There is almost never a moment these days when I can sail our boats quietly and peacefully just for the sheer joy of sailing.
For the past ten years all of my sailing has been characterised by a necessity to be somewhere quickly whether it is a delivery or a race or a voyage from A to B- even when you are working on a superyacht and the owner just wants to relax and lie back the crew are far from chilled themselves as they are still very work tending to the the yacht. It’s a long way indeed from some of my very first experiences of sailing. As many of you will know I began sailing relatively late- I was 18 when I first worked on board a tall ship in Hong Kong and although I had sailed with my dad many times on his little 24′ Westerley Nomad in the Uk I had only once taken the boat out alone. In Hong Kong however I found a little 27′ Folkboat (think 1960’s, wooden, long keel, sloop rigged, overnight cabin arrangements, inboard diesel, leaky as a sieve) that was sitting very forlornly at a mooring with a foot (no joke) of barnacles on her bottom, an inoperable heap of rust cluttering up the water-logged engine area, UV damaged sails, timbers so dry above the waterline you could see between them and the name “Sarabande” on the stern.
For any of us that have worked on wooden boats this had all the hallmarks of ‘stay well clear’ but being 18 I saw only one thing- potential. I did a deal with the owner that I would do the work if I could then use the boat freely (of course I didn’t buy it I was 18 not mental) and suddenly I was a boater. I worked every hour I could spare on that boat- I rebuilt the engine, sewed and patched the sails, tidied the interior, re rigged the deck hardware as a learnt more from my workplace on the tall ship, scraped the bottom and re-antifouled it and generally made it look presentable and more importantly sail able. I didn’t care about speed, I didn’t care about the finer details of aesthetics and for a year I sailed that boat all over Hong Kong for the sheer pleasure of the pursuit. I rammed docks, I narrowly missed rocks and freighters, I got lost in fog (or was it smog) and ran around and not a few times aground all in the name of learning the ropes and had one hell of a time doing it. I remember my greatest delight was to set her up on an fine reach on the way back from the yacht club bar get her balanced and sailing by her self then pull in the dinghy I towed behind and climb in with a beer and watch the trail of light the phosphorescence left in the water as she sailed herself home. Was it safe, absolutely not, would I do it now- no way but was it fun? You bet your life and so very different from the kind of sailing I do now that it is hard to believe it is the same part of the same story.
Why do I mention this? Well I haven’t been riding in the dinghy behind Challenger but about ten days ago I had to bring Challenger back from Halifax to Indian Point (about 20nm) and stupidly had not filled the diesel tanks thinking I would just sail back and do it later. A mistake because once I cleared Halifax harbour the wind died and I raised 20nm was going to be a real hassle to achieve given the fact that the sun was already going down. Seeing the writing on the wall I called Kathie and told her I was going to heave to for a few hours get some sleep then set off when the wind picked up in the early hours of the morning. I tacked the jib, set the radar guard zone, AiS alarm, turned on the active echo radar transmission detector, put all the deck lights on and turned in for a little sleep as Challenger drifted at 0.5 knots about 10Nm off Chester. At about 0400 (having kept my normal 20min asleep /1 awake routine to maintain watch) I tacked the jib back and set off on a sail that would be the most perfect conclusion to our first season I could possibly imagine.
The wind was perfect, 10 knots and a fine reach towards Indian Point, the temperature was perfect needing only a thin fleece to keep me warm, the sea was as flat as a mill pond and scenery was astounding. I wrote in the last blog that I have never really seen the coastline of Nova Scotia as it is always fog bound when I am making my way from A to B well the guy upstairs must be subscribed to our email list because this time WOW did I get the show. If you haven’t seen how beautiful the South Shore is go online and look up the islands in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia- then please immediately forget everything you’ve seen and do not book a holiday here or you’ll mess it up for us locals, anyway the point is sailing through that scenery at day-break, in those conditions was a truly magical experience. I had a huge grin on my face for the 2 hours it took to make the passage like some fool with a flip-top head. Just like being back on Sarabande I took joy just in watching the scene slide by and the equilibrium of forces present in sailing that equally turn either an old leaky folkboat or a new Kevlar race machine into a magic carpet ride. The fact that I was able to navigate the boat under full sail though the islands and narrow channels of Mahone Bay right up to her mooring in front of our house was a rare gift that I took great pleasure in and will remember for a long time.