Vacation at birthday time

It’s been that time of year again; a birthday, and a holiday. I’d really like enough holiday to split the working year into quarters with two-week holidays in between… who am I kidding, I want life to be a holiday!

What the hell, here’s how it went.

The camping part

We had a really good week off and I had a brilliant birthday, went camping in north Devon last Sunday (that’d be April, not 4th May). Stayed between Woolacombe and Ilfracombe in a tiny village called Mortehoe. The journey down started off sunny, then it was rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain… and we arrived at the campsite in fog… well, at least it wasn’t raining when we were putting the tent up. There were four pubs in walking distance, but the food in all of them was pretty lousy, and there was nowhere else to eat without driving somewhere, but that was the only let down. The scenery is great, big cliffs, Atlantic waves bashing against them, all very rugged and manly.

Camping weather

There was plenty of wind, rain, and sunshine, also some hail, and very little warmth, apart from in the toilet block which was spotlessly clean and very modern… and heated. At about four in the morning… must’ve been the second of the three we stayed… I woke up with my noze froze. It was *so* cold. I stuck my hand out of the sleeping bag to warm up my nose and found it too cold. My hand retreated to the warmth and left my nose to fall off with frostbite. That must’ve been the coldest we’ve ever camped. Packed up Wednesday morning to come home and it wouldn’t stop blowing a gale, some of the tent poles were bent beyond what I thought they’d stand, and those on the other side of the tent were bent the opposite way to the how they should have been! I wasn’t sure how to get the tent down without losing it, so I ran around and yanked out all the pegs while Sarah kept a tight hold of the part bearing the main force of the wind, then ran around and dropped the tent poles from their sockets so it sat flat on the ground…. and then had to get it apart… and we’d just collapsed out shelter from the rain… oh, how we laughed! ha ha! hmmm…..

The sailing part

Day Skipper course completion

Thursday was my last night at college, went to get the results from the exam, and I got a “Pass with merit” (95% on the first paper, and 100% on the plotting – with the plotting, you’re marking positions on a chart (map to ye land-lubbers) drawing in ground track, tidal vectors, course to steer, estimated positions, fixes, and a whole bunch of other stuff, and the way they mark it is to lay an acetate with the correct lines/positions on it over your work, I’m proud to say, that when he laid the acetate over mine my lines disappeared, I couldn’t have got it more right… I’m quite chuffed, and grateful to John for teaching so well).

So…. ummm… Friday evening we (Sarah and I) went off to Eastbourne marina to spend a weekend on a boat crewing for a couple. Up at about 4.30 Saturday morning… did you know there are two 4 O’clock’s in one day? … in the lock by 5 and heading out across the channel to Boulogne. The crossing was completely uneventful, the shipping lanes were more-or-less empty, and there was no wind so it was motoring all the way – very disappointing. Got told off by the French port authority when we arrived, they said we went through a red light, we said it was amber, but they would never back down so we apologised a lot and got away with it (actually, skipper did all of those things). The reason for the telling off is that Seacat was coming in, and a little boat like the one we were on could be run down very easily.

The trip was a club outing for the Sovereign Harbour Yacht Club, on the second night there we had a “pontoon party” (nothing to do with cards) for the organiser and all had a good time. Boulogne is a really nice place, well, the older part that we saw is. We didn’t get up early enough on Sunday to get to the shops to buy duty free goods (damn French shops closed on Sunday’s, don’t they know that this is the 21st century?), but it was nice to be reminded of what Sunday afternoon’s used to be like.

Beware sailing in France

On Monday morning we got up at about seven for an 8 O’clock start back, then we start hearing chatter about a blockade… Turns out the French fishermen were on strike and blockading the port, no-one, not even Seacat, could get in or out… aBstrads! So we’re sitting there having brekky (fresh croissants and French bread with jam from the boulangerie nearby) talking about what was going on and what we were going to do when Sarah decided that “if we can’t go home I’ve got time for a shower” (on Sunday morning there was no hot water, the showers were freezing – these were harbour facilities, not on the boat – you don’t want to shower on a boat if you can help it, there’s more space in a coffin, and less to bang your elbows on too). Not five minutes after she’s gone and someone has managed to negotiate our departure, but we’ve got to go now! Oh shit n bollocks! So I go charging off to the facilities and let Sarah know. I can tell instantly that she’s got her hair full of shampoo, the deflation and panic in her voice were tangible (poor thing). I rush back to the boat to help prepare, and luckily, by the time we’re ready Sarah is in sight, no-one is getting stressed because she’s holding us up, because she isn’t – things like that worry me, I mean, we don’t know these people, only met them on Friday evening and we’re spending a lot of time together, in close quarters too, it’s easy for tensions to rise and people to get stressed and the last thing I want is us to be the cause of it. Anyway, all but the last ropes are slipped as Sarah approaches, and as soon as she’s aboard we’re moving… only to get stopped by the traffic lights for Seacat – it’s making a run for it too. The length of time we sat waiting for Seacat, and our lights to go green again, Sarah could’ve finished her shower and dried her hair! Life’s a bitch like that.

The blockade, and Seacat, cost us nearly an hour and a half on our planned departure time, this came back to haunt us later. There was some wind when we got outside the harbour, we were able to get both sails out and double the speed we were doing on Saturday for some of the journey. Had a great run back, the shipping lanes were empty, there didn’t seem to be any ships out there at all. We arrived back at Eastbourne at nearly 5 O’clock, and started listening in the radio traffic in the harbour, just in case there was anything we should know about. We started hearing other boats from the flotilla, who had arrived shortly ahead of us, mentioning how shallow the entrance was… and we were on a falling tide. Then there were a few comments of people touching bottom, and then the dreaded news that someone had grounded on the concrete sill of the lock… bad news. It was now too shallow to get in. If we’d got away on time we’d have been in before 4pm, and in the bar by 5. As it was we had to hang around outside the harbour until about 8.30 while the tide finished going out and started to come back in again. We didn’t stop for a drink, and got home shortly after 10pm. Those damn French!

The couple we sailed with are, probably, 55/60ish, there was also a guy called Anthony who they met on a sea survival course, who does some boat work and they’re going to employ to carry out some work. They were the nicest people you could hope to meet, Anthony is 42, used to be a roady for bands (mates bands, no one big) in the late 80s and early 90s, he’s cleaned his life up, strictly no booze and he’s tossed the fags too – he’s not found religion, but he’s stopped trying to kill himself… and he never stops smiling, reminds me of a young (and slimmer) Bob Hoskins. We had an absolutely brilliant three days. I think it was made better for me because Sarah was so worried before about going sailing with people we don’t know…. and the going sailing was a worry for her too because she hadn’t been out on a boat for so long, but in the end she thoroughly enjoyed herself, and because I could see she was having a good time and I didn’t have to worry that she might not be… well, it meant I could just throw myself into it. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.