I have written very little about sailing this season. I took the boat out for the sixth time this year last Friday, and I hope to have a nice little outing tomorrow in spite of being promised 100 % cloud cover. The late spring has made for quite bitter conditions and care taken not to capsize or stay out for too long. I was frustrated to see the winter conditions persevering as they were until mid-April.
Up in the north of England, just before I went to the ACC Synod in London and my reception in Canterbury, I found the grass was still straw coloured from the relentless north-east wind that had been blowing since mid-March and the time when we were getting blizzards of snow. It was probably whilst walking up the Helm (one of my favourite childhood walks) with my brother that I badly bruised my left foot.
My foot is still aching a little bit now and then, but it survived hauling the boat up the pebbled beach just below the slipway! I’m an impatient so-and-so, and my father always used to say I liked “sailing close to the wind“. Now, the metaphor has become literal! I still limp a bit when going downstairs, but it’s getting better. No sense in feeling sorry for oneself!
The last couple of times sailing on the English Channel off the French coast, the breeze was quite fresh at some 12 to 15 knots and the sea was lively. Dinghy sailing teaches you to cope with waves and take them on a little off the wave direction. Too far off and the wave will roll you over, too little and the wave can lift your bow so far up that the boat falls astern and broaches. Both accidents can cause a broken mast and injury – so we have to be careful. As I would face a wave, my whole face would be splashed with bitterly cold water. It calls for the British stiff upper lip and our courage as navigators!
On my first time out this year, during the last Conclave in Rome, I took the boat to the port of Saint Valéry en Caux, as I described in Towards the Unknown. The port is too narrow, and if you are facing the wind and have no engine, you’re stumped unless a man in a boat has the kindness of heart to give a tow. Launching from a beach and landing on a beach are more easily controlled, but you have to watch it when surfing in on a wave – keep your weight well astern and make sure the centreboard and rudder are up. If you dig your bow in, the boat will broach and you can end up with a roll-over and broken mast. It also helps not to beach at high tide unless the waves are not too big!
Spring has finally arrived, and after a cold but sunny weekend, we are going to get some warmer days as we approach May. A “shortie” is much more comfortable than a full wetsuit, and I love sailing with bare feet (which has been impossible until now) – just as I play the organ barefooted rather than wear shoes. There’s a certain sense of freedom that goes with sailing entirely on the wind and sea.
Since last season, I bought a new mainsail, which can be reefed and made the necessary modifications to the rig (notably to keep the gaff close to the mast to enable the sail to set properly). I bought new stainless steel standing rigging, and the mast is much more rigid when I close-haul to the wind. I am much less likely to de-mast at sea. My gaff is joined down the middle with glue, and this came undone last Friday as I beached the boat. I took the gaff home and re-glued it, adding stainless steel screws – so that is again as good as new.
I have also attached a piece of elastic from one side to the other of the stern, allowing me to lash the helm when I heave-to. This enables the sailor to have two hands free for reefing and setting the sails and for bailing out the gallons of water that get into the boat. I really ought to buy self bailers! Another goal this year is a portable waterproof VHF, essential for safety for which a cell phone is no reliable substitute. Another is to get some fishing tackle so that I can catch a few mackerel this summer.
So it gets better every year.