Monday, 14 April 2014

Unexpected dramas

I'm lying flat on my back in the starboard aft cabin, feeling the rumble of the boat's engine and listening to the flogging sheets being brought to heel. Outside the door Antonia is preparing cup-a-soups for the hungry crew upstairs. Avaret, steady and stable for the past ten minutes suddenly heels to the starboard followed by a sharp roll to port. The stove and kettle are pivoted and the scolding liquid stays where it is as its cook emits a note of alarm and grabs for the nearest fixed piece of furniture. Before long hot beverages are being passed through the cockpit once more as the passage continues.

It's the first leg of our trip around the lochs and islands of the Clyde and we are motoring up Loch Long a little way behind the lead boat, the wind having died after its earlier exertions. It isn't the way we wanted to arrive at Loch Goil Head, but it is better than bobbing about with nothing to power the sails. The route north from Largs was relatively simple in theory, and Chris, our Skipper, was confident that the sheltered nature of the Firth would protect us from the worst of the waves currently battering the area around the Mull of Kintyre. Gaps between islands and mainland promentaries combined with sudden gusts of wind conspired however to provide us with a somewhat bumpier ride than anticipated.

Keen to take some photographs to chart our journey, I had descended into the saloon with Antonia as the island of Great Cumbrae drifted away behind us. Perching on the sofa as she checked the kettle, which had seemingly been boiling since we pushed away from our berth at Largs. The healing, welcomed at first as an exciting addition to the day's journey, was increasing in severity and attempts to check the water temperature and hurry its progress proved futile. Noting a trickle of water from the heads she staggered to her left, grasping for the door handle whilst searching for something a little more solid. The water source undetected, focus returned to the promised coffee just as another gust struck, causing both of us to sprawl backwards across the lounge furniture, with me trying desperately to kick the toilet door shut as it swung wildly, threatening to break something.

We cane for adventure and we certainly seemed to be getting it. Up on deck Roger a former civil engineering diver and my cabin Nate? Was battling with the wheel. A tighter than intended mainsail was forcing the bow upwind, and it was taking much of his strength to hold us on a steady line. Though the course was relatively straight our path wove its way through the waves leaving behind a serpentine wake.

Also up top, George, Emma and Mark were enjoying the ride. As Roger called out each increase in speed-over-land a cry of exhilaration would ring out, encouraging us ever forward, ever faster.

Chris had deliberately entreated the visually impaired members of the crew to enjoy the journey for a bit whilst he got used to handling the boat, a new one for him despite his considerable experience. Liam, probably the most experienced on yachts aside from our sighted crewmates, was at least able to handle the jib sheets.

Four feet below I was starting to feel queasy. I've never experienced sea sickness before but the impending sense of doom which frequently accompanies a dancing stomach compelled me to hand back a mug of water, requested seconds before, and lie back on the sofa. As the yacht continued its somewhat erratic progress towards Loch Long I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing, wishing the sickness away.

Squeezed between my own large holdall and Roger's belongings, which face each other across the no man's land of our shared mattress, I'm beginning to feel a little better. I may not yet be able to stomach any proper food but a few tiny pieces of dried fruit, stowed in my coat pocket for emergency use, are giving me a much needed energy boost.

Having lain on the saloon sofa for a nautical mile or so, eyes shut and ears only just registering the sounds from outside, disparate tracks of wind, chatter, instructions and mechanics mixed into a single inelegant piece, I stumbled my way to the cabin, slamming the door slightly too hard, and throwing myself at the bed. This space, somehow reminiscent of the tiny bathroom in a modest house, stretches the notion of bedrooms somewhat. An area just within the door threshold serves as bag store and welcome mat, with a double mattress stretching aft beyond, partly covered to the right by the overhanging cockpit floor. Lying here now I listen to the water flowing past outside, and try to block out the engine. The horizontal position has eased my nautiousness though every time I raise my head, contemplating joining the others outside, the giddiness returns.

Then, without warning, Avacet is bowled over, granting the gift of flight to unstowed objects in every part and emptying a bowl of washing water straight into the fridge. We're turning fast and sharply, uninteligible shouts coming from above, and then an equally severe roll to port finishes the task of scattering utensils, food and nautical charts about the saloon. Another turn follows, shattering for good my internal compass which had hitherto done a not so bad job of keeping track of our progress.

Stability restored we continue our carbon guzzeling way towards the head of the loch.

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