Arrived at Weymouth by train with no problems and made rendezvous with Jon Baker, who was also coming aboard here and had walked in from the Youth Hostel at Lulworth Cove, where he had been staying while waiting for the boat to make port. He had had the day to explore and was able to guide me around the town and down to the yacht marina: the last time I was here was to join the square-rigger Prince William in the main harbour, on a day so hot that her steel decks burnt my bare feet!
We bought Indian food at a takeaway near the railway station and carried the foil boxes down to a conveniently-placed seat at the water’s edge, where we could eat while watching the yachts and engaging in the old game of boat-window-shopping: which craft would you like for yourself, and which is the best-looking? A wooden mast appearing over the top of some glossy flying-bridge cruiser often turned out to be an indicator of a shapely little hull moored beyond....
Jon had concealed his heavy bag in some bushes near the station to avoid humping it all around town, so we went back to retrieve that and then walked out to the stub of the pier and out round the harbour to watch for our boat to come in. Peter Le Mare had said that he expected to arrive by 10pm; in fact it was at dusk around 9·30 that Be Disarming slipped into view after several false alarms. Previous possible small yacht candidates had all turned out to be carrying more than two crew members (Peter was alone with his ‘lovely helper’ Trisha) or to be skippered by men lacking the requisite red cap which Peter had assured us was his trademark, and so we had settled down for a further wait. But in the event there was no mistaking the yacht we wanted. As she emerged into sight around the curve of the harbour walls, she still carried her mainsail with its large, painted CND symbol.
Jon whistled loudly and the red-capped helmsman looked round. In the dusk we couldn’t tell what was happening, but we had by this time walked almost all the way back around the harbour and up onto the castle point above; it looked as if Be Disarming was trying to moor up on the opposite side, where the old railway lines ran down through the streets and out to the deserted platform by the shipping terminal. (As a child I could remember staring from the carriage window in fascination as our train squeezed its way around the tight corners down from the main line, with the occasional sweat-and-curse-filled pause as the train crew teamed together to bounce some encroaching parked car by main force off the tracks — but all too obviously no connecting service had arrived for a ferry for many years.)
Heaving our baggage along, Jon and I ran around the harbour and back across the lifting bridge to the pontoon by the harbour master’s office where we had last seen our boat. But farce reigned supreme, and by the time we had arrived the yacht had gone again, eventually to be discerned ‘rafted up’ close to where we had been before, moored against three other boats. Jon volunteered to go round yet again and find out where we were actually supposed to be; I stayed behind. So it was about 10 o’clock in the end before we were all united, in the middle of a crowd of people who turned out to be the local welcoming committee from Weymouth and who swept us all off to a nearby pub... where, oddly enough, we sat outside under the very same tree I had last sat under with my watchmates from Prince William! Peter and Trisha were treated to fish & chips and drinks by their hosts, and Trisha accepted the offer of a bed for the night though Peter preferred to sleep on board. Jon and I of course were still full of food, and our ‘bunks’ still had novelty value — though we hadn’t realised quite how crowded it was going to be....
By daylight, I made further acquaintance with the boat.
I’d spent the previous week aboard a 28-foot yacht on the Norfolk Broads which had seemed cramped beyond all belief: personal storage consisted of a single eight-inch-high space under each bunk which could only be accessed by fishing around at floor level through a couple of cut-out holes provided for the purpose, the cabin I’d shared had about two square feet of floor space with bunks burrowed under the foredeck to three-quarters of their length (I’d managed to get stuck down there one night in my sleep, unable to sit up or get my bearings at all, and woken the entire boat by screaming, in my attempts to escape what I thought was a nightmare of a closing box), while the lavatory compartment shared between four people had no more than half-height walls and a privacy curtain to separate it from the pocket-sized galley opposite and the main saloon, which slept two crosswise with no floorspace (or access over their sleeping bodies to the outside world) at all. On board Prince William I’d shared a watch cabin with fifteen others of all ages and sexes, with only a curtained bunk space and a small vertical locker each to call our own. I’d assumed I was prepared for life on a small boat.
But as usual, I’d packed to meet the requirements of the preceding trip. I had a stock of plastic bags of varied colour and texture so that I could differentiate types of clothing and states of soiling by touch; I had an easily-squashable rucksack that could be stowed away in any odd corner. I had a damp flannel that could be used to keep myself clean effectively in a tiny space with minimal expenditure of water (though I’d made the mistake of packing this in the same plastic bag as my superstrength sea-sickness prescription, with the result that the packaging for the latter became gradually saturated and fell apart).
What I hadn’t anticipated was life in a single open cabin that was basically a fibreglass shell. Be Disarming slept four, nominally. But when four people were lying down head-to-head on her plastic cushions, there was no room left at all. Each crew member’s storage space could be measured by his own length, and this he had to share with everything else he possessed; just about feasible in the daytime, provided you were tidy, but at night a distinct challenge, given the presence of the boat’s spare waterproofs etc.... Lockers existed beneath the various foam cushions on which we slept, but in order to get into them one had to remove everything stacked on top of the entire cushion, then the cushion itself, then the little carpet-topped lid that gave access to the damp space below. And the lockers held the ship’s own stores, tools and tins and Tupperware boxes crammed with vegan-approved supplies (the first crew member had been a vegan whose dietary requirements had to be catered for). They were certainly not available for the crew to keep their clothes in, even if the lockers hadn’t had the disconcerting habit of leaving little bits of fluff and decayed GRP all over anything stored therein; I soon learned that plates and pans had to be put back upside down after being washed and dried, if they were not to require cleaning again before being used!
I was going to be living directly out of my rucksack for the foreseeable future. And I could certainly have spared myself the trouble of packing pyjamas: the nearest approach to privacy that was available consisted of wriggling discreetly into clean underwear within the confines of one’s own sleeping bag. Toilet facilities consisted of a Porta-Potti located in the centre of the cabin, right next to my ‘bunk’ (which effectively meant that I was the only one who could use it in the middle of the night if I had to, since anyone else would have to relieve themselves within inches of my face), washing happened on shore or not at all (the water supply was a congested trickle through a gravity-fed hose under the cockpit steps — later discovered to have been blocked for days), and privacy meant avoiding looking at other crew members when you thought they were naked, and assuming that they would do the same by you. The easiest way of describing life aboard, and the one I was to adopt when trying to summarise it for other people later on, was that it was like sharing a floating tent.
On my previous yacht (Violet of Horning) we had saved money by self-catering throughout the week, eking out tinned supplies with an assortment of fresh vegetables from wayside stalls, often the only food to be bought in villages whose post offices and local shops had been transformed into expensive bijou dwellings. I’d brought a book of gas-ring cookery and a few spices and lentils with me on the assumption we would be doing the same here. With all the navigation and sailing to deal with, however, it was apparently planned that we should pop into cafés most times we wanted a meal, and indeed given the severely limited floor space (most of the cabin was occupied by blue plastic seat cushions), and the need to lift the seats to access the various food/equipment lockers, it was hard to cook without banishing everyone else into the cockpit.
Stove facilities consisted of a two-ring cooker and a little grill-pan underneath, the whole being covered by a wooden lid so that the foam pad could be replaced on top when the ‘galley’ was not in use. The stove served the important facility of providing Peter’s morning tea (very strong, brewed with two tea-bags for at least three minutes with water boiling at the moment it was poured on) and proved surprisingly versatile. Washing up, when it happened at all (Peter favoured the quick wipe and salt-water dip technique, although the state of the marina water was often very offputting), involved dismantling the cockpit steps to get at the plastic bowl underneath, which could be taken out and emptied over the side — preferably by someone else sitting outside in the cockpit — when finished, provided you hadn’t put too much water in to lift it safely! Again, this was a procedure that was familiar from life aboard my brother’s narrowboat Clara, still in a state of continuing conversion; but in the absence of the canals’ traditional coal-burning range, hot water for dishes could be obtained, as in Violet, only by boiling a kettle, if you insisted. Sometimes I did insist.
On a less domestic level, the boat is a 22-foot Hurley, a type apparently known for their good seafaring qualities; Peter proudly recounts the story of how she is insured as fit to cross the Channel, although a yacht normally has to be at least 23 feet long to qualify. The insurance underwriters at Lloyds apparently agreed to waive this requirement and back the policy because they knew the class and its reputation: “and if it’s good enough for Lloyds it’s good enough for anybody”.
She is a relatively low-lying boat with less hull height and superstructure than many craft of a similar size: the cabin top is a single glass-fibre moulding painted white and she has a stout wooden post fitted inside in order to reinforce the principal known weakness of the class as originally constructed, the supporting ‘arch’ under the actual mast. A steel pulpit rail at the front shields anyone on the foredeck from being thrown overboard, and further flexible railings are strung all around for the same purpose, providing just enough space to edge sideways along the decks. When rafted up alongside other boats we found it a long way to climb down, and first-time visitors tended to be surprised by the need to execute a quasi-hurdling step in order to raise one’s leg over the level of the guard rail to get aboard; but to the crew this manœuvre soon became routine.
Unlike the period yachts I was used to, Be Disarming hoists a modern rig, with a relatively short boom balanced by a vast ‘Genoa’ jib that equals the mainsail in volume and extends back beyond the shrouds on either side; this has to be physically hauled around the mast rather than just tacking itself backwards and forwards across the foredeck, but due to its relatively baggy cut it can be deployed as a substitute for a spinnaker when the wind comes from directly behind the boat. A sturdy fin keel gives her a relatively deep draught for her size — 3½ feet — and means that she cannot be left to beach upright in a ‘drying-out harbour’, but must have sufficient water to float her when moored. Shortly before the voyage began Peter had in fact propped her up out of the water in Penzance harbour, leaning her upright against the wall in order to careen the weed off her bottom and repaint the red anti-fouling below her waterline: all this completed between the fall and return of a single tide, including the purchase of the paint!
The Hurley’s most notable feature is the mounting of an ‘inboard outboard’ motor in a covered well astern; in effect an ordinary transom-mounted outboard engine but one which is enclosed from the elements within its own little water-nest and does not swivel. A hinged lid allows the helmsman to reach in to change gear from forward to reverse, or to adjust the choke, while the actual throttle grip projects through a round cutaway hole into the cockpit — Peter has in fact modified the original stern to provide extra holes which can be used to manipulate the engine with the cover down, provided you know where your fingers are going. This ‘inboard outboard’ locker adds to the apparent overall length of the boat, and may explain why her accommodations and cockpit seem no larger than those of a nineteen-foot class: a proportion of her hull size is in fact simply the covering for an engine jutting out over the back.... The space down the side of this, however, provides storage for a pair of six-volt batteries to supply the lights, satellite navigation system, echo-sounder etc., and for the water tanks, adapted from a couple of large containers discarded from the local railway station. The boat can carry about forty litres of water; but since the only means of running this off again is via gravity feed through a very small-bore pipe on a level little lower than the tank itself, in practice it is quite hard to use up enough to be in danger of running out.
When the yacht had come into Weymouth harbour that night, it had been after a history of engine trouble. She seemed to have a ‘blind spot’ at a certain point on the throttle where the motor would threaten to cut out, and it had a tendency to give up the ghost if run for long periods out at sea or used for anything other than low-speed manœuvring in harbour. Peter had been directed to use this visitors’ mooring in the outer harbour rather than proceeding into the marina as planned, in the hopes of getting a local chandler to diagnose the problem before proceeding. We were not going to set off today after all.
Initial diagnosis (with “98% certainty”) was of a blockage in the water cooling system, so Peter stripped down the head of the motor — not aided by the discovery that it used Imperial measurements where all his spanners were metric! — to look for the problem. He couldn’t find anything wrong, so he and I eventually had to lift the entire outboard clear from its mountings, up over the decks of the three other yachts moored between us and the shore (respecting the convention that one should always pass around one’s neighbours’ bows in order to afford them privacy), along the ramp off the pontoon, then all the way down the street to the chandler’s, with many rests and starts. Mercifully the chandler’s shop, being an old-fashioned business, had an arm and pulley block projecting over its front entrance, and the engine was thus swayed up ceremoniously to the testing tank on the first floor with minimal further effort.
I’d been alarmed to discover that most of the sharp knives and cooking utensils on the boat sported fresh weeping stains of rust — in particular, the tin-opener — and nobody could find the pan scourer for washing up, so Peter and I went shopping. We acquired fresh veg, scourers and a set of camping cutlery from a ‘pound shop’ to add to the existing cutlery canteen, since we didn’t seem to have as many as three of everything (i.e. for Jon, Peter and myself; Trisha, not fancying the prospect of living four in a boat, had gone back home to Plymouth, where she had joined on impulse literally at an hour’s notice). I sat in the sunlight and set about scouring off the loosest of the rust deposits, a largely fruitless task as Peter had warned; something about the salt water seemed to cause even stainless steel to corrode alarmingly, and I would spend the rest of the voyage sanding down implements before using them, on the decreasing occasions that I could be bothered.
Peter set about refilling the main petrol tank, which brought a new and unwelcome discovery. The breather cap, which admitted air into the tank at one end as fuel was sucked out at the other, had been left tightly screwed down the last time the tank was filled, meaning that petrol could only escape in gasping glugs which could not have been helping the engine performance at all — and worse than that, the vacuum created had actually deformed the plastic sides of the tank, which were now all crushed inwards. It simply didn’t hold so much petrol any more. The only hope he could come up with was that leaving the tank out in the hot sun might just help....
Lunch, for those of us not still full of curry, was taken after a long search for a café considered sufficiently authentic and not too much of a tourist rip-off, and in the afternoon I struck off alone. I’d discovered to my annoyance that slinging my tightly-packed rucksack around had snapped the sunglasses I’d acquired some years earlier, and had been carrying religiously from boat to boat ever since without actually wearing. They’d been a required kit item on my first tall ship voyage, but I’d never sailed in a summer bright enough to wear them — the one time I had needed eye shades, when steering a narrowboat down the Oxford Canal into blinding reflected glare, I’d had to improvise with string and a piece of slit card. Now, when it looked as if I were going to require them for once, they’d cracked across without ever having been used in their entire lives.
A seaside town in summer turned out to be a much better place to buy cheap sunglasses than London in October, however. I was soon suitably equipped from the pound shop (located again after our somewhat meandering route), acquired and wrote the traditional picture postcard home, and went for a paddle — it seemed silly to go to the seaside without, and I had an idea that I wasn’t likely to get much further opportunity. Halfway along the beach, just as I was putting my shoes back on the traditional English seaside rain set in, causing a rather more hasty retreat.
I decided it was time to start self-catering, and broached one of the packets of flavoured couscous to cook with a red pepper to make supper. Had a pleasant talk with our neighbours on the much bigger boat next door: it turns out that the wife is a stained-glass maker with a dim view of the sort of shoddy lamps and stuff they sell in the shops! Her husband promised to make a note of the next weather forecast and leave it on the side of the boat for us.
I leanred from Peter that testing the outboard motor had changed the original verdict. It turned out that, the engine, having been totally dismantled, proved to be suffering from an unsuspected fault: a worn-out impeller, a device like a tiny plastic paddle-wheel which we were told had to be sent for by post and could not be obtained before Saturday. Since the nearest supplier was in fact relatively local, in Christchurch, Peter had the idea of going up there himself by train early the next morning, and obtaining the necessary part as soon as it opened, in order to save a day. In the meantime there was clearly no prospect of leaving on Friday as planned; the chandler flatly refused to let Peter have the engine back in its current condition, saying that he would have to answer for any such action to “the big orange taxi service” — the lifeboat!
Poor Jon, who had been waiting three days to join the boat as it was, was getting rather worried by this stage. He had his advance return ticket booked back from Brighton very early on Monday morning, and it didn’t look as if there was any way we would even reach Southampton in time to guarantee his making that connection.
Peter was rather worried too: he seemed to have lost his debit card....
Peter left for Christchurch very early in the morning to pick up the new impeller, and I took the opportunity to make porridge for the rest of us for breakfast, Peter having previously expressed his distaste for the dish — I’d become accustomed to it myself on Violet, since it required rather less storage space and milk than breakfast cereals. (Peter says it always makes him think of prison; he prefers his oats uncooked, with lashings of sugar.) A mechanic turned up just as we were having breakfast and said that the motor actually needed a new gasket as well: unfortunately Peter had long gone, but the chandler promised to ring ahead to tell the Christchurch supplier on no account to let him leave without it! Peter was gone for some time, since the place apparently didn’t open until later than we thought, so Jon and I went off in different directions.
Having effectively appointed myself ship’s mate in charge of supplies and storage, a somewhat sterotypical female rôle but one which it seemed essential that someone undertake, I bought some more fresh food, including a little pot of cream to go with some very ripe raspberries at lunch-time, and turned out and reorganised the entire food storage system, making a list of what we had actually got and what was kept where. The stores for immediate access were kept in the centre of the boat and less useful stuff was meant to go in the more inaccessible locker, the one right up front under my feet. (Peter had helpfully installed reading lights at the far end of each of these cubby-holes, on the assumption that people would sleep with their heads inside these little tubes; sadly neither I, nor any of the other crew members we had along at various stages, could imagine ever wishing to do so.)
Peter came back for lunch triumphant at having secured his new impeller so that the engine could be refitted by tonight, but morose at having discovered he’d left his debit card in the ticket machine at the station yesterday, where it had been discovered and cut up. He now had no access to that account whatsoever — fortunately he’d managed to get the remaining balance transferred to the residual joint account he held with his wife, but the only way to get a new debit card was to get it posted to his home address back in Penzance and then get someone to go into his house, retrieve it, and send it on to some future port of call, which realistically would probably take a fortnight. Not the best of financial situations.
The afternoon was grey and drizzly, and I absented myself to read lurid fiction in Weymouth Library until closing time. When I got back, the motor had arrived in full working order, much to Peter’s delight; the chandler only charged us for an hour’s labour, although they must have spent overall far longer on it than that. Jon had volunteered to cook pasta for supper (alas, minus Peter’s mouldy, oozing slab of Cheddar, which I had disposed of, much to the owner’s despair — it had already been pretty high when we arrived, and it hadn’t improved over the last couple of days), so we watched the terns diving in the harbour while we waited for the sauce to soften. One bird came up with a fish right next to us. I recognised the species from Norfolk, although I’d never seen them so close; they looked for all the world like short-tailed aquatic swallows.
Leaving Jon behind on the quay to make it to Brighton by train instead, we managed to set out at about 6·30am after endless struggles with the GPS navigational system. I was not over-impressed by what I initially saw of this. Not only was it seemingly incredibly user-unfriendly to set up (judging by the amount of fury Peter vented in its direction) but it caters badly for sailing boats: its whole ethos is based around drawing straight lines from A to B and following the line irrespective of whether this course is the best or easiest point of sailing, or indeed feasible to travel under sail at all. I got the impression that navigating by compass between points on the chart might have been simpler.
I’d assumed that Peter as skipper would want to do most of the steering, but in fact he told me that his idea of an ideal crew was one that could look after the helm while he busied himself with navigation down in the cabin; since I enjoy taking the tiller I was glad to take him at his word, and sailed the boat past St Alban’s Head in glorious morning weather. The coast was clear (for what would be almost the only time on the voyage) and the sun chased patches of colour along the distant cliffs between the clouds in dapples of light. Then, inevitably, I became seasick.
I have always been seasick on the first day at sea, including, most humiliatingly, one occasion in which I was sick while trying to raise sail in a dinghy at anchor in Poole Harbour. Every year I ask the doctor for stronger and stronger prescription-only medication: this time I’d been dosing myself for days already, since I kept thinking we might be about to set off, but powerful motion-sickness tablets have to be taken at least two hours and not more than eight before the journey begins — a bit difficult when woken by an alarm at half past five for a six a.m. start. To make matters worse I kept repeatedly dreaming that I’d woken up and taken them in the night, and could never be certain if I’d really done so or not! I’d compromised by taking another one, and hoping that there was sufficient medication swilling around in my bloodstream to compensate. Apparently there wasn’t.
Serious sea-sickness is about as physically and mentally debilitating as prolonged diarrhoea, and as an ailment has about as attractive an image; with the exception that because you spend most of the time curled or doubled up with your muscles in spasm rather then actually vomiting, it also bears a marked resemblance to malingering. I don’t think Peter suspected me of putting on an act, but I do know that he found my prolonged transformation from helpful crewmate into moaning bundle of misery — punctured by four or five widely separated episodes where my stomach actively attempted to hurl itself over the side of the boat, without much care as to whether it took me in its wake or not — intensely frustrating, as well as profoundly unhelpful. Be Disarming can be sailed single-handed, at a pinch, although preferably not with an excess lump of crew member lying about in the cockpit and refusing to get down into the cabin (with its odours of old socks, plastic upholstery and petrol fumes, the interior of the cabin was not a place I would willingly enter while under way for weeks to come). She cannot be easily tacked single handed, and really cannot be moored to a buoy without an extra person on the foredeck to pick up the mooring.
Fortunately, by the time we reached Studland Bay I was finally beginning to feel better, perhaps helped by the relatively sheltered waters. At any rate, in response to Peter’s repeated and plaintive appeals I was able to focus sufficiently to snare the little float on a passing mooring buoy with our boat-hook, and to haul it on deck, effectively tethering the bow of our boat to the bottom of the bay.
We had been promised a friendly pub on shore, where there were lots of people busy enjoying the beach, but without a tender (small yacht dinghy) we had no means of reaching it. Although the boat did possess a large inflatable packed deep under the cockpit steps, it was of such a size as to be virtually impossible to pump up on board, being larger than the deck area available! Moreover, neither Peter nor myself were particularly strong rowers, and I was still too exhausted to be of much help. Instead Peter tried hailing various small boats with an eye to getting ashore — but while we could have got a lift over to the beach easily enough, finding someone who was prepared to hang around long enough to get us back again was impossible. In the end Peter cooked the dinner himself, conjuring up a three-course meal that started off with tinned soup, featured bean and onion sauce with potatoes (his favourite vegetable), and ended with fruit cocktail — out of one of our tins, naturally! I think he would probably have put me ashore at this point, but there was literally no way to do so, and the next day’s sailing involved starting before dawn in order to catch a favourable tide off the Needles. It must have been with considerable trepidation that he set his mobile phone for a 3·30am alarm call that night....
In fact, I was not sick on Sunday, and would not be incapacitated again for the rest of my time aboard, save for a brief spell when I tried lying down inside the cabin in rough weather with my head ending up lower than my toes. It usually only takes one day for me to adjust, although not a very pleasant one, and normally that’s it; but then normally I’m at sea for most of the ensuing period, with only brief port calls. The onshore/offshore nature of our trip this time meant that I was never entirely sure of my stomach and kept on taking the pills (I actually got the impression that mentholated chewing-gum worked better, and became very superstitious about it!), but sickness never again interfered with my work.
July 20th was probably the best sailing day that we had. We started off before dawn as scheduled, motoring quietly out of Studland Bay at about 4am and feeling our way between the various unlighted yachts at anchor — it was not particularly dark and there was no danger of collision. The wind was almost astern, so initially we set the jib alone in order to run out towards the Isle of Wight. Dawn came up slowly over the sea; my first ever actual dawn, since in towns there are always houses or tall trees in the way, and whenever I’d been on the early morning watch in ships we had been moored with high cliffs to the east or it had been overcast. This one was an almost perfect example, and Peter photographed it. There was only one trouble: I’d always been taught that the day has definitely begun when you can distinguish the colour green from grey (it seems to be the last of the colours to emerge). Out at sea, there literally wasn’t any green to observe — even our clothes were blue or orange!
The GPS gave us our general line of travel, but when various headlands or peninsulas started looming up before us we got more than a little confused. So long as it had been dark, I’d steered towards a visible spot of light that now appeared to be coming from a buoy at the base of a tall cliff. With various rival candidates becoming visible, we couldn’t work out which must be Hurst Point and which the actual island; and where on earth was the Needles lighthouse, which should have been visible for miles around? It didn’t help that Peter and I appeared to have different definitions of the term ‘occulting’ (of a lighthouse or buoy: to have a light that is constantly on but occasionally ‘flashes’ dark, rather than one that sometimes shows bright flashes). It was a long time later (and considerably closer) that we realized that the ‘missing’ Needles lighthouse was the light at the foot of the cliff I’d been steering for in the first place....
It didn’t matter. We were in time for the tide, and with a brisk wind and the Needles flow behind us, we swept past the narrowest part of the channel at what the GPS unit claimed was a speed over the ground of a good 10 miles per hour. From buoy to buoy we sped through the Solent, with hovercraft skimming across ahead at truly incredible speed and an assortment of other transports steaming across our path, from massive giants to the sweetly diminutive and faintly ridiculous Lymington ferry in the distance. We never came close to running afoul of a single one of them, although there was a nasty moment when we altered course to avoid a large freighter travelling towards us, only to see him then turn to head directly into our path as the deep-water channel curved; a radical change of direction took us safely out of danger.
The only real problem came when approaching the restricted channel for commercial traffic into Southampton Water, which yachts by law are supposed to cross only at right angles, and for as brief a period as possible. We were already heading very close to the wind and could not possibly make it without tacking diagonally at least once across the restricted area. Since it was Sunday a vast cloud of other yachts were out, most of them running down Southampton Water with their spinnakers up, but some tacking back up again or running under engine, and few of them displaying any sort of respect for the channel at all; but we decided we ought to stick to regulations and motored directly upwind across into the shallower area to the east, where the big vessels could not go and where we could tack as much as we needed to.
The wind was dead against us now, but there was plenty of it, and more than enough width in which to beat up to Southampton. After the embanked Norfolk rivers, barely wide enough to gain momentum on each tack before spinning around to make the next with maybe six foot to spare, it was a piece of cake: a positive pleasure. Beyond us in the shallows a swarm of little dinghies fluttered, a local sailing club dashing out and back around unseen marks; the catamaran service towed its rolling wash to the Island between the buoys of the deep channel, regular as clockwork; spinnaker-blown yachts came streaming down like blossoms on the wind, scattered all across from shore to shore with heedless abandon, while others lay over under tightly-sheeted canvas and sliced up-channel ahead of us, and a graceful old gaff-rigger turned to sway up wide-sparred wings before spreading her pinions to fly down to the sea. Ahead the channel divided in a mass of high buildings, and a single great bow jutted out from a dock like another wall of steel. Lettering was visible, high up and far back beyond the liner terminal: C U N A R D. Peter took the binoculars and scanned for her name, but our little yacht was too lively and we were sprayed with salt: “Ocean...?”
“Ocean Princess?” I suggested. It sounded plausible, but it wasn’t. We took an extra, short tack under the huge ship’s bow to get a better view, watching a tiny sail zip past ahead of us unheeding, like a butterfly beneath the elephant’s trunk. Then we were close enough, and I took a disbelieving view up at a name I’d never thought to see in real life, let alone ever to see again at Southampton Docks: QUEEN ELIZABETH II. We’d just gone past the QE2.
Tacking drill was almost automatic by now as we beat up the narrowing reach towards the bridge that must mark the entrance to our marina, though I terrified Peter on one occasion by approaching to within fifteen feet or so of the wharf before turning away onto the other tack. The bridge ahead got closer and closer, and I wasn’t at all sure if the mast would go under it; Peter’s radio calls to the marina were giving no reply. He switched to dialling them up on his mobile phone, and got a reassuring reply: yes, they were located just before the bridge, and there was a big notice visible at the entrance... and then there it was, “Ocean Village Marina”, along with the mast of a sailing barge moored just inside. The wind was blowing straight through the gap towards us. Be Disarming pivoted neatly on her heel, glided up, and dropped her sail directly in the mouth of the marina according to regulations. As we motored in to our mooring, it was barely midday. We hadn’t been due in to meet our reception committee before four.
It was very hot, and I was grateful for the shade of my perpetual battered wide-brimmed hat. Unfortunately, my Weymouth sunglasses had bitten the dust already. Invaluable in the low glare of the morning, they had been discarded to hang loose on their cord as the sun rose higher, and unaccustomed as I was to wearing them I’d managed to lean forward onto them at some point and break the hinge. To damage one pair of glasses in a week might be put down to misfortune; to damage two.... In this case, it was at least the traditional weak point, the hinge, that had succumbed, rather than the actual frame. In children’s stories people were always wearing broken glasses taped together with sticky-plaster, so I thought it might be worth a go: I couldn’t bring myself to purchase yet another pair after only a couple of days. (Traditional fabric plasters turned out to work extremely well, due to their ability to stretch slightly. The main trouble was that every time the glasses were actually folded up rather than being left open at an angle, the plastered hinge would come loose again; I tried to minimise this by storing them in amongst my loose clothes, but I got through at least three sets of plasters.)
Ocean Village Marina was clearly a new development, one of those cloistered zones of ‘waterfront’ flats like a Costa Brava hotel strip, and sailing craft were very much in the minority. Ours was undoubtedly the smallest and shabbiest by quite some way; we reckoned the going rate of the vast motor-cruisers on our pontoon was probably in excess of a million pounds apiece, so just by existing we’d knocked tens of thousands off the average price tag... and probably doubled the annual trip mileage! We strung our campaigning banners along the sides of the boat (“£76 Billion for New Nukes — or Zero CO2 Footprint”) and triumphantly lowered the tone of the neighbourhood still further.
The marina also turned out to be right on the fringes of Southampton. The waterside bars didn’t look like very practical places to eat, so we set off (through another abandoned railway terminal, although the rails leading off towards the quays were surprisingly bright) in the quest for a cheap lunch and a nice cup of tea. And we walked... and we walked. (It later transpired that we’d got almost all the way into the town centre on this trip without realising it.) Eventually we came to a bombed church, which had been dedicated as a memorial to the Merchant Navy — pleasing Peter, who had served on board cargo ships in the Far East — and also contained a civic memorial to the crew of the Titanic, confusing me slightly, as for some reason I’d always assumed she’d set off from Liverpool.
Southampton is clearly very proud of its great shipping heritage, which appears again and again as a theme in the décor of places of entertainment, inside and out, or in the guise of grand company names engraved in stone high above offices that have lost their old use or fallen into decay. But in common with many of the seafront towns we were to visit, it gave the impression of falling on hard times. Businesses were boarded up, and the town had turned its back on the ocean: the posh marina was a walled ghetto that made no connection with the streets around. If any passengers set sail these days down Southampton Water for the wide Atlantic and points beyond, it could only be a tiny trickle. (We were told later that the principal industry nowadays is students from the university, who had of course all gone home a week or so previously.)
Appealing to a passer-by for help, we were eventually directed to a Wetherspoon’s pub for emergency food, before dashing back to our boat to meet our reception committee, who had come to welcome the Little Peace Boat into Southampton. I decided I deserved a quick shower in the marina facilities first, which turned out to take longer than I expected, so I missed the actual arrival; but the ‘locals’ were very friendly.
Peter had hoped that there would be some kind of publicity arranged, regional TV coverage or journalists, akin to his arrival in Exmouth (in Weymouth the focus had all been on repairing the boat), but there was nothing definite. We were all bought drinks and it was agreed that we should try to move Be Disarming to a more prominent part of the marina and hoist the sail for a photo-call at 10 or 11am the next morning. Someone produced three large cartons of fruit juice “to boost our vitamin intake”, for which I improvised refrigeration by hanging the bag off the end of the pontoon, half-submerged in water. (I’d used much the same trick — keeping the milk in a saucer of milk with a wet cloth over it to boost evaporation — over hot days in Weymouth, and the milk hadn’t gone off.) Mary Tamini, an old acquaintance of Peter’s, walked us up into town again by another route to the local fast-food district and then recommended a restaurant, Nick’s, where the staff were very kind to us despite our arriving after they had officially closed, and gave us lasagne with huge salads.
Slept late after the pre-dawn start of the night before and then had a scramble to move the boat round to an area of the marina opposite the car-park in time; the area we had been asked to use was already occupied, but men working on a large trip-boat helped us to moor in front of her on a temporary basis, and the marina was sufficiently sheltered for us to be able to raise the sail in safety. The local press failed to show either at 10am (as arranged by one organiser) or 11 (as arranged by another, while the first had us then due to start leafleting in the town centre), but a couple of eager environment activists turned up thanks to Internet notification, so we showed them round the boat instead. Jani was charmed and said she would like to run away to sea with us, but since she was on her day off from the local vegetarian restaurant, settled for inviting us for a meal there that evening instead!
We were now an hour and a half late for the leafleting session that had been arranged at the Bargate (remnant of old city walls), and unsurprisingly, when we got there everyone else had gone home. Instead we were bought a meal in the town centre café, then tried to do some more leafleting; Peter managed to give out almost all the leaflets single-handed! (Everyone else was put off by a street cleaner who complained we were breaking local bylaws: Peter claimed the bylaws were in breach of his human right to express his opinion.)
With our attempts at publicity concluded, all that remained were the domestic tasks. We pumped out the bilges, cleared out the aft lockers to sponge up the water that had accumulated there, filled up the petrol tank (now miraculously re-expanded thanks to the heat) from the spare cans and emptied the porta-potti cassette down the marina toilets; the marina only supplied diesel fuel, so Peter went back into town with the two small petrol cans while I refilled the water tanks and the special fluid for the sanitary cassette. Stowed the new food bought from the on-site mini-Tesco’s (the only supermarket we’d been able to find in the whole area we’d visited so far); Peter had wanted a tin of mince or steak & onions, since we were no longer limited to vegan menus, but all we had been able to find was corned beef and spaghetti bolognese. Sorted out a new set of charts to set up the GPS route for tomorrow — another 4 or 5am start required as the stage to Brighton measures about 57 miles, and we travel at an average of walking pace....
We set off back to the Bargate and then beyond for our long walk to dinner at the vegetarian restaurant, “The Art House”: Peter discovered that he had blisters, thanks no doubt to his plastic slip-ons. Fortunately the building was reasonably straightforward to find, and turned out to be at the near end of a street numbered up one side and down the other! We met other guests on the doorstep and discovered we were to be part of a little dinner-party; one lot had brought Co-op cakes for dessert, which turned out to be particularly tasty. I hadn’t managed to get a souvenir postcard anywhere in Southampton during the course of the day, so bought one of the Art House Gallery’s blank greetings cards to send home.
This habit of mine puzzles Peter enormously: why don’t I just send text messages? (Or keep my mobile switched on so that I can be contacted at all times; he can’t understand my reluctance to spend cash and electricity by using a mobile phone as anything other than a substitute for a public call-box.)
Aided and abetted by her fellow staff, Jani decided that she really would run away to sea with us tomorrow after all, even if it did mean cycling across Southampton in the small hours....
Apparently I talk in my sleep: “I suspected that was so”, as clear as a bell. How very literary of me!
Jani came down to meet us from the café (despite having lost the keys to her own bicycle and having to take the Art House one, which turned out to be scarcely roadworthy; she fell off) and we left circa 5am on our second attempt. On the first one, we first forgot to remove the spring cable as well as the bow and stern warps, and then left behind the electrical connector which was our only means of recharging the boat’s batteries!
The wind was not very strong. We motored out down Southampton Water with a light breeze at our backs and finally set the jib to run out along the Solent. Although she’d behaved well upwind, Be Disarming turned out to sail rather badly downwind, and apparently would not lie head to wind without being driven forcibly into the wind’s eye using the engine; with the Genoa hoisted, the best she could manage was a sort of ‘hove to’ position with the jib backed against the shrouds turning her in one direction and the mainsail and rudder hauling her round the other way. On the Broads, in a dinghy, or aboard a square-rigger, a following wind was a “fair wind”, to be planned for, spread all sail to and taken advantage of. I was completely perplexed by a yacht that only liked to sail on a beam reach or even closer to the wind.
We slipped slowly along the Solent and finally hoisted the mainsail. As we left the shelter of the Isle of Wight, the wind changed southerly and in consequence swung in behind us as a fair wind — which meant a foul wind — again.
An MoD launch paid us a visit and took names all round (he said his previous call had been to a jet-skier who strayed too far out); generally very friendly. He left with a “Give Peace a Chance” sticker, which Peter dared him to stick onto his boat! With hindsight I think he was concerned that we were involved in some direct action campaign against the ‘Navy Days’ that he told us were happening soon, but in our innocence we expressed genuine regret that we weren’t going to be anywhere near the area for what sounded like a pleasant if unknown treat....
The journey remained downwind almost all the way for mile after mile after mile — almost twelve hours of little perceptible progress, with Peter fretting all the way as the water slipped by with the deceptive calmness of a following wind. At Selsey Bill we set both sails and tried to run goose-winged for extra speed, but the course required in order to hold that point of sail was not identical to the sacred GPS line, so we turned upwind to get the jib down again. As usual it jammed on one side against the shrouds, levering the boat’s head inexorably away from the wind again, so I let it out to flap free in front of the mast and it tangled around the forestay, becoming almost impossible to roll up again.
The moment we turned round, of course, it had become obvious that the wind was very much stronger than it had appeared, as it so often is when blowing from behind; the jib was now thrashing wildly and Peter was afraid that it would do itself some physical damage in the process. He struggled up onto the foredeck and wrestled with it furiously while I tried to drive the boat as directly as possible up into the wind using the outboard motor. A large yacht alarmed us by tearing upwind towards us at a tremendous speed on an apparent collision course during these confused gyrations, but it became evident that they had simply come to see if we were in distress. Fortunately Peter had just that moment managed to get the jib under control and yelled for Jani to start pulling it in, so we were able to get back under way without resorting to their help.
As dusk approached that day we were still twelve miles or so off Brighton, which we couldn’t even make out — it would take at least another three or four hours. Peter went to switch on the navigation lights, which show as green and red divided across the bow and white astern, and were last used on our exit from Studland Bay a couple of days before; and it was at this juncture we discovered that the navigation lights had all apparently fused and were not working. We had half an hour’s daylight left to fix them before we would be benighted as an invisible dark shape creeping across a — mercifully — empty sea.
The wind seemed to have slackened, but we were rolling heavily in the following sea. Peter leaned hazardously over the bows checking out the forward lights, then craned over the stern as Jani held the coloured casing. Could the new LED substitute bulbs possibly have anything to do with this?
Peter had served as Electrical Officer aboard merchant ships and I think felt his boat’s failure personally; he stripped down the main fuse panel and tried to establish the fault in the gathering gloom as the boat rolled wildly. There was a sudden fizz, an oath, and a flash. A moment later we realised the whole system had shorted: GPS, radio, bilge pump.... We had no electrics at all.
Much panic later Peter gave up and unearthed a small riding-light, designed to be hauled up the forestay of the yacht at anchor and illuminate automatically from dusk to dawn. It was a tiny little flickering bulb, as dim as a candle flame and seemingly as apt to go out; but at least it would be some warning for any craft bearing down on us through the dark. We drifted on in the dying wind, wallowing through the waves and watching the endless constellations of lights on the shore that marked the built-up South Coast. Which — if any — of them was Brighton, and which were the guiding buoys for which we were to watch out? Out of three or four torches on board, we managed to turn up one working one, and peered at the precious printed-paper charts. The handheld GPS was working, but its backlight went out to conserve battery power after a few seconds, so it was a matter of pointing the boat the right way and guessing.
We finally motored into Brighton at about one am, thankful to have encountered no other boats whatsoever along the way. The buoys we’d been looking for didn’t exist; they were just racing buoys, moved for the season.
Jani and I cooked up some supper over the gasrings, using a packet of the instant couscous and two tins of curry, one from the ship’s stores and one that she had brought with her. Sadly, both varieties of curry turned out to be unexpectedly hot. I tried adding sugar to mine as per one of Peter’s stories, to take away the fiery taste; it did work. But I put too much in, and the result was quite inedible.
Jani and I had got along very well during the day, and I noted down in my log that I found her very pleasant.
Despite the late night the day before we couldn’t afford much of a lie-in, as people were apparently supposed to be coming at 10am to meet us. But nobody from the Brighton groups came, so eventually (after Jani had performed a professional grand wash-up, and the spare curry had been surreptitiously tested on a resident swan, and then decanted into a plastic bag and slipped into the marina’s bins) we located the closest bus stop and arranged to get into the town centre to meet Barnaby, who was arranging publicity for the Brighton leg. At the last minute Peter had to go all the way back for the banners and leaflets, so Jani left alone (she had already taken one day off work to come with us, and really couldn’t afford to hang round further on our leisurely schedule). We caught the next bus but one in to Brighton station and made contact with Barnaby, who took us to a small café on Sydney Street; feeling defiantly non-vegetarian, I ordered ham and eggs for once. Peter and I used our pocket-knives to slit in half the stack of A5 flyers that we’d brought. Then we set out a table under a tree in Sydney St in order to act as a ‘stall’, in evasion of anti-leafleting bylaws akin to those in Southampton.
We were situated in front of an empty shop and thought we would be able to hang our banner on the grille over the windows... but some workmen came out and asked us to move it further down, as they were doing some work inside the shop and it was cutting off their light! We hung it just above table level, and I manned the stall — managing to accost and talk to a grand total of eight people by dint of struggling against the shrinking instincts of every inhibition I’d ever had — while Peter handed out hundreds of leaflets with the mantra “It’s just about Peace”: a chant that makes me cringe, with its overtones of a button-holing religious sect, but his technique is undeniably effective! The owner of the card shop in front of which he was originally standing told him to go away and stop harassing her customers, but an alternative clothing shop further down the road subsequently invited him to take up his stand there, gratifying him greatly.
We visited Barnaby’s Peace & Environment Centre to find out what, if any, publicity was going on, and met Aisha, who had originally been scheduled to join the boat at this point; now neither she nor Barnaby were intending to go, which meant that my services were still required — somewhat to my relief! Then we took the bus back to see Eileen Dafferne, a very sharp ninety-year-old who asked to be remembered to my grandmother. She gave us tea and cake and gave the impression of being an intelligent and interesting lady, although with us all there she didn’t really get much chance to get a word in edgeways; I suspect she could have told us a good deal.
We had met Jo, a local activist, at the bus stop and again up at the station, and she called on Eileen as well; they agreed between them that it was Jo who should give us tea, and she seemed interested in joining us on the boat for a day, despite having no sailing experience. She gave us directions on how to get from Eileen’s house to a meeting at the Cowley Club of people who were planning to go to the climate camp, which Aisha had thought it would be a good opportunity for us to attend. We still managed to miss the building, thanks to assuming that it must be on the opposite side of the road!
It didn’t matter, since the meeting was clearly not the sort that expects to start on time; we were still among the first there. They listened attentively to Peter’s talk, but he was disappointed that none of them had previously heard anything about the project — the whole aim of the voyage had been to build publicity and that side of it didn’t seem to be having much effect. After a few items on the agenda of the meeting proper we slipped out, as we had nothing further to contribute and things were clearly going to go on for a long time.
Jo had told us which bus to catch from the station to her house and Peter decided to do this rather than walking, but it turned out to be quite a long way round to the station entrance from this side. We couldn’t seem to find the bus stop we had arrived at, and the bus we wanted swept past us in the middle of the road as we tried to cross. Peter tried to hail it from where he stood, but naturally enough it took no notice and vanished up the hill as he ran after it angrily. We went on up the hill in the hopes of finding the next stop, but “just round the corner” turned out to be further than he expected, and when the next bus to this stop turned out to be the wrong route, we ended up walking all the way to Jo’s house after all, with Peter fretting every step of the way. Once we’d come up all that way already it wasn’t actually that far, but I think he was already very tired from the heat and the hill.
Our hostess made us a cheesy un-soufflé for supper, followed by a whole watermelon(!), then volunteered definitely to come with us. She also provided fuse wire to help mend the electric system — something we’d been entirely unable to find in shops in Brighton — and supplied a map that confirmed there had been a mix-up over the distance from Brighton to Eastbourne: it was considerably further than Peter had counted on (it was Eastbourne to Hastings that was short). He had to ring back George Farebrother at Eastbourne in a hurry and re-arrange the planned afternoon’s leafleting for the following day.
Jo arrived early and went off to get some breakfast while we finished preparing. Left the marina at 6·25am and tacked up laboriously past Beachy Head — not aided by the fact that Peter’s handheld GPS system (the main one still being out of action due to lack of current) kept insisting that we should take an onshore course! We eventually checked the waypoint coordinates and discovered they were wrong.
One of the jib sheet tracks (the sliding devices that hold the pulleys close to the deck) came out of its fastenings as we thrashed upwind, due to the strain. Peter kept worrying that we wouldn’t have enough wind — in practice, we had more than enough, and had to reef the jib in the end as the boat was lying right over on her sides. There was not much room for three in the cockpit, for whereas the boat had been on an even keel for most of the day that Jani had spent with us and she and Peter had sat on opposite sides, now we were heeling over sharply and Jo could not possibly sit on the downhill side. In the end she had to sit aft of the tiller and I had to hinge it up to let her through every time we tacked — I kept forgetting, but she was very patient about it.
There was some pretty rough water off Beachy Head, and a good deal of it came sluicing down our decks. By comparison, we held a very fast close-hauled courseall the way to Eastbourne once round the headland, although we still had to take an extra tack to reach the marina. We finally made it in at four pm despite Peter’s earlier dire prognostications — as the planned reception had been cancelled (just as well; we were only just hitting the pontoon (rather hard!) at four, and wouldn’t really have wanted an impatiently waiting audience, or the strain of trying to reach harbour by that time) we had a welcome afternoon to dry out and clean everything. A lot of water had been shipped during the voyage, some of it all the way over the cabin roof!
Jo caught a bus into Eastbourne to use her pass back home, the new marina being miles out of town, as usual, and Peter and I combined our clothes for a grand launderette wash. I discovered a split across the seat of my ancient ‘waterproof’ trousers, which explained why I’d got quite so wet.... We crossed the giant car-park to Asda in search of a café (which had just stopped serving hot food, much to Peter’s annoyance), and Peter bought some new bargain-price slip-on shoes there to replace his unlamented plastic ones, now discovered to have a hole in; I left my hat behind on the seat and had to run all the way back from the launderette for it. After this I felt I deserved a shower, and cooked lentil soup — resulting in our finding escaped lentils all over the boat for days afterwards — while Peter tinkered with the electrics until dark.
Our total run from Brighton to Eastbourne against the wind had been circa 20 miles: we drank elderflower champagne (donated along with a bottle of red wine at Weymouth) to celebrate and ate the rest of Jo’s watermelon.
We slept late, and had to hurry to raise the sail before George Farebrother and party arrived. Some video was shot of Peter (they hoped to get it on ‘Meridian’ — local TV?), then we repaired to Asda, where the photos from Peter’s camera were downloaded onto a CD-ROM so that George could send them to the newspapers. Many members of the party had to leave at this point (we were running over schedule as usual), but George and his wife had teacakes in the café with us while waiting for the photos to be done, then departed in turn. No-one remained to help leaflet, so we took the bus into Eastbourne in search of electrical spares instead. Peter tried leaving some of his leaflets with a lady in the Oxfam shop who said that she had heard about us on local radio, then a friendly ironmonger directed us to an electrical wholesalers half a mile out of town, where we got enough cable to span the length of the boat if necessary. We walked the long, hot distance back down to the sea-front and had much-needed icecreams. Then tried to short-cut back to the bus route without returning to the centre of town and got lost; we eventually ended up catching another bus on which my return ticket was not valid, and I had to buy another one (thanks to deregulated buses). Had drinks in the Harvester pub overlooking the lifting bridge into the marina as we were so hot.
While cooking supper (pasta with lentil-left-over, apple and nut sauce) I had a pleasant talk with our neighbours on the pontoon; this marina didn’t seem to have nearly such an exclusive clientele, and they were sailing a ‘Tamar 24’ little larger or smarter than our own yacht, although it had a much higher fixed wooden superstructure. Peter went up to Asda to look for black paint to touch up the scratches across the boat’s name — probably the result of careless boats mooring in Penzance harbour. He didn’t find any, but our neighbours gave him a tube of black sealant which worked very well for the purpose. They also gave us advice on the Medway. Paid exchange visits to one another’s boats; they had two cabins, and rather more floorspace, but Tamzin said she really wanted a separate toilet compartment! A separate compartment of any kind would be nice....
The winds were very light. We motored for a bit until I persuaded Peter to try sailing, but the wind was a long way aft and the results were not nearly exciting enough for him. Eventually we had to motor for a mile before turning to run in to St Leonards and sailing again. Came in under sail and dropped anchor.
Emily rowed out to meet us in a tiny (and leaky) inflatable, and Fiona in a fit of sudden inspiration swam out to the yacht after her. This was fortunate, since one of the oars fell overboard and Fiona had to dive back in and rescue it. But before we could get ashore one of the oars then snapped against the side of the yacht and we had to dismantle the cockpit steps and dig out our own.
We had a soggy ride ashore (I kept bailing out as we went), then had to jump out into the surf and paddle ashore as the boat grounded, in true nautical fashion. An excited reception committee and an enormous vegan lunch were waiting for us on the stony beach, where I ate vast quantities of Iraqi sweets and managed to drip oil from the aubergines on my trousers. I bought a Hastings postcard (Hastings being the other end of this famous beach), then visited an art gallery with Fiona where Alan had a painting on display, where I bought another card to post abroad instead. To my astonishment, as we came up from the beach we were met by the spectacle of a Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railway locomotive disappearing past along the seafront on a low-loader!
Fiona and I saw some video installations, then went back to sit on the promenade until tea-time, reading French magazines. The evening was spent in Emily and Milan Rai’s tall, crowded house, which was very full of things and people (a group of teenagers making a film were staying there as well).
Helped Emily with the washing-up. She offered to lend me a door-key, but I couldn’t manage the lock; it’s like our own front door at home, which has sunk so much on its hinges that it takes a special lift, pull and wiggle to get the key to turn at all.... Peter went to Quaker Meeting and hoped to do some leafleting afterwards; I went down to post the card to my parents, and had a quick look at the yacht to make sure she was all right — we hadn’t been sure about the depth on that anchorage. Then I rang the bell for re-admittance and spent the rest of the day in an orgy of novels and newspapers, having been cut off from the written word for a week! Fiona had decided to volunteer with us for a day in her turn, and was to come out to the boat tonight in preparation for an early start.
Emily rowed us out from shore again, with all parties taking off their shoes in advance this time. Fiona helped by paddling a spare oar over the bows to steer; she had trouble with port and starboard, so we gave directions as “Rye” or “Bexhill” (up and down the coast respectively) instead!
We had to spend some time tidying up the cabin before she could get in, as everything was in chaos as a result of first clearing the bow locker so that the anchor chain could run out, then turning out the storage under the stern to get the oars. Peter complained that I should have written up my log while on shore for the last two days, instead of wasting time doing it now; the boat was tossing around randomly at anchor and I was feeling rather ill as a result, so lay on my back and tried to catch up with the journal entries while Fiona (who seemed wholly unaffected by the motion) helped him plan the GPS route for tomorrow.
The anchor came up at 7·10am, but the wind was once again dead foul for Dover — this unbroken succession of easterlies was beginning to get a bit tiresome. We tacked around without making much progress (Peter’s constant worry and definitely the buzz-word for the day), wasting a lot of time by tacking too far into the bay where there was little wind. The sea was so calm that Peter actually managed to cook us all a delicious omelette under the grill while I held the boat on a special extra-long tack out to sea — quite a contrast to the day with Jo aboard, when we’d all been struggling just to keep the boat upright! Fiona was very friendly but rather ‘New Age’ in her vocabulary/beliefs (“finding yourself”, “growing as a person”). I’m afraid I was rather amused to hear Peter busily debunking theories of astrology, etc., when previous trips had featured him evangelising with equal enthusiasm for conspiracy theories of his own....
The voyage was disturbed by the occurrence of a mysterious clunking noise which appeared to be emanating from somewhere deep in the hull, or almost outside it, as we rolled. It only took place at slow speeds, and despite Peter’s climbing all over the boat, knocking experimentally, we failed to establish the cause. The closest, in my opinion, would have been the mast itself moving in its blocks; but it appeared to be quite solid. Whatever it was, it sounded like something massive tapping against the hull down low.
In the end, due to timetable concerns we finished up motoring straight into the wind for all the remaining distance to Dungeness, by which time (especially as we still had the mainsail hoisted to display our CND symbol) the little engine was really labouring to make any progress against the wind, despite earlier complaints that there was not enough to sail by. It was with some relief that I turned away from the tyranny of the GPS line as we passed the point, and laid the boat over onto her side to harness the force of the wind rather than trying to struggle against it — the acceleration (even if in the ‘wrong’ direction) was instant, and the change in motion, from random lurching and crashing to a purposeful rhythm, a marked improvement.
We tacked steadily most of the way to Dover, despite GPS prognostication of arrival times ranging from half past midnight to five in the morning; Peter managed to fix the forward navigation lights, much to everybody’s relief as the bicycle-style battery back-ups we’d bought really were a bit weedy, and rigged up some tape on the battery-powered rear light to mask it to the correct angle, i.e. visible only from behind and not in front. As dusk fell, we caught sight on the horizon of what looked very much like a three-masted ship with a couple of lower sails set, proceeding westwards down the shipping lane under power (according to the lights she was showing, and the speed she seemed to be making). Everyone had a go at making out more detail using Peter’s big binoculars, but we were rolling too much and it was getting too dark to catch more than a possible glimmer of canvas before she disappeared.
Six miles from Dover, with high clouds dark against the night sky, sheet lightning had now begun to flicker all round the horizon in the weird silence of an electrical storm, broken by the occasional whiplash fork. To our left, twinkling amber lights marked the progress of the coastline, while away to our right red and green specks against blacker bulk laid out the shipping lanes, with the occasional chequer of cabin portholes. Ahead, a white light and a red, flashing and occulting, marked the far distant entrance to Dover Port. And from behind our stern, unobserved, a long, low cloud like an otter or weasel came up on us against the wind: a phenomenon I’d read about in tropical waters but never thought to see.
In a matter of seconds, the wind dropped entirely, then blew up stronger than ever moments later from the opposite direction. It had swung round without warning by 180°, and suddenly we were caught with our sails sheeted tightly, pressing us right over in a wind that came now from dead aft. I got the jib loose and billowing out on the opposite side, ‘goose-winging’ the boat in a manœuvre with which we had yet to achieve any significant success, and we leapt forwards with frightening lack of control, surfing forwards with the jib collapsing and filling as I tried desperately to prevent the mainsail crashing across as well; at this sort of speed it would probably have capsized us or decapitated someone. Several times we found ourselves revolving inadvertently as the wind got round the back of the jib, pressing it against the mast in a leverage impossible to resist. A brief lull gave us the chance to get the mainsail off her, an attempt which should at least reduce the danger, and Peter got it all down in a heap on the cabin roof while I hung on to the steering: there was no way we could turn head to wind with the jib hoisted, let alone with the wind direction so uncertain, but dropping the mainsail with the wind potentially blowing straight up your tail was a pretty risky business.
Peter yelled for Fiona to fetch him the sail ties, needed to bundle up the sail to the boom and stop the wind catching it all out of control; but with no sailing experience she hadn’t the faintest idea what he meant, and I tried urgently to clarify: “red stretchy things... in the drawer to the left...” Fiona disappeared into the cabin as the precious seconds of lull ticked by. Then a hand emerged holding something indistinguishable: “I think I’ve got one of them —”
One wasn’t going to be enough, but it was better than none at all. I grabbed for the disembodied hand, and found, instead of the stout elastic cord I’d expected, what felt like a flimsy piece of knitting with a lump in it. I almost howled as I realized what she’d found in the drawer — red and stretchy all right, but absolutely useless for tying down thrashing canvas. “No, not that, it’s a sea-sickness wristband—!”
Resembling the cuffs of little truncated gloves, the red woollen strips held a single plastic button designed to press on the acupuncture point of the wearer’s wrist and prevent sea-sickness. I’d worn them myself on the day when I had ended by being violently sick, and had zero faith in them as an anti-nausea measure; but they were most certainly not going to help Peter now. I flung myself forward to try to find the vital elastic.
Then the squall came.
Fiona, on the cabin steps, was flung sideways. With my attention distracted, I let the wind get in the jib, lost control, and had time to do no more than yell “Hang on!” The boat swung round in yet another violent turn. And a crash resounding beside me, on the other side of the billowing sail and the boom, betrayed that Peter, still up on the cabin roof when the wind flung the sail he was holding into violent life, had been swept off his feet and knocked headfirst into the cockpit. The oath was violent but cut off.
It was about 270° later before I was able to get the boat on an even keel, release my own deathgrip on the side of the boat, and yell anxiously, and rather guiltily, “Is everyone all right?”
To my great relief, they were. Peter, who had fallen into a fold of the sail rather than onto the cockpit floor, was bruised but not seriously hurt; miraculously, he had not been flung off overboard. The sail was seized upon, tied down, and ruthlessly reduced to insignificance, and the jib was hauled in by main force as the wind came back from its original direction. With the engine going full blast, we struggled on to Dover as the heavens above us burst open; and the rain that had been scattering, on and off, around us suddenly descended in a battering, blinding wall.
If what we had just passed through had been the eye of the typhoon, then this was its outer curtain. In a matter of moments, everything had disappeared: shore, ships, even the red light ahead. I could see nothing, nothing whatsoever but the swinging white beam of the beacon in front of us, formerly lost among the lesser lights of the harbour, now showing its true power as it cut through the storm. The boat was leaping wildly, the bow swinging from side to side, and all I had to steer by was the dimmed globe of that one white light, refracted by the sheer weight of water like a streetlamp in the fog.
It can have lasted no more than ten minutes, surely; I was soaked from the waist down in seconds. No time to put on extra waterproofs (thank goodness I had felt chilled earlier and changed into my stormproof jacket) — no way to risk handing over the helm. Fiona, trapped in socks and flipflops in the cabin, tried frantically to stem the flood pouring in on our possessions: we dared not shut the hatch, for fear the radio or some other piece of equipment might urgently be needed. Peter hailed the dockyard marina a mile or so out and got permission to enter immediately, though we could barely see the green traffic-lights coming on. Just as it seemed we might have to circle round until visibility came back, or else risk hitting the breakwater itself, the rain began to slacken and we crept between the sheltering walls. I was shivering and chilled to the bone.
All was not over yet... quite. After a minor confusion between Fiona and fenders (“Those big squishy things we untied at the start — quickly!”) we were asked to move round into the Granville dock, as we’d come in on a space that would be required by working boats early the next morning. Berth 123 turned out to be at the very end of a pontoon mooring, in the triangular space between the bow of a gigantic cruiser and the walkway under the wall. In the acid orange glow of the harbour floodlights above, we glided very gingerly round the corner, nosed into the vacant space, and... stopped, just as I got the forward warp around a mooring cleat on the ground. It was probably our most perfect landfall of the trip, and for one o’clock in the morning we were pardonably proud.
Since this was the small hours of twenty-first century Britain and not 1930s sailing land, there were no hot baths to be had for hypothermia. I did my best with the push-a-button shower heads in the ‘facilities’ block, which doled out a minute’s worth of meagre rain at a time, while Fiona did her best to dry off clothes under the wall-mounted hand-dryers, with surprising success. My feet were so squishy that it felt like walking around on tubs of jelly, and everything I’d been wearing was soaked below the waist in a bizarrely neat cut-off line, from shirt-tails to trousers. It was sorely tempting to leave our assorted shoes and garments hanging around in the ladies’ overnight in the hopes that they would be dried out by morning, but we decided we’d better not.
Back in the boat, warmed and reasonably dry but still woolly-headed and fumbling, I decided I probably wasn’t hypothermic after all but just plain exhausted: I’d been on the tiller for most of the last fifteen hours under heavy conditions. Anyway, it was time to raid the tins again. We cooked ourselves hot soup and baked beans and mash at 2am, then fell heavily asleep in our soggy bedding, abandoning the washing-up, until awakened by Peter’s mobile phone sounding off for an incoming message at eight the next morning (!)
We woke up to a beautiful view of Dover Castle overhead. It was the sort of day that was absolutely essential after the night before: bright, hot and ideal for drying. We festooned the little boat with wet clothing, cabin cushions, sleeping bags etc. in the warm sun, hoping that the early rays streaming into the interior would help dry off the walls’ damp lining. Fiona and I seized the opportunity to have a good wash-up while Peter wasn’t looking and I took the chance to wash my hair, which I’d carefully avoided showering the night before in the fear that I’d never get it dry before sleeping.
I found a phone box to ring home to see if anything had come up while I was away, and after a lengthy description of all the excitements of the night before managed to let up for long enough to learn that an urgent form had come in the post and needed my signature. Luckily Dover, as a Channel port, must surely have an express service to London, and we’d been planning to take a day off for leafleting here anyhow; I tracked down Peter (who was somewhat preoccupied with the news that the Medway Press reporter who’d said she wanted to come aboard to cover a leg of the voyage was now not going to join until Ramsgate) and begged a day’s leave to go up to London and back. Fiona was leaving too but needed to call in at a café first for breakfast. As it happened, for my part I’d already finished off the nut and raisin mix (which had got extremely wet the night before, with everything floating around inside its little container!) so was able to go straight to the station and walk onto a waiting train — perfect timing. I got home about 2 o’clock and indulged in an orgy of civilisation: home-cooked food, reading the “London Cyclist”, a bath, a visit to the NFT.... My father said rather wistfully that he’d brought back lots of new singing music for me, but we had no time to try it out.
I got back around 22·30 as planned, and discovered that Peter had changed his SIM card in the interim and hadn’t received any of the text messages I’d sent him about when I’d be back! Fortunately he came back to the boat soon after I did — I’d assumed, finding him absent, that he must be sleeping on shore. He brought the news that Pam Brivio’s husband was to join us tomorrow.
David Brivio turned up in the morning with a ham & chicken pie — he was rather taken aback to discover that there was no coolbox aboard. (Also no power winches, no automatic steering etc... the sort of boat he’d been used to racing practically sailed herself, by the sounds of it!)
We had a very disappointing sail due to almost total lack of wind, coupled to the requirement for precision when negotiating the Goodwin Sands. In the end we motored more or less the whole way from Dover to Ramsgate, with Peter down below wrestling with the GPS system as we passed waypoints one by one as fast as he could set them up — then ended up hanging around outside the breakwater for fifteen minutes while the cross-channel ferry prepared to leave. Her departure was “imminent” as we arrived; five minutes later, with lorries visibly still driving aboard at the rear, it was still “imminent”!
After arrival we attempted to heat up the pie under the grill, but predictably ended up eating it cold with a charred top. My suggestion had been to remove the piecrust and heat up the contents separately in a saucepan, which wouldn’t have worked either (too solid). We tried to fill up the water tanks, but found there were no hoses to be had at all in this marina due to concerns about pollution from standing water (even back at Dover they’d had notices telling people to let the hose run for thirty seconds before using it) — you had to collect the official hosepipe fron the marina office.
We saw David off on the bus then came back to the boat to retrieve some leaflets, though it was a long walk and we’d been in half a mind not to bother; it was just as well, since we discovered that Peter had left his wallet behind in the marina office while paying! Outside the harbour master’s I bought yet another pair of £1 sunglasses (this time on offer With Free Case) on the grounds that these ones had metal frames and would therefore be more resistant to breakage. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realized they had rather small John-Lennon-style lenses and would let in the sun-glare all around the edges, fine for looking ‘cool’ but possibly not very practical at sea; still, at least these ones shouldn’t get in the way of the brim of my sunhat, and the hat/glasses combination together should be sufficient enough.
Peter spent a long time on the phone trying to get his text messages diverted from his new SIM to his old mobile number along with his phone calls; after endless explanations and waits through the menu system, he discovered that in fact the messages already had been transferred. It was just that the process took up to 24 hours, as advertised, and the fact that part of the transfer appeared to have taken place straight away didn’t mean that all the parts would complete at the same time.... After this we really didn’t feel like leafleting, so went for a long circular walk through Ramsgate until it was time for tea, calling in at the chandler’s (where we failed to buy any new track for the jib sheet blocks), an ice-cream parlour (where we shared a Knickerbocker Glory), a Belgian bar (where Peter spilt his drink while getting out a leaflet to give the barmaid), the bandstand (where a group were playing retro rock) and a Waitrose (where we bought evaporated milk, Duchy Originals bread (reduced), lots of chocolate, oat-cakes and fruit & nut mixture).
Two men in a small boat came in and moored beside us in what was obviously their routine spot, as they’d left their mooring lines there — it was lucky we didn’t take it when the dock master moved us down to the small craft end of the pontoon from our original, broader mooring. They gave us a couple of mackerel “for supper”, but I fancied fish & chips, so hung the mackerel off the end of the boat in a bag to keep them cool.
We admired the historic ships of the Marine Museum’s collection, including a 1928 gaff cutter that bore a strong resemblance to the yachts on the Broads, and bought pollack & chips (very meaty) on the quay front while Peter rang round everyone he could think of to celebrate our progress, and to warn them that they wouldn’t recognise the number flashing up on their mobile screens — a concept foreign to me! He rang Jani in Southampton and made the mistake of passing the phone over to me, whereupon we talked for 25 minutes on her phone bill (he thought it was over an hour). She has planning inspectors coming to check the Art House Gallery tomorrow, but we had a giggle together over how impatient Peter was becoming (well, it was his phone...) I do like Jani.
Peter hung out various of his clothes to try to dry them, but the weather seemed too humid to offer much chance.
Met a man from a yacht named Dhimsa (an 18-footer, about the same size cockpit and cabin as ours but without the extra outboard enclosure) who expressed approval of the boat’s name and banner slogans. I went to have a look at his own yacht — he was planning to try to scrub some of the weed off her — and admired his home-made boathook: fitted from a fallen sycamore branch.
Peter spent a long time negotiating with various branches of his mobile phone company to switch off his ‘voicemail’ option, and eventually got through to talk to a human being by selecting the ‘quit contract’ option on their menu system! I went up into town to buy myself a postcard and find a replacement for the shirt that got accidentally left at home on Tuesday (took one for washing, wore one, changed after my bath and came home with only one fresh shirt, the one on my back). Ramsgate seems to have an incredible number of charity shops, but alas, most of them were busy putting out their ‘summer’ stock: short sleeves, lots of frills, high midriff, and no good whatsoever for keeping the sun off while sailing. I visited about eight different shops up and down town, and came back with the £1 shirt with the stain from the shop I first tried — none of the rest had anything better.... Meanwhile Peter had cleared the blockage in the water feed pipe (water had been coming out very slowly and rather yellow; it was now rather better than at any time since I first joined) and started working out the course for tomorrow.
I volunteered to “pop out” to get some butter, but none could be found short of Waitrose; I did come across four more charity shops, the Post Office and the Fire Station along the way, though.... We grilled the mackerel with bread and butter for a grand fishy lunch (and fishy wash-up — it took me two kettles of hot water!) and broached David Brivio’s apple & blackcurrant tart for afters. Peter went to fill up the spare petrol cans, and I put on my lightweight new shirt (saving the older, thicker, in-need-of-washing one for sailing on open waters tomorrow) and set about entering waypoints into the GPS for the next voyage. When Peter came back, I took my chance to visit the Ramsgate Marine Museum, but stupidly forgot to take any money with me. It was such a long way round the marina that I didn’t have time to come back for cash and then return before last admissions, so instead I sat down to enter the waypoints into the hand GPS unit as well.
We tidied up in a hurry for the visiting reporter (the woman who had originally said she wanted to come on the next leg of the trip with us had apparently now pulled out without letting Peter know, but this other man was to visit us at dock and photograph us instead), at which point it promptly began to rain. This would otherwise have been very welcome after a swelteringly hot day, but did make recording the interview rather cramped and more than a little dripped-on! (Several of the elusive leaks in the cabin that Fiona had reported became evident during this period....) In the end Peter had to answer questions again while posing outside the boat after the downpour had passed, but the opportunity for rehearsal was probably a good thing. I’m afraid the interview will have had to have been extremely heavily cut to fit a two-minute slot on local radio, though.
We repaired to the local Chinese restaurant, where we were the only customers all evening — I couldn’t help worrying if they were managing to make a living on a single Set Meal for 2 all night. The starters were very delicate and tasty (I particularly enjoyed the roll-your-own duck pancakes), but the main dishes were rather too reminiscent of cheap Chinese takeaway for my taste — the same flavours, just not so crude, which I suppose is what one would expect!
The wind got up as forecast during the night and made hideous howling noises in the rigging of neighbouring yachts. We rose at 5am as planned nonetheless, and decided that beyond the harbour wall it didn’t actually look all that rough — probably a fine sailing wind. We took in a reef just in case and were perturbed to discover that the battery-charger had gone down to the bottom of its display overnight and triggered the circuit-breaker on shore in the process: oh no, not faulty electrics again? Still, the actual battery showed a high charge and all the instruments were working, so we set off.
Got confused as to the direction of the exit when motoring out of the marina and ended up trying to turn round in a dead end. A cross-wind caught us and pressed us against the moored boats — my wrist got trapped and momentarily crushed as I tried to fend off from the bow. When we finally managed to get out of the marina Peter asked if we should go back and get my wrist seen to, but I didn’t fancy repeating the struggle in reverse, so took a pain-killer from the boat’s first-aid kit, thrust the injured arm into the breast of my coat Napoleon-fashion, and carried on working one-handed for the moment, although I warned him that I probably wouldn’t be up to much rope-hauling today. We set the jib and ran downwind as far as Broadstairs, then furled it to go head to wind and tried to motor round to get the mainsail up.
It was at this point that we found the engine kept cutting out, and the rudder unexpectedly jammed every time we tried motoring at high speeds — I could only move it through one quadrant at a time, which resulted in some rather rapid circling. Obviously we would have to go back into port, as we could not possibly hope to complete the Medway end of the journey without reliable use of the engine; but it became apparent that we simply could not make headway back upwind over the tidal current under power. It seemed to me that thanks to the strong wind, sailing the boat against it back to harbour under our reefed mainsail should be possible; but without the use of the motor it becomes all but impossible to get Be Disarming to go head to wind. It is not absolutely out of the question to raise the mainsail under such conditions, but it is extremely hard work to haul the sail up the mast with the wind catching and filling it before it can rise.
With the wind streaming across the boat, Peter fought to get the mainsail up its track, winning inch by inch on the winch-handle to no apparent avail, and then a sudden rush as the boat rocked and the pressure spilled on the sail. As soon as the peak began to draw, distorted as it was, I had some vestige of control; we were sailing, and we could turn. Just a little up to windward was enough to make the difference, and as the sail flapped again Peter gained another foot or so. Painstakingly we achieved a crippled rig, the eyelets at the throat tied down roughly where we’d failed to bind them down when reefing that morning, and then tried to let out a portion of the jib. But the jib was only roller-reefed — rolled up around its stay — and the wind tore it out of furl and billowed it out beyond control. We had to try to tack with a giant Genoa and reefed mainsail, a thoroughly unbalanced rig that kept trying to pull our nose round and head downwind, and it was all I could do to hold her with one hand.
But it was undoubtedly working. We were racing up-wind against the tide, harnessing its power to drive us on instead of being blown back by it, and the red and green buoys that marked the entrance of the deep-water channel back into Ramsgate were approaching at really quite an alarming speed. So long as the motor was not running, we could manœuvre just fine.
There was no longer any question of calling for the lifeboat. Tacking up against the tide, we proceeded to rescue ourselves, Peter calling ahead to warn the port authorities that we had suffered engine and steering problems and would require permission to enter the harbour under sail — Ramsgate, mercifully, being one of our few ports of call that actually permitted this. On the final approach a current began to sweep me upwind against the breakwater and I had to bear away and finally run almost downwind to compensate; but the wind was in a perfect quarter to allow for this. And it took a little of the strain off the jib and allowed us to furl it enough to lose some speed (!)
In the shelter between the inner and outer breakwaters we revolved round a time or two and got the sail off her; at low revs the motor seemed to be behaving all right for the moment, so we chugged back into the marina as the dock master came out to help in a powerful open boat. We were directed to moor alongside in the nearer, exposed eastern marina rather than round the tight bend in the western marina where we had been before. But at the last minute we were unable to reverse fast enough and ended up shooting off at an angle and going soundly aground in the middle of the harbour — frankly, a reassuringly solid refuge after the preceding half hour, although Peter didn’t see it quite that way.
We were towed off safely by the dock master, who assisted us to moor, along with the crew of the unfortunate Belgian boat into which we had narrowly missed crashing. They were very concerned by the appearance of my injured wrist (which had now swollen up around the cuff of my sailing glove, and was an ugly, dangling colour) and advised us to take it for X-ray to the nearest hospital — at Margate. As I’d always intended to get it to a doctor as soon as we made landfall, this seemed like a very good idea.
The bus to Margate turned out to leave from the familiar junction across the harbour, although from our new pontoon we had to walk all round the fishing boats to reach it — this was clearly the working portion of the dock, where the larger commercial vessels berthed. We were ten minutes too early for Peter’s bus pass to be valid, and had to scrape up the fare between us; amazingly, it was still only about nine in the morning, as we’d set sail at six. On the route out of Ramsgate, somewhat to my indignation, we were treated to the sight of a neat range of buildings with the clearly-carved legend ‘RAMSGATE GENERAL HOSPITAL’... but no longer, all too evidently, functioning. The medical facilities of the neighbourhood had been transformed into a desirable and doubtless exclusive set of residences.
As walking wounded, however, I was seen very rapidly at the Margate hospital — the nurse said she didn’t think there were any broken bones present as I could rotate the wrist on request, despite discomfort, but her colleague pointed out that I was under pain-killers at the time.... An X-ray revealed that the protruding head of a major arm bone was crushed: 6 weeks in a cast and no more sailing, even if Peter could get his rudder mended. (He had diagnosed the problem as being the tip of the rudder coming detached and fouling the back of the outboard — which surged forward against the boat when running at high speeds. We did wonder if this could possibly have been the source of the weird knocking noises we’d heard en route to Dover?) I tried to let Peter know the doctors’ verdict but he had disappeared from the waiting-room; he was busy phoning the vending machine company to complain because his tea had come out of the machine as milk and hot water!
With a temporary cast duly applied, copies of the X-rays and all notes made, and Peter returned with a fresh cup of tea, I phoned home to warn my family, but only got my little brother who asked if I expected him to come and fetch me or what; I asked him to let my father know when he came in from work. We got the bus back to Ramsgate, where the yacht was now bouncing around alarmingly on her exposed moorings and had scraped her paintwork on the pontoon. Peter tried to tighten the mooring warps, and to negotiate with the dock master to get her lifted out for repair.
Feeling very hungry all of a sudden, we finished up the apple and blackcurrant tart with the tin of evaporated milk, and Peter helped me pack my rucksack. Then it was all over: I caught the bus out to Ramsgate station which we had passed already that morning on the way to the hospital — it is miles out of town — and said farewell to Peter, the climate camp voyage, and Be Disarming. As honourable wounded, I had my discharge from the ship’s service.
I rang up Peter to see how the boat was getting on, and gathered that he’d been up with her all night, having leaned her up against a wall to catch low tide at midnight and get a good look at her rudder as the water ebbed and left her aground. It seems the rudder itself is perfectly sound; the problem was with the mounting of the outboard motor, which had worked loose and allowed it to surge up into the path of the rudder when under strain.
He reported that he had managed to recruit two more crew members from London to take up the challenge — so the Little Peace Boat would shortly sail again....
Peter Le Mare reached the Climate Camp safely, and despite an eventful return voyage made it back to Penzance harbour on September 13th, 2008.
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