Friday 21 March 2008

Cape Salou 4. How high’s the water Ma?

When the boat was ready I climbed back into my wet sailing clothes and, rolling OB on the fenders, manoeuvred her down to the water’s edge. The sea within the cove was calm though waves were washing in. But there was wind out beyond; I’d been looking at it through the binoculars. In the course of my windsurfing career I’ve spent many hours studying the surface of the sea and judging by it’s wrinkled surface I reckoned there to be a strong force four.

I pushed OB into the water, hopped over the stern and began to row. The waves were deceptively powerful and as I tried to straighten the boat we got a drenching from a wave over the port bow. I pulled hard through the shallow water to get beyond the waves and then we were in the wind and evil chop.

The mizzen set up an alarmed, shrill flapping and the main sail yawed drunkenly with the hull. The boom whipped across taking my hat off and the boat heeled to the rail. I inserted the daggerboard to gain some stability and continued rowing. It was imperative to get far enough offshore before heaving-to and readying the boat for sailing. If anything went wrong and took time to sort out at least we would weather the point hove-to.

There is always this transition period where the fenders have to be stowed and secured under the thwarts and the oars lashed so as they won’t be lost in the event of a capsize. But for the moment I was getting nowhere rowing into the wind. In the end I sheeted in the mizzen and with a tiller line in one hand and an oar in the other I row-sailed far enough upwind to be able to heave-to under the mizzen in safety.

I tied everything down and put a huge reef in the main. This was the strongest wind OB had ever been in. 20 knots at least. I was glad of that large breakfast as the adrenaline pumping through my veins ate through my blood sugar levels.

Hove-to we were travelling backwards at two knots. I took a large gulp—now I had to back the main and turn the bows off the wind so that we could run round the cape. There would be a nasty moment when we would be broadside on to the vicious short chop.

I went for it and OB came round smartly flying down sea as soon as the wind caught the sails. At first she yawed wildly and was heavy on the helm but I clambered forward and raised the daggerboard, then she loosened up and sped away semi-planing. Despite the tension I found a whoop bursting from my throat. The GPS later revealed a new top speed of 9.2 knots.

After 10 minutes of the most exciting sailing I’ve had so far we were in the lee of the cape and wondering what all the fuss had been about. Not far to the south a 35 footer under fully reefed main and genoa charged by. I was in half a mind to go back out for more but prudence won the day and we sailed on double reefed, the tail end of a gust seeking us out every now and then.

I sailed round to the beach that had been yesterday’s alternative and gave it a perusal; not very attractive but definitely sheltered and worth bearing in mind, then headed off in the direction of Tarragona harbour. The wind eased and I shook out the reefs. The breeze faded further and further and as we reached the harbour mouth it died. There are many places I wouldn’t mind being becalmed but the entrance to a busy commercial port isn’t one of them and I shipped the oars sharpish and got rowing as a freighter was steaming up from the docks.

The sun finally elbowed its way through the thin cloud and after an hour rowing among the tankers a breeze sprang up from the south-east. Suddenly everything was right with the world. With a fair wind polishing that beautiful Mediterranean light I opened a beer and blazed for home at four knots.

I close reached out to sea so as to give myself a clear, broad reach home after rounding the point at Torredembarra port. But every now and again a large sea passed under us and my mood clouded. I called home to be told that large waves were rolling in. Even from a distance I could see them crashing against the marina wall.

I was 200 metres off our home beach and could see that there were three to four lines of breaking waves. They weren’t gently spilling waves either but plunging ones with huge sections closing out in a thunderous roar.

I called home to see if a video camera could be organised—if I was going to do it then at least the moment should be caught on film.

I would have to row-sail very fast to make it to the beach in the lulls between the sets. I had just turned our bows towards the shore when something like a train rolled underneath us. My blood drained into the bilges and I sheeted in and got the hell out before the next one came through.

I couldn’t land here but there was a beach up the coast sheltered by a new marina that I knew would be calm—I’ve been checking it in all weathers for the past year. I sailed on another mile and a half and brought OB gently on to the sand. Under the eyes of Easter holidaymakers in their smart clothes and with children and dogs I rolled OB to the top end of the beach and, using the anchor chain, padlocked her to a post. My partner pulled up in the car and we loaded all the boat gear into the boot.

The land felt solid and unyielding and I was oppressed by the idea of leaving OB with all these insufferable lubbers about. I climbed behind the wheel and pointed the bonnet homewards unable to drive at more than 20kph.

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