 minutes to organise their boats, a time I totally miss-spent explaining the course to someone who hadn’t heard the instructions. I was wondering if I could politely regain my competitive edge when an air horn called us to the start.

Some of us stood nervously on the line. I reflected that at least I was already double reefed from the day before. I wiped my sweaty palms on my shirt as I waited, poised like a sprinter for the second blast. But it didn’t come. The organiser was bogged down re-explaining the course to those that had been out of earshot. Then the horn sounded and I ran. But no, it wasn’t the second horn. It was a repeat of the first, for the benefit of those that hadn’t been ready or understood the course. At last, my adrenaline nearly spent, we re-assembled in a raggle-taggle fashion. The third blast—which was in fact the second—sounded, and we ran to the boats.

Monday, 27 February 2012

To windward of breakfast

Whenever I’ve bragged about how well my boat stays upright I’ve had to quell the knowledge that OB is capsizable and that I’ve never really pushed her that hard. I’ve done the controlled capsize in calm conditions, which is fine to establish buoyancy when swamped and how long it takes to bail. And I’ve done the unintentional going over in waves, which is pretty good for determining how much gear you can afford to lose, among other things.

But for the out of the blue, uncontrolled capsize while sailing I needed to do something more stupid than usual. Of course you’re never fully aware of what stupidity you’re engaged in until it starts to go wrong. I’ve enjoyed sailing round crowded anchorages plenty of times with no problems but I’d never done it in gusty conditions on a rising breeze.

After a bad night on the beach, wanting somewhere quiet to spend the day, I sailed off to cross Cadaqués bay. Weaving between moored boats was fun and I felt that onlookers drinking coffee in cockpits would be enjoying the spectacle of a small boat, double reefed and gladly dashing to and fro. Overpowered in the gusts I could sheet out and spill wind or yield to OB’s natural tendency to luff up. Then a stronger gust bore down hard only this time I couldn’t let her round up because there was a boat just to windward. The mainsheet passed—in breach of all small boat sailing lore—through a clam cleat. And the end of the sheet, which had been in my hand ready to flick out of the cleat, was swimming in the bilge. I couldn’t move without de-stabilising the boat so I got my arse out over the rail and hung on.

I knew I was in trouble by the enormous weight on the tiller. As soon as we were in clear water I eased the rudder, OB flew up into the wind skidding onto her side. I threw my weight out to windward but OB had decided to stay down gluping water over the leeward decks. Then she suddenly popped back up and started to flap madly.

The boat was half full of water, very unstable and drifting down on a yacht where a family sat breakfasting. It’s nice to have an anchor and had it not gripped emphatically we’d have ended up amongst the bacon and eggs. OB came to a halt a scant metre away and I gave a breezy ‘Hello’ and doused the noisy mainsail. Then I took up as much anchor rode as I dared, to give the breakfasters a bit of space, and began to bail. Amazingly nothing had been lost except an empty water bottle. It takes a while to bail OB when she’s full to the thwarts but with the anchor firm that was no problem.

The problem was the increasing wind. I didn’t trust myself to able to sail out of this tight spot immediately to windward of breakfast and so I tidied the mainsail away and rowed very slowly into the wind.

This fairly minor sailing adventure was to stand me in good stead for the next day when Onawind Blue would compete against 25 lateen rigged boats in the famous Regatta de Vela Llatina de Cadaqués.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The dangers of the night

I bedded down for the night amongst other boats on a small, pebble beach, near the town on the southern side of Cadaqués Bay. I’d planned to anchor off but a regular pulse of low swell pumped into the bay fanning out to enter every nook and lapping onto every beach. What is more the northerly Tramontana was forecast to bring 20 knots shortly after midnight. Surely the most seamanlike thing to do was haul out of the water and get the security of firm earth under OB’s bottom.

This was the first night ashore after four days and OB’s movement still rolled through me, rocking me to sleep. From deep in the warmth of the night I registered the wind swing to the north and rehearse a few moaning notes in the pines, the boat tent enthusiastically flapping time.

The next time I woke it was to full-voiced singing. But it wasn’t coming from the wind. A loose knot of summertime revellers wove dissonantly across the beach. I heard stones splashing into the water and crashing onto the pebbles. For a moment the party seemed to move on but then it formed an eddy and surged back and forth before coming to a halt around OB. The owner of a strident voice shook the boat tent. Then he let his mouth off the leash, maybe for the benefit of the girls, and bade me rise from slumber.

My course of action was clear: break out the trusty AK-47 and let loose.

But in my pre-cruise haste I had neglected to pack it. Furthermore, accustomed to peaceful nights and solitude I was naked in my sleeping bag. To spring out from under the boat tent could only put me at a worse disadvantage. I lay tight and kept mum.

The tent shook (I was pleased to see it could withstand this treatment) and another slurred exhortation was loudly offered. Again I lamented my depleted armoury and absent wardrobe. But I maintained my resolve and the loudmouth’s testosterone charged challenge fell just short of actually lifting the boat tent.

Shortly the eddy gathered momentum and changed direction. Soon I heard a clatter of stones hitting boats. The sound of rocks ricocheting off topsides was almost more distressing than direct threats. I heard people jumping on an upturned fibreglass hull and a cracking sound. I heard singing, swearing, whoops and shouts coming and going and eventually dissolving into the night.

The storm had moved on. It had probably caused more damage that a month, or even a year of conventional weather.

Monday, 6 February 2012

A cruise through blues 5?

I’ll briefly wind up the Cruise through Blues series that I was posting in September. I was just getting to the best bits when I got distracted, so here they are. (There are no pictures I’m afraid as the camera had already received the dunking from which no camera shall return.—But here’s a picture of a blue-footed booby that came up when I typed Onawind Blue into Google images.)

Too impatient to spend another day in the anchorage where I’d waited 32 hours for wind I set out on the 20 mile crossing of the Bay of Roses in fog. Rowing at three knots I considered that 100 to 200 metres visibility was sufficient. Judging by the quiet the motorboats had stayed at home.

A breeze arrived after a couple of hours rowing but the fog didn’t lift. It was no more than a blanket, looking up I could make out blue sky. With enough wind to sail large at 4 to 5 knots Onawind Blue clattered over the small, developing sea. The only other noise a mechanical throb coming from all directions. Shortly the bows of a trawler parted the curtain and I changed course. We passed close by and I waved but got no response.

I trusted the compass to keep pointing north but checked the GPS more than necessary all the same. The boat and I inhabited a small disc of sea with a diaphanous boundary that we could never reach. The sensation was of total solitude and we could have been many more than 10 miles off shore. From my reading I expected sailing in fog to be a nightmare—and I’m utterly convinced it generaly is—but this time it was one of the most enjoyable sails I’ve had. The blanket lifted finding me two miles offshore just west of Cape Norfeu. (Last time I’d been up this way I’d sailed too close in under the cliffs, lost the wind and eaten lots of wake.) Now I could bear away still more and sail straight into Cadaqués bay where I anchored in Cala Nans, had a swim and made lunch though it was 6 in the afternoon.

Monday, 23 January 2012


Photos by Sergio Oca

The wind had increased until we were over-pressed. Pinching and spilling wind we were getting along, but not very comfortably, so we anchored to double reef the main and mizzen. With the boat readied we found that the hook had fouled. We tried to sail it out but the sails flogged, backed and hindered. We stowed them and managed to row the anchor out. Then we contemplated the swell that had grown while we had been sailing. Could we still enjoy a double-reefed thrash knowing that we would have to negotiate the waves on the way back to the beach? Or would we be worrying about landing the whole time, the possibilities of broaching, boat capsizing, masts fouling the bottom and levering the decks off, unwelcome dunkings and lost of gear. Sometimes it’s best just to address your worries, be they well founded or not, even though the sailing is tempting. I unstepped the masts and lashed everything in preparation for a possible capsize. And then rowed in with absolutely no problem what so ever. We looked at the sea from the beach, the wind had dropped and we could barely believe that the tranquil blue mass could have caused so much apprehension. We had had an adventure, but on the beach it was simply Sunday, and nearly lunchtime.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012