Unbelievably we’d won!
We’d stuffed even the Royal Navy’s entry in the Cowes to StMalo race, one of the off-shore qualifiers for the Fastnet race and couldn’t fucking well believe it! During the night the wind had gone very light, disappeared, really. Everyone but us had decided to kedge; one after another the anchor lights came on, twinkling their giveaway signal; whereas we’d carried on working the boat, trimming the sails, not making use of any real wind, but capitalising on something called tidal wind.
What, you may be wondering, is tidal wind?
A sail doesn’t give a toss where wind comes from, or how it’s generated; a sail will provide drive and power regardless, as long as air flows over its surfaces. The tide is a lump of water about 1m high that’s dragged around the planet by the moon. In the Channel, massive tidal heights are caused by the funneling effect of the shape of the Channel. To a boat, this huge surge of water is flowing, like a river, the boat being shoved along in the direction of the water flow. Therefore there is air flowing over the sail. Therefore you can trim the sail and make it work. Therefore the boat will go through the water, not just be pushed around by it.
Admittedly in this case we were still going backwards, as were all the boats that had dropped their kedge; but the significant point is that we were going backwards at a slower rate than everyone else because we hadn’t stopped sailing. Get it? Nothing if not educational, these blogs, are they, dear and lovely reader?
And when the sun rose, the breeze kicked in, we plopped out of the lee of some island or other before anyone else due to our expertise at using tidal wind, and we caught the breeze before anyone else romped home with the silverware!
Ashley the skipper got very drunk and was still not compos mentis when presented with the trophy by the great and the good of StMalo yacht club. We won’t be asked back, I’m sure, and Ashley was still not really with us when we departed that ancient, fine and noble port by the massive lock and was shortly seen leaning over the stern, the feeding the fish with his supper of moules marinere as we headed homeward bound. Not a particularly strong stomach as he got puke on the transom. Tch, calls himself a Yachtmaster...
There was an absolute horror show on deck late that night as a squall came through and shredded the lightweight spinnaker; in the way of these things, by the time we’d got it all under control and remnants of fabric stowed below, and various halyards, sheets and guys unknitted, the wind had dropped to less than F1, so we stuck the motor on. Drone drone drone drone and the VHF crackled into life. One of the other yachts we were in company with had run out of oil, their engine had stopped, had we any spare?
Sure, no problem and we slung our spare oil pot at them. Drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone ... an engine is auxilliary power on a sailing boat and total garbage for propulsion really.
Breakfast on deck, a cloudless blue brilliant sky. The Needles off the western entrance to the Solent looked stunningly luminous off to starboard. Drone drone drone dro...
... the silence was so loud we didn’t notice it at first. Fuck it! Our engine had packed up. Head down into the compartment, thrashing around, spanners, tools, bleed the bleeder, hand pump the fuel... no oil.
Where’s the spare?
Providence was with us, or so we thought... we still had way on and drifted over to a motor launch that was just sat there, basking in the early morning sun. Got any oil spare? Sure, have ours! No, no just some, we don’t want it all! It’s OK, they reassured, they were just going into Lymington.
Drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone drone oh so bloody tedious as we headed eastward towards Cowes.
Drone drone drone dro...
... the silence was so loud we didn’t notice it at first. Fuck it! Our engine had packed up AGAIN! Only this time we were in the shipping lanes and a pilot boat was coming out of Southampton Water... followed by one of those rather large container vessels. There was still no wind, a 10 billion tonne cargo vessel was approaching and we were right across its path; we were supposed to not be anywhere inside 1000m directly in front of this sucker and we were well inside that, the pilot vessel was starting to get stroppy with us while half the crew had their head down into the compartment, thrashing around, spanners, tools, bleed the bleeder, hand pump the fuel...
There was only one source of motive power.
And only one way of getting that power into the water.
The paddles from the dingy.
So there we were, Hawaii 5-O style, paddling a 36ft yacht with two paddles, in the Mecca of yachtdom, in view of the Royal Yacht Squadron, overseen by an unbelieving, eyes starting, increasing agitated if not angry pilot vessel, with a monstrous mountain of steel bearing down on us, in what for them is a tiny narrow stream...
It was a blocked fuel pump, but by the time we’d sussed that we were out of the shipping lane, thank goodness.
We blamed the French fuelling birth we’d used for supplying dirty diesel, though somehow we didn’t think this sort of thing would have happened to the Royal Navy’s yacht.
But fuck it, we’d beaten them anyways.