Friction between land and sea
As skippers and crews look back on the season, fondly or ruefully, there will be the usual memories for the journal. About wild seas and flat ones, coastlines, harbour walls, mooring embarrassments, jokes, singalongs, breakages, meals to remember or to forget, bitter lessons learned about the new spinnaker, and all that.
But alongside the actual cruising there may be memories of crew-changes. Of frustrations, chaotic moments, desperate Googling and unwelcome costs. Any skipper lucky (or old, or rich) enough to cruise a long season will already be groaning in sympathy with that sentiment. We love the sea because it is an entirely different world to the land, and runs by its own rules without a road or railway line in its vast expanse. But this means that its junctions with the more predictable terra-firma are not as numerous or easy to get at as one would always like. So to offload one crewmate and pick up another, especially when hobbled by diaries, requires close planning, and safe harbours for the inevitable irritating wait.
Paul sailed round Iceland this year, and seems to have spent long days hanging around in townlets with unpronounceable names, waiting for the next hand to turn up by way of two airports and a bus. Myself, I joined the new ship Prolific, to celebrate its acquisition by the peerlessly amiable and intrepid Ocean Youth Trust South. We were taking her to the start of the Tall Ships, where she would get her youth crew. From a grand launch event under Tower Bridge we went downriver, round the corner to Harwich and across to Den Helder. There I had to leave: train, bus, ferry, and bingo! I was back in Harwich. Barring one rather embarrassing glitch (a tip: Hoek is nowhere near the Hoek van Holland, ignore that bus) it went well.
Other attempts at joining and leaving have been more fraught: ask anyone. Sometimes it is straightforward – off the train and down to the quay – but not always, especially if the weather changes everyone’ plans. In my own pierhead- jumping career I have had some bracing moments. Waiting three days on São Miguel, blagging hotel room extensions while Paul, on the AZAB edged painfully through deep calms towards it. Years earlier, money running out, I hitched a breakneck jeep ride to Grantley Adams airport on Barbados when there was a rumour of standby tickets.
Even more recently there have been a few odd interfaces between land and sea, though once you are old enough to throw money at problems it gets easier. I have trekked through huge container ports looking for one tall ship, and when leaving another early for work reasons I waded ashore and walked across much of Sark in squelching boots, dragging a bag and feeling rather too little confidence about where the ferry actually went from. I have puzzled my way through Norwegian and Danish bus timetables, and can draw you a sketch map of where to find shady cafés when stuck in Cascais. As I write, I am trying to work out how to get to the Farne Islands, hoping that Wild Song gets there at the same time.
As for skippers’ frustrations, they are plenty. You take trouble to anchor off Paignton because there’s a station, but your absentminded crew overshoots, dozing after a heavy night out, and rings up baffled from Penzance. Get galebound up a snicket of Brandon Bay, and your crew frets because there’s a cheap flight booked provided he can get the afternoon Dingle to Cork bus to catch it. But you’re damned if you attempt to round the headland in this wind.
Or, less exotically, you have to put in to Ramsgate and miss a tide and a fair wind because Dave has a sudden job interview. Enough, a skipper might mutter, to turn anyone into a singlehander!
‘ We love the sea because it is an entirely different world’