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.

Land of a thousand toothless smiles

After arrival in Dover, I started troubleshooting the engine. It turns out the water separator filter was totally stuffed with algae from the tank. I'm inclined to blame the Belgian uniforms again - having had the red diesel pumped out there, I only took a 100 litres of expensive white diesel in, as I was planning to once again fill my tank with red diesel in the UK.

Sounds like a big ironic joke, only it turned out to be one with a nasty side effect: What little fuel there was had been sloshing around in the near-empty tank, and together with the full steam ahead motoring around the traffic separation scheme, I had sucked most of the dirt out of my tank and into my diesel filter. So I started my search around town for alternator belts (can never have enough of those) and "Baldwin" diesel filters; sadly neither was readily available in the chandlery or car parts shops.

I have to say Dover is much prettier coming from the sea; when driving down to the ferry, you just see some ugly dual lane infrastructure going down to the concrete ferry port. Approaching from below, you get to see the white cliffs, the castle and a charming looking town (appearances can deceive observer at safe distance as it turns out).

Walking around this 30 thousand inhabitant village I was quite shocked by the amount of toothless faces, even the kids with kids (teenage mums) seemed to be younger and chubbier than anywhere else I'd seen in my long years of inhabiting the island. I decided that this was also due to sailing across from the continent - the normal transitional scene of an airport or eurostar train station to prepare one for the shock was totally absent.

The next day my co-sailor Ernst informed me that his pain levels were just too high to go on (bad hip). This was rather bad news of course, as I can't really dock monster on my own yet, and I don't fancy single-handing her anyway really. So I started some serious online research for diesel filters and crew, and luckily I was successful on both counts. I also got some data on Dover, apparently its got some of the highest child poverty rates in the UK (and its not just the children!).

The first potential crew member I found on the ybw forums sadly had to cancel only hours later due to a mishap (broken ankle), so the journey was off again. Having by then spent a week in "charmin" Dover, I was actually quite keen to move on to my old stomping ground of Brighton. As in really really keen. Luckily a replacement quickly came forth in the form of Colin - thanks Colin!

I spent the Friday getting the boat from liveaboard mode into sailing mode, and decided to go out for some traditional Friday night ales regardless of market conditions - I was actually more scared than partying around Rio and wasn't sure if I was going to survive. But survive I did, and our envisaged 0800 departure was once again on.

Turns out we got up needlessly early as the petrol station attendant was out ferrying some anglers around. I didn't mind hanging around as I expected us to reach Brighton at night anyhow. Got 200 litres of red diesel and had a good giggle at a neighbouring yachtie, who, having insisted complaining to the petrol station guy about his absence, got referred to as a "snob". He was a bit of a textbook snob actually.

We made it out to sea eventually, and were greeted by some nasty old swell that didn't combine all too well with the traditional Saturday hangover. So we started motoring into a knot or possibly more of oncoming current - the forecast 4 bf had not materialised yet again. I don't want to be at sea when they err by 4 bf into the wrong direction for a change..

My co-sailor Colin turned out to be excellent company. He put on a brave face when we were bopping around in the swell, always kept an alert lookout for lobster pots and landmarks, and did the first watch, allowing me to catch up on my badly needed beauty sleep (and sober up a bit).

I spent a fair amount of the journey at the bow to escape the horrible diesel noise, dreaming of endless trade winds and heat and bikinis and barefoot sailing.. I just hate motoring, I really do. We got pulled over by uniforms at Dungeness again (allegedly we were in the military training zone, but we weren't really). At least they weren't looking for Euros so I didn't mind them too much. Had a giggle at the implausible location of the power station built on sand (shingle actually).

The engine decided to pack up again at some stage, so following a brief adrenaline rush down I went to change the pre-filter again. I wonder how many GBP 10 filters it takes to clean out a 600 litre tank..

We finally made it to Beachy Head at night, which I later heard referred to as the Cape Horn of Brighton; its not just one of the most popular and scenic suicide spots in Britain, and separates the Coast Guard area Dover from the Solent, it also hosts the strongest currents of the entire area. My co-sailor Colin had mentioned something about spring tides, but we had inadvertently omitted the chartlet for beachy head during our careful (ehem) reading of the Reeds.

The long and short of it being, we spent the best part of 2 hours motoring full pelt into 2.5+ knots of current. I was constantly worried about my filter situation of course. Once past Beachy Head the currents lessened and eventually seemed to turn favourable, and we actually ran into some wind strong enough to give us 6-7 kn under sails along the coast towards Brighton. It all turned out nicely again!

When we finally entered Brighton in the dark around 2400, the gearbox decided to pack up, so I had to perform the docking manoeuvre with the two options of full speed ahead and full speed reverse.. Luckily I could still force the engine into the gears, otherwise it would have been yet another tug job, and Marcus the harbour master was there to give us a hand. The docking manoeuvre was followed by the mandatory docking ales in Brighton city centre.

I will be in Brighton for a while attending to my various problems and preparing for the journey to Brittany. Its good to be back home.

[Photos courtesy of my co-sailor Colin - thanks!]