December 2010

Year 0 Facts & Figures

You start out with luck and no experience and hope to get the experience before the luck runs out

popular sailing proverb

With first year drawing to a close, I felt its time for a little summary of the journey to date. And yes, since everybody from the Arabs to the Catholics have come to enjoy their own calendar, this year shall henceforth be known as year 0 of the age of the Republic.

Journey facts:

Months lived aboard: 9
Distance covered: 265 nm
Countries: 3
Ports: 5
Crew members: 5
Uniforms on board: 4
Incidents of sea sickness: 2
Worst hangover: Blankenberge
Best party: Brighton
Belgian waffles consumed: Lots and lots!

Engine failures: 2
MOBs: 0
Max wind: 6 bf
Min wind: 0 bf (duh!)

This photo was taken from Cherbourg castle when MS Queen Elizabeth visited Cherbourg the other day - monster is just visible in the Port de Plaisance below.

We've had a rather soft landing in Cherbourg; the winter rates are comparatively affordable, and I soon found myself some party friends in the form of a crew of international English teachers on Couchsurfing. Not that helpful for immersing self with the Frenchies of course.

Cherbourg facts

Boat projects started: 3 (macerator (shit) pump, bilge pump #2, pressurised water sys)
Boat projects completed: 0
Local friends: 5
French skills: Still pathetic
Parties thrown: 1
Parties attended: 2
Oysters to date: 42

Have a good winter solstice and a happy new year! :)

Hibernating in Oysterville

Ich glaube, jeder Mensch lebt sein eigenes Leben und stirbt seinen eigenen Tod, das glaub' ich.

Jens Peter Jacobsen

I was once again rewarded by an oddly satisfying sense of achievement for having made it to Cherbourg. I guess all that responsibility-bearing stress on what is after all a fairly insane mission culminates in this sense of "it may have been absurd, but at least we survived to tell the tale".

Perhaps a bit like the people who partook in and survived that other famous amphibious invasion.. Ok, ok, we weren't greeted by Nazi armies, but do note the Allies did their landing in mid-summer!

Having arrived in the morning, we slept all day Friday, went out for a few lagers at night, and decided to set off for Guernsey at 0300 Sunday, aiming for Brest or Saint-Malo as an end to my tour with Gebard.

It was still internationally freezing, and I had heard that England was enjoying it's annual stint of full-blown snow chaos. My slight hint of schadenfreude was immediately rewarded when I woke up on Saturday with a sense of something being deeply wrong.

The freezing temperatures and a quick glance out of the captain's cabin portholes confirmed that it had indeed been snowing quite a bit.

Shock horror - snow on deck is NOT my idea of fun.. It brings up snowsport feelings really. I could just see myself sitting around in thawing sludge for hours on end.

We spent Saturday walking around talking about doing pre-departure preparations before somehow settling back into the same bar as the night before. We then mutually agreed that any further sailing under these conditions would not be a good idea at all.

I am now holed up at Cherbourg for the next few months, doing some work on my bits and pieces and hopefully polishing up my pathetic French a bit. There's a bit of a snowstorm raging outside as I'm writing this.

Not all is bad, wine and cheese are much more affordable than in Brighton. In difference to English cheese, they are not all some variation of cheddar either. The local fish shop sells No3 Oysters at EUR 9.50 for two dozen. I have also found a gym, located a bar with good music, and gotten the Internet going. Simple things hey :)

I will be assembling a crew for departure towards Spain in spring - I will send an email around to interested parties. Do keep an eye on the crewing section also.

Third mall from the sun

I spent two long weeks on the guest pontoon at Brighton marina, which is famously known to be a bit of an overpriced dump. Around it, there are "a large Asda supermarket and two groups of boutique shops, restaurants and bars, plus a hotel, a bowling alley, a health club, a casino, and a multiplex cinema with a multi-storey car-park built over and around it", plus "several gated communities consisting of townhouses and apartments" (thanks wikipedia!). The long and short of it being, I was suddenly living in the middle of some type of mall environment, a constant reminder of the late capitalist quagmire Bill Hicks referred to as the "Third Mall from the Sun".

In spite of the lack of organic community, I set out using my tried and tested participative anthropology method, joined the local "david lloyd" gym on a trial, ate asda chickens every day, and sampled all the real ales that were on offer at the local wetherspoon pub in the scope of a CAMRA-sanctioned real ale festival. They actually gave me a t-shirt for my troubles. I was the only true local in my local; most liveaboards were apparently huddled up around the Eberspacher diesel heater I can't afford.

I only went to town on the odd occasion, and depressingly, I had become a stranger in my very own former stomping ground. Luckily I some friends from elsewhere in the country came to lend me their company (thanks Danielle H, Becky C, MJ, James G and Clive!).

Two severe gales, a rebuild of my sprayhood and various miscellaneous repairs later, I was ready to move on. Rescue came forth in the form of Gebard, who flew in from Germany to give me a hand - he also took most of the photos on here. Thanks Gebard! On the night before his arrival however, temperatures crashed by 10° from an autumnlike 12° to their lowest level at this time of year ever. It started snowing in the north of the UK that very night, and when I nearly slipped due to ice on the dock that morning, I knew we were in for a treat.

Coming out of the shower that day, I overheard someone shouting "you saved my life mate"; I then almost choked on my sigh of outrage at this hyperbolic phrase when an entirely wet and very cold looking man entered the toilets. Incredulously, I stared and asked stupidly "did you ACTUALLY fall in?". Apparently he did, and now I know why marina staff wear life-vests on the docks.

Since conditions were quite good (NE 5-6, no gale warnings, not snowing - yet, tidal arrows hopefully pointed the correct way for a change) we left Brighton at 1430, as soon as my co-sailor arrived. Since it got dark soon after that, there are no photos, but rest assured it was a long and harsh night. We spent hours once again meandering around the traffic separation scheme, doing good speeds under sails.

After we had negotiated the traffic, I settled into the first night shift. Since it was overcast, it was a cold, moonless, pitch black night, but when the moon did come out occasionally, the silvery reflections on the water around monster actually gave the whole ordeal something of a poetic dimension.

Sitting around in the cockpit on my own, there was plenty of space for melancholic contemplation. A faint memory popped up from the pubescent years. Yes, I had been to Normandy before, on a school exchange many moons ago. We visited some island off the coast and I found myself sitting there all alone with a local girl, someone's exchange partner. I wish I could say I did anything other than babble nervously until she initiated what would be what the Angloamericans call a French kiss - my first, in France, with a French girl, whose name has been long forgotten.

In spite of not being on top form, Gebard did a heroic shift from 1230 to 0430, waking me up with the magical words "land sighted". I sent him off to bed and spent the remaining leg shivering and humming in turns.

I set the Frenchie guest flag at sunrise, marvelling at this pathetic bit of evidence that I had moved on, survived the cold, and, best of all, that we were nearly there.

The wind died down right in front of the outer Cherbourg breakwater, so there was no motoring apart from the docking maneuvres - great!

20 hours, 85 sm, and countless Belgian waffles later, we entered Cherbourg marina.