Monday, 31 August 2009

Captain, My Captain

I need to post one last but most deserved article about the man who made last week possible and without whom we could not have had such an amazing adventure.

My husband, Marc, showed us the way and kept us safe. He steered. He navigated. He winched. He demonstrated tremendous patience with us of less experience. He explained (sometimes numerous times) the finer art of sailing. He referenced tide tables again and again. He checked the weather forecast endlessly.

Mostly he kept us safe. And he did a fine job.

I am so proud of my husband. I am proud he is my husband. And my Captain.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Gale Force 8

I have a shirt which says "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but a gale force 8 excites me." What was I thinking?

Arriving in Lymington made me feel like we were home safe and sound. The showers were amazing and made me feel like a new person. I jut wanted to stay right there. I had neglected to give even the slightest consideration to the fact that we still had to get to our home marina in Gosport which was still a 3 hour sail away.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning and breakfasted on land at Vanilla Pod in Lymington, highly recommended although the service was a bit slow. The American Breakfast was superb. Bit of a shame though when the fressh squeezed oj machine broke down. We did some shopping at the T&G shop which is closing down and snagged a few bargains. We were delaying our departure hoping that the wind would die down a bit. It just wasn't happening.

So at 12:30 we set off down the channel. It got worse as we headed out of the marina. The Isle of Wight ferries were being blown sideways and with our engine full on we could barely move south. But once we turned east the wind was over our stern and with the tide's assistance we were moving at a clip.

We couldn't let the sails up because it was blowing a gale force 8. Seriously! Never mind! We still did 8 knots through the water although 3 of that was tide. We had a brief rain storm just before we turned into Portsmouth harbour but I took the children below deck and we stayed nice and dry.

Unpacking the boat was tedious and we had massively over catered particularly since we didn't eat during a couple entire days due to illness. We arrived back home last night 7:30 and got take away pizza and pasta.

My legs are still wobbling and rooms sway if I stand still for long. Marc says it will be several days before my body adjusts back to normal. My face is sun/wind burned despite sun block and little exposure to the sun. I have bruises in odd places and my manicure is ruined (although I only broke one nail during the entire trip and that was in Lymington Marina)!

My sense of accomplishment and pride is soaring. I am so proud of myself and my family and our friends. You see the character of a person when all is stripped away and I can't imagine there being a group of individuals that would have made a better crew or companions. We laughed and very briefly had a few tears. But mostly we laughed. At the situation, at each other, at ourselves.

Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Back into UK Waters

As I watch the sun rise over Lymington Marina I reflect over the sailing trip this past week. For the very first time I sailed where the horizon had no land in sight in any direction. Water surrounded me for 360 degrees. It was a strange and lonely feeling....I wouldn't want to be there for long. What an amazing adventure!

Hurricane Bill had left us wind swept just sitting in the marina all day on Wednesday. Any plans to sail to Saint Vaast were completely scuppered as the wind whipped through the marina and not a single boat departed.

We took the opportunity to walk around Cherbourg and enjoyed a glorious lunch at Cafe du Theatre. I wanted a goat's cheese salad and an omelette but no matter how much I tried to tell the waiter that I did indeed want 2 main courses he was not going to bring it to me. In my really poor French and in his unbelievably persistent French (he spoke NO English) I relented and enjoyed a really large salad. Boy, was I glad he was adamant. I headed back to the boat for a nap with Sebastian and the others went for a wonder round the supermarket.

Sebastian and I got a wee bit way layed by a gorgeous yacht, Northern Child. She looked divine and we just wanted to have a nose about. We met Lucy, the 1st mate, asked permission to board and a long chat with her and the Skipper about what it's like to live on a boat 9 months of the year sailing all over the world. They are headed for St Barts over the next 45 days. Don't think I'll be doing that anytime soon but it was fascinating.

We departed Cherbourg Marina in the pitch darkness that is 4:00 am. Neither Marc nor I have ever sailed in the dark and the feelings of dread had moved into my stomach. My body was in knots from being so tense with the anticipation of a miserable return sail. Every sway and gust I clenched my jaw and closed my eyes. It is scary in the dark at sea. Duh! We had given both Abigail and Kerry dosages of sea sickness medication in the hopes that we would minimise the extracurricular over the side activity. It worked in that it meant that Abigail slept for nearly 6 hours of the journey. We just had to keep her propped upright.

Soon the sun began to rise and France drifted away on the horizon. The wind blew a manageable Force 3-4 over the stern and we had a comfortable run all the way back to England. I was thrilled to see the Needles of the Isle of Wight on our bow.

Sebastian had a brief moment of sickness over the side but this was due to eating the entire family size bag of Doritos I handed him. Since I was paying more attention to sailing than what he was eating he ate the entire bag. We even managed to have a few cups of tea and some lovingly prepared sandwiches during the trip. The only fatality was our carafe of perfectly pre-prepared tea. A gust of wind hit the boat just as I was returning from the galley and knocked it into the chart table. It shattered and I'm afraid we didn't get a single cup from it! Never mind.

On the trip over I was amazed (and mildly disappointed) that we saw very few (6) ships in the shipping lanes. It just didn't live up to its billing as the busiest shipping lanes in the world. I had visions of spaghetti junction on the M6 in Birmingham. Not only that but we didn't see a single yacht on the way over. Maybe they knew something we didn't. But on the way back we saw loads of ships in the lanes in both directions although we only had to slightly alter course once to avoid one. Our top speed for the day was 8.16 knots and there were very few white caps (salt surfers, as Seb calls them) out on the waters. The waves were completely manageable. We also saw several yachts sailing pretty much the same bearings we were on. Some were smaller than us and we sailed away from them. Others were bigger (and motoring) so they overtook us. One thing about sailing is that it is a lonely activity but also a close quarter activity. It's you and your mates and that's it. You better have great mates.

We were lucky. We had the best mates in the world. Eddie is an ancient mariner. He was in the Royal Navy and has done a few Atlantic crossings so we were in safe hands although I started to get worried each time he knocked his head on the hatch over the companionway. You would think he would learn after the first time. He is nearly 70 years old so we'll forgive him this time.

Kerry was brilliant in helping me out with the children. Whenever we were tacking or jibing or vomiting she was hanging on to the children and just making sure they stayed out of the way and were safe. She kept Abigail warm for much of the journey and we couldn't have done it without her. She even steered for a bit and managed a tack. And you should see that woman use a winch. Once she figured out which direction the sheet needed to be wrapped she was a cranking maniac.

We turned right after the Needles and sailed into the Solent only to come face to face with boat congestion looking like rush hour traffic. Guess everyone else was having a lovely sail as well. On a jibe our Genoa got itself all in a twist. No matter what we did we couldn't get it sorted. We pulled and tugged and let it out and wiggled it and then as if by magic, she filled with wind and we had a glorious smooth sail into Lymington Marina after only 11 hours of sailing. We would have made it in 10 if the Genoa hadn't messed about. Oh and if those idiots out sailing in the Solent could have been just a bit more considerate and gotten out of our way. It seemed that our predicament was entertainment for all and they just couldn't help themselves sailing back and forth in front of us and despite them having right of way they could have made a nicer decision and just stayed out of the way! Neptune will get them.

We struggled to find the berth reserved for us but eventually found it. A man looked like he was going to be superbly helpful but then just stood on the pontoon looking up at us as our fenders bounced off the boat next to us. Finally, Eddie just threw the rope at him and when it hit him in the face he decided to grab it and help. Cheers mate.

Seb made a dash for the toilets in the marina and returned with a report that the toilets at Lymington Marina were 5*. Kerry was just grateful to be able to pee for the second time that day since she was not dehydrated from hurling over the side all day. The marina was filled with some of the most beautiful speed boats and yachts we've ever seen and Seb has announced that he wants to have a few of those when he is older. I have explained to him that he better do well at school since the one he liked the most goes for roughly £600,000 (used).

We enjoyed a dinner of filet steaks, baked jacket potatoes, halloumi cheese and sauteed peppers with a brilliant bottle of red wine then tucked ourselves up into bed ready for the final leg of our journey. Back to Gosport!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Cherbourg Day 2

We needed a rest. Every one of us were exhausted. Our muscles ached. Our minds were weary and our bodies weakened. We ate a large breakfast of croissants and pain au chocolate with large cups of coffee. We then set about getting the ourselves and the boat cleaned and tidied up. It was a mess. We were too. Feeling a bit better but not completely recovered we decided to have a look at Cite de la Mer (Museum of the Sea).

Walking on land felt very strange for the children and Abigail told us she felt drunk. I wonder how she knows what it feels like. We had a look at the reception area of the museum but balked at the 18 euro entrance fee per person since we wanted a diversion for a few hours rather than a full day.
We made a quick run to the market for a few provisions (mostly batteries for the GPS) and then prepared to set sail.

Now some of you may think us crazy for sailing after the ordeal of yesterday. But I knew that if we didn't get right back on the water my children may decide they didn't like sailing which just wouldn't do. Abigail had a bit of a moan saying she never wanted to sail again. So we locked her in the forward cabin (just kidding) and set off.

The sun was shining. The wind direction was perfect for the direction we wanted to go (and come back). It was warm and the sea was calm(ish). We assured the children this was not another epic journey.
Indeed it was a dream sail. At the end of the sail Abigail was even up on the side of the boat admitting that she was having a great time. Sebastian was starting to understand the science beyond the wind on the sails. We even got Kerry to have a steer at the helm. And she smiled the entire time. Yesterday we had numerous minor injuries: banged fingers, cut knuckles, bumped heades, bruised knees. Today it was a text book sail with everyone returning to port in a good mood. OK, that's if you don't count a couple failures to tack due to short boat speed but that's down to our own laziness.
Tomorrow unfortunately we won't be so lucky I fear. Hurrican Bill is headed our direction and a Force 7 won't do any of us any favours. We may head east up the coast to St Vaast. But I am slightly worried about the return journey. But today is Tuesday and I'm not going to worry about that. We will probably not have wi-fi there but don't worry about us if you don't hear.
We are having a blast!

The Channel Crossing Part 1

Arrived in Gosport on Sunday early evening full of optimism and high hopes for a pleasant crossing on Monday. Marc and I had decided that it was a great idea to take the children across the English channel to France on a sail boat. We invited two friends, Kerry and Eddie, to be crew. We hired a 38' Barvaria boat and carefully packed and planned. Marc got all of his required certifications in order. We were rearing to go.

Kerry and Eddie arrvied an hour or so after us and after getting the boat sorted we took the ferry over to Southampton and enjoyed a gorgeous dinner al fresco in some of the best summer weather we've had all year. My optimism swelled. This was going to be soooo much fun.

Sleep was hard to come by overnight as I was frightened we wouldn't wake up for the required silly early departure time. At 4:30 am I viewed Venus shining brightly in as the rising sun changed the colour of the sky to pale oranges, yellows and finally read marvelling at other people exhibiting equally poor judgement at this insane hour. I could see the weariness in their eyes and maybe for the first time thought this might not be such a good idea. Something about red sky in the morning = shepard's warning. Trying desperately not to panic or wake the rest of the boat I got the coffee on and prepared for a small, quick breakfast. Finally everyone one else stirred at 5:30 am and bang on 6:00 am we set off in a dead calm.

The first few hours the sea was like a mill pond. It was hard to believe that we weren't just on a small lake. No wind, no waves, no swell, and a strong tide in the opposite direction meant we were going nowhere fast. We motored for quite a bit although not nearly as long as we should have. Seb was desperate to sail so we prayed for wind. The power of our prayers for a bit more wind came in all at once. And then the seas roughened. The wind was right on our nose so we had the sails tight in and the boat was tipped right over so much that a simple cup of tea became an impossibility.

Abigail was the first sailor to feel the effects of the bopping and swaying. Kerry held her over the side right up until the point that Kerry started hurling over the side. This pattern continued for the remainder of the 15 hour epic journey. Thank goodness no one wanted to eat because we quite simply couldn't have made anything. Any more than 1 minute under deck and the tummy started doing somersaults. Sebastian only had one spectacular event hurling over the side.

But undoubtably the 1st pplace gold medal prize goes to Abigail who never whined, never cried, never moaned, never complained. She sat on deck in the spray, the wind, the cold and just hung on. Sebastian comes in at a close second by fortuitously lifting everyone's spirits at the very end of the journey when we all were disheatened and thoroughly fed up he started singing, telling jokes and stories, and pretending to surf. He helped to keep Abigail warm by cuddling up with her.

Abigial announced that she could hardly wait to get to France so she could have a croissant. We must have laughed for 30 minutes. Here this wee little angel was wet, cold, miserable with sick in her hair and all she wanted was a croissant. Bless her!

We finally entered the harbour and moored at the marina. I have never been happier. Abigail and I went for a hot hot hot shower whilst the boys prepared some soup and bagels.

It could have been so much worse. It could have been raining. It could have been colder. The wind could have been stronger. The waves could have been bigger. The children coul dhave been crying and freezing. And althought it was the worst sea conditions I've ever sailed in, I am so proud of my children and us as a family. This was an adventure of a lifetime. And it's only just begun!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

An Indian Princess

Uncle Matthew brought this beautiful sari back from India for Abigail.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Ballet Performances

The end of the school year brings yet another round of ballet performancess and this year was the best ever. Sebastian obtained his next level exam with merit and we were quite simply enchanted with Abigail's performance of her butterfly dance.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sports Day Performances

Despite the persistent threat of rain, we managed a whole day of hilarious sporting performances from our children. I wouldn't look to see either of our children in any Olympics anytime in the future. But they sure enjoyed themselves!