Tuesday 24 June 2008

Onawind Blue’s birthday

A fitting day to leave but despite my best intentions I didn’t get going until 11am, the family waving from the beach as OB, under full sail, bore off south southwest beneath grey skies in a light, easterly breeze.

Blessed with a favourable wind we ran quickly down to Tarragona and then, as the wind increased—almost certainly due to the un-forecast deep, dark clouds grumbling on the western horizon, even more quickly.

To windward the gunmetal waters were flecked with white and I knew that I should stop and reef but instead I dithered, dreading turning OB broadside to the wind in order to heave-to. I got my weight to the back of the boat and concentrated on holding our course though OB seemed intent on luffing up. Our speed increased 4, 5, 6, 7 knots and still the wind rose, on a wave I saw the GPS mark 8 knots and made to reef. But then there was a lull and no gust followed. The wind was dying.

Looking around and taking stock I noticed that a distant tanker was bearing down on us. Only just hull up, I reckoned I had time to pass in front of it and began to row. But although I rowed hard I couldn’t bring the starboard side of the ship into view. The tanker was turning and OB was too close by far. We spun 180º and pointed back the way we had come.

While involved in these shenanigans a small white fender floated by and I hauled it aboard. I threw its few marine inhabitants back overboard and the fender was to prove a valuable addition to OB's kit over the following days.

I once more turned southwest, only to find another tanker pointing its frothing bows at us as well as two pilot boats foaming out of the harbour. Like an elderly pedestrian I hung back looking each way and making absolutely sure there was nothing as far as the horizon before rowing the mile across to Cap Salou.

I thought about stopping here, at Crab Cove where I’d stayed in March, but as the clouds dispersed I had hopes that the wind would return and rowed on. And then I rowed on, and on.

Maintaining a course that kept me in the shade of the main sail I continued southwest until I closed with the coast south of Cambrils at Montroig Playa—one of the places I had selected to camp, based on studies of the coast using Google Earth, but what Google Earth doesn’t tell you, or the chart for that matter, is how steep the beach is, or how rocky.

Staying close I scanned the shore for a suitable landing place; the beach, sandy with a line of pebbles just above the low water mark, was prohibitively steep. I looked for somewhere with a shallow gradient and few stones but judging by the disjointed lurching of bathers leaving the water, rocks and stones lurked under the surface too.

South and south and there was a stony spit. In my experience the sand around spits shelves gradually and this seemed to be the case as small waves were also breaking here. I rowed in small circles just behind them studying the water and the beach. Two rocks showed their tips as the waves sucked back, the shore was more shingle than sand but anchoring off with no protection didn’t appeal. Timing my moment I rowed in till the bows ground into the stones. The boat was extremely heavy with all my gear, another tea bag aboard and I wouldn’t have been able to shift it at all, but it was much easier to lift the bows onto my new small fender than hefting it onto the larger diameter ones.

I noticed a tourist playing with his children, casting glances in my direction. Eventually he detached himself from his family and came over with a big, rounded ‘Hi’
‘Hello.’ I returned.
‘You travelling down the coast then?’
‘Well, just as far as the delta.’
‘All on your own?’
‘Well yes, but the family’s at home.’
‘Oh that’s the life.’
His wife came over and he explained, ‘He’s travelling down the coast on his own, he’s left his family at home.’
‘Well don’t you go getting any ideas.’ She warned.

I got on with my dinner, nothing special but as this was the first anniversary of Onawind Blue’s launch, I roused out some wine. Darkness fell as I prepared the boat for the night and huge orange lights lit up the beach spotlighting OB there on the shore. I settled down to sleep in a light as bright as day. Then it started to rain. It rained on and off all night and above the rain the rending crash of growing waves on shingle. With the orange tinted, grey dawn sky came the east wind. Damp and uncomfortable I decided to get to sea as quickly as possible—better to be on the water than stuck on a stony tourist beach with the waves rolling in.

As I was making ready I noticed a woman approaching in her dressing gown. This was Irene, ‘I’ve been watching you from my camper van. I’m an early riser too, and when I saw you with your hood up I thought I’ll take him a mug of hot chocolate, so here’s your chocolate and here’s a packet of biscuits and a Mars bar to keep you going. My husband said, “Oh leave him alone, he’s probably totally self sufficient.” But I thought well that could be my son out there so here you are. I admire what you’re doing so much but I’ll let you get on. Oh if I was 30 years younger…’

Thank you again for your kindness Irene, your biscuits and Mars bar were just what I needed a few days later.

I rigged the sails with a single reef and pushed out. We had a difficult launch amongst rocks and steep waves but got away with nothing worse than a general dousing. We sailed off fast over a brooding, menacingly dark sea but the sky shone bright in the east and I trusted that no worse weather would come—at least there was none forecast.

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