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Interlude - memories of cruising long ago

This letter appeared in the June 2005 edition of "Cruising" the magazine of the Cruising Association. It recalls some cruising incidents from long, long ago.

Sir,

"Ancient Mariner's" account in the April issue of drying out in Maïca reminds me of my own drying out experiences in the same boat. At the time she was on loan to the Island Cruising Club, then at the height of its reputation and an important part of the community in Salcombe. A few years before Maïca had been the boat to beat in RORC Class III and those of us with a modicum of sporting spirit thought of her as the pride of the fleet. Our skipper, a retired officer from one of the services yacht clubs, was being tried out as a potential skipper of the big boats, Hoshi and Provident. We felt we cut a bit of a dash as we beat smartly down the harbour from our mooring in The Bag at Sunday lunchtime. At the same time the Club's hard driving and irascible commodore was at the Marine Hotel entertaining the town council to important cocktails. It was therefore rather disappointing that we should touch bottom on a rapidly falling tide in Smalls Cove, immediately opposite the hotel. The water fell away and we were left completely high and dry on clean sharp sand for the rest of the afternoon.

The frantic efforts to get off, before we finally acknowledged our ignominious fate, triggered a recurrence of my slipped disc problem and I spent the sunny afternoon sitting on the beach with my back against a rock feeling rather sorry for myself, although probably not half as sore as the poor skipper. The enforced rest in the sunshine was not entirely without stress. We could not help glancing nervously towards the hotel; the only consolation being that we were just out of earshot. Then again the wind was piping up and none of us had ever seen a boat lying down in this attitude before. Common sense told us that if she went slowly down she should float back up OK, but Maïca was a relatively narrow boat with a rather deep keel….. Of course she bounced back up with the tide and away we went towards the Channel Islands.

Conditions were rather rough and at 0300, off watch and tucked securely into my narrow sea berth, my back was giving me terrible gyp every twenty minutes as I turned over to puke into the bucket wedged alongside. I was wondering whether cruising was really what I liked doing best when there was piercing scream from the cockpit. Absolutely spine chilling. Surely the end of our world was nigh? Had the terrible kraken burst alongside from the fathomless deep? No, the cook, who was steering, had been frightened by an extra-large wave. The skipper appeared down below. "Er, Barry, would you mind taking an extra trick on the helm?" With much stiffening of the upper lip and invocation of Club Spirit I struggled painfully into oilskins, muddled my way into a tangled harness and crawled on deck to grasp the tiller. This turned out to be the making of me because the added responsibility and the need to concentrate hard made me forget my physical and psychological troubles, and by the morning my back and seasickness were a lot better.

We enjoyed the rest of our cruise, including drying out in more orthodox fashion in Jersey, and returned to Salcombe in good order. I thought it was something of a privilege to be able to take my holidays in such a wonderful boat. Unfortunately for our skipper things did not work out too well. He was never invited to take charge again.

Barry Wilmshurst - JJ Moon

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