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.