If Not Duffers, Won’t Drown

We arrived in La Coruña like Force Ten from Navarrone, beating into a force five, sails pearly and taut in the moonlight as we threaded through the fishing fleet. We tied up in the marina at midnight on Wednesday, weary travellers awed by the silence when the constant motion finally ceased. Then we broke out the beer and wines of the best, or at least the best we had, along with cheese and biscuits. Comrades basking in the glow of collective achievement. We had made excellent time. Biscay had been very kind, no rain, the wind behind us all the way, the sea state smooth to moderate and yes there were dolphins and, on one occasion, the three men saw whales. Graham spotted them. The water spouts of a pod of whales rising ten feet in the air, back in our wake and the profile of a smooth, black back, the size of Lyra slipping through the water. I missed the whales as that was the day I took to my bed, like a character from a Victorian novel, the slop and dip of the ocean finally proving too much. I was a bit of a duffer and am thankful the crossing is over. That said, I was not terribly seasick, because I took tablets, but they just knocked me out, so I was not a deal of use either. I found the lack of a moments pause hard to cope with. Graham and Mike were worth their weight in gold and John is my hero.

The Monday when we set off we had mustered as it was becoming light, amusing each other with the sight of our wooly hats and oilskins. After a cup of tea and a breakfast bar we caught the early morning tide. Once out of Falmouth harbour, with the wind on our starboard quarter we were racing south west at a cracking pace. There was talk of reaching Spain by Tuesday! Graham had set up a three hour watch timetable, with Mike on six till nine, John and myself next, then Graham himself and so on ad infinitum, or, with luck, Tuesday As soon as he came off watch Mike tucked himself up in the berth by the table and slept. This set the tone of the days to come. Three hours of attention followed by six of sleep, which gave the whole experience a weird feeling of being just one long catnapping day.  Though we did make the effort to all eat together, sitting in the cockpit. On that first day I had already made sandwiches for  lunch, before setting off. By the evening I was not relishing spending any more time than I had to below deck and was very grateful to Mike for stepping in and reheating the chilli and cooking the rice. After the evening meal John and I went to try to sleep. Thankfully, being below was no problem once I had laid down and the Kwells were excellent for sending me straight to sleep.

We both woke before the alarm for our three till six watch and scrambled into our outer gear. We emerged to find Mike was plotting our position and had the kettle on. He suggested it would be etiquette for us to do the same for Graham, high-fived us both and said we had a sunrise to look forward to. We sat opposite one another with our thermos mugs of tea, sheltered by the spray hood. We could see the sails, but all else was in darkness as we were bowling along through the night. I hoped there was nothing solid floating in the water ahead. We kept an eye on the odd flashing darts on the plotter screen, AIS targets which when touched brought up a window of data on the boat concerned. By this means we not only knew what was around, but we knew what they were, where they were from, where they were heading and how quickly. Most reassuring. We had fun and games with a fishing vessel said to be bound for Scotland, but which chasséd about as though deliberately thwarting our efforts to avoid passing too close. Eventually we left it well to port. After an hour I ventured down to write the log and plot our position on the chart and emerged a bit green round the gills, glad it would be John’s turn next hour. There was no sunrise, the dark just turned grey and the grey grew paler. Before we had chance to make him tea Graham was up making his own, filling in the log and doing the plotting. We were both grateful for this and when he solemnly told us we were relieved we barely acknowledged the humour before both headed down to our cabin for another sleep.

On our next watch we crossed over into deep water and the dolphins came out to play. Dolphin to starboardLittle dolphins with penguin style dark markings over pale undersides. Our course had changed to south, south west and we were making slower progress, so they were gentle companions, languidly keeping pace with us, skimming by alongside or crossing the bow waves. Magical!

Then came my big sleep. I could not face an evening meal. John took our watches on his own Tuesday night. The wind was such we were sideways on to the swell and rolling along in it, heading for the Azores on a sloppy sea. Finally I was woken by the welcome roar of the engine as we turned for La Coruña. We still had a long day’s passage ahead, with the engine throbbing, but at least the waves were surging behind us and I was finally able to stand being upright long enough to freshen up, don the gear and make it back up on deck. John let me stay up there while he made all the log entries and plots on our watch. I spotted more of the small, dark dolphins. This time they came in pairs to travel close alongside us with their smiley faces and sleek bodies. We were tracking clusters of other boats again, but could see no sign of them. They were beyond the horizon and our distance to go was still depressingly long.

Finally, nearing seven in the evening, John spotted land on the horizon. Still hours away, given the height of the cliffs, but a real boost to morale. He went below to cook the evening meal – shepherds pie and vegetables, the last bastion of our English rations. As we grew closer the wind came up and Mike pulled out the gib. We healed over and the pans clattered below, but all was well, there was no swearing and after a while John handed up platefuls of steaming hot food, which we all demolished. Clouds were gathering and the evening sun streamed through them in spectacular shards. Mike ranged about taking photographs and had Graham point the boat to give a surge of spray to the foreground of a shot from the bows. Graham shook his head about this, but complied and then chuckled as Mike caught spray in the face. Taunts and retorts were bantered, we were nearly there then!

So were all the other boats we had seen on the screen. They were appearing all over the place. We were all converging on the harbour, thankfully most of them far enough ahead of us to reach it in daylight and be out of our way.  The cliffs disappeared into the dark and lights began to glow on the shore and on our fellow vessels. Mike took over the helm from Graham, who said we would have a “cracking sail in”, once we turned at our long awaited Coruña waypoint. I took “cracking sail” to be man code for ” brace yourself, we’ll be thundering in with the toe rail in the water”, but in fairness, Graham went forward and reduced the main and then reefed the gib well in advance of the turn, so it was exhilarating rather than frightful. Once in the shelter of land we turned on the engine and took in the sails. The lights were on all over town, blurring as I looked at them through the clear plastic of the wind screen hood, which was a bit of a problem. We were interested in spotting two particular pairs amongst the spangled hoards. Leading lights, which line up on the safe passage. Mike suggested I take Lyra in following them and calmly talked me through the process, like an airplane disaster movie. A daunting, but ultimately empowering experience, I would not care to repeat with that hood up. Once inside the marina entrance I bailed and let Graham take her in to a finger pontoon, with John and Mike jumping down onto its narrow, wobbly surface with the lines.

We had finished the leg I had dreaded and had not drowned!


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4 Responses to If Not Duffers, Won’t Drown

  1. ruralmoon says:

    Sooo good to hear that you have arrived safely. Sounds as though you had a most interesting voyage and it must have been wonderful to see the dolphins. Pity you had the vapours – how very melodramatic – but obvioiusly a cunning plan to make sure the men did the work! 😉

  2. Jan says:

    Dolphins! Hoorah!

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