Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Maiden Voyage

 Miraculously today was the first day of our voyage! 

It seems like it has been days – weeks – months and even years of preparation.  These past few months  in particular we celebrated ‘electronics Easter’ where we spent the entire weekend installing the new radar, chart plotter, and an active radar reflector, all very important navigational equipment which involved re-running wires through the boat, and disassembling the ceiling entirely.  This was followed by ‘royal wedding windlass weekend’ where we celebrated the union of Prince William and Catherine Middleton by working on the windlass (which powers the anchor up and down).
Neil has been off for the past month working on the boat, where as I commenced my work free summer just last week.  My first day off, last Wednesday, was a glorious day.   The sun was shining, and I could just imagine the comments of my co-workers thinking I was out on the deck of the boat in a hammock sipping gin and tonics and reading a novel.  As it turned out being out of the office was a heck of a lot of work!  Neil and I were running around frantically making last minute preparations on the boat and making it hospitable for out of town guests scheduled to arrive on Thursday.  We were frantically trying to turn the floating construction zone into a semi-functional bed and breakfast for guests.  While at one point the stress of getting it all prepared led Neil to request I produce an excel based project plan for the entire situation, in the end we soldiered through without - which is entirely against my nature.  This past week I couldn’t help but think that if Nancy (my glorious, long suffering assistant) were here to help, things would be running a lot more smoothly.  In the end the visit was wonderful, but when the guests arrived – having navigated Heathrow quicker than normal – we arrived at the boat earlier than expected only to find Neil and the marina staff still working to get the mast lifted back onto the boat.  The first two hours of their visit to London was spent:
1.      Aghast at how they were possibly going to live together for two days in such a small space;
2.      Wondering if the mast re-assembly went wrong what shambles of the boat would be left to camp on.

We had a wonderful visit with our fortunately very understanding Aunt and Uncle who graciously sipped wine while we frantically smoothed epoxy on odd parts of the boat, and worked to reinstall the bow roller at 7 in the morning.  We were able to squeeze in lots of touring of the city, and we hope show them a pretty good (if not unique) view of life in London. 

This Monday, after returning from a quick trip up North to return a car lent by Neil’s lovely parents (how great are our families!!) we decided that we could be in London for days and weeks completing last minute preparations on the boat if we let ourselves.  Perhaps it was London fatigue, or the feeling of being so nearly on our way, but so hopelessly far away, but we decided that we would hurriedly complete the necessities get on our way, and leave the nice-to-haves for a bit later.  As such, yesterday was a marathon session.   We started early getting the pulpit back together (the front bit of the boat that keeps us from falling out for you non-boaties), and making sure the guard wires were tensioned (things on the side that keep us from falling out).  We re-assembled the boom (the bottom bit that holds the sails on), and put up the sails once again – re-rigging every line with care to ensure sails could go in and out with ease.  We ensured that the lights on the mast that Neil re-wired were working (important for navigation and being seen when at anchor and at Sea).  We defrosted the refrigerator which would undoubtedly thaw considerably when at anchor or under sail, and worked on stowing tools and various different pieces so that they wouldn’t fly around during our first passage.  We returned borrowed books to the library, filled up spare cans of fuels, made a last minute stop at the local sports store, and finally at 9pm made it to the local grocery store for ‘last minute’ provisions – all the fresh and perishable food we might want, snacks for when we are sailing, and of course wine and diet coke at a reasonable price so we aren’t entirely ripped off by convenience store prices.  By 10 loaded down with groceries we staggered into a local Chinese restaurant we have frequented over the years as we have been too exhausted to cook after long days of boat maintenance.  Over the years we have appeared there in various states – covered in sawdust, or skin tinted blue with antifouling desperate for beer and nourishment after working tirelessly until sunlight was gone.  Last night however must have been one of the strangest.  We came by hopeful that they might still be open, loaded with various different carts and bags of food and provisions.  We pleaded with them to allow us to pile our things in the corner and have a quick meal.  Ever obliging they allowed us to park our bags in the corner, and we settled in for a quick but fabulous feast.
This morning we arose at 5:30 (ok – I got up at 5:30 and was successful at luring Neil out of bed with a cup of tea at 6).  We topped up the water tanks, stowed all of the last minute bits, took off the power cable, got the engine running, and set off to leave the Marina.  We made it through the marina locks without drama.  Neil – ever the stud – navigated the tricky turns with ease, which gave me confidence for the journey ahead.  The morning was beautiful – and leaving London affords fabulous views of the city.  As we were leaving we saw people on their way to the office, going about their normal day, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of smug satisfaction.  Finally all of the hard work was coming to fruition and we were on our way.  The journey initially was relatively smooth – the chart plotter makes navigating the river a dream.  As we discovered last summer the Thames is quite shallow in places, it’s a major shipping channel with big boats speeding through, and various different danger markers, and the rising and falling tides add additional complexity.  While we had our paper charts out to check buoys and confirm we were where we thought within the river – it makes the checks less panicked, and the ride smoother when you are not constantly trying to view paper charts through the wind and spray.  We traveled today by motor only.  Our destination being the mouth of the Thames.  We had booked in with another marina to do some of those additional bits, one of which is getting our rigging tension looked over by an expert.  As we have removed and repositioned the mass ourselves, we felt that getting the tension looked over by an expert might be best before we start putting the pressure of the wind and sails on it!
At about noon the wind started picking up higher than any of the forecasts predicted.  Like any good sailors we had mapped out various different ‘emergency exit routes’ if things got to hairy.  While the weather wasn’t dangerous by any stretch of the imagination, the wind kicked up, a little rain started, and the spray of the wind against tide splashing over us soaked Neil and I a couple of times.  As such we took a detour into one of the little inlets where we stayed last year and could easily pick up a mooring buoy. Arriving at around 2 in Queenborough we made some quick lunch followed by a nap.  And so here we are in the Medway enjoying being in open water instead of in a marina. 
Since I started getting into sailing everyone has always talked about sitting on a buoy or at an anchorage waiting out a storm.  They talk about all of the glorious dead time where they plowed through tons of novels, or learned to make fresh bread in the pressure cooker, or watched back to back movies.  In the past year there hasn’t been a lot of time for any of that.  Between preparing the boat, planning a wedding, keeping down two full time jobs, and generally living life it feels like the world has been spinning faster than ever.  However today, even though we are just hours outside of London we agreed that the last leg of the journey into the marina where we can do more work can wait until the morning.  Tonight, even though the skies have cleared up and the water is a bit calmer we are going to practice waiting out the storm.  The bags full of groceries have been unpacked just enough to find the latest indulgent novels, and we are sitting back just watching the world go by.  Soon we will open the cupboards packed full of provisions for just this occasion, and pull the bottle out of the ‘freezer compartment’ in the refrigerator that is perfectly wine bottle shaped, and enjoy the first evening of our trip.  We might not have come far, but at last the waiting is over and the journey has begun…

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