Another from my old archives. The rest of it must be in some paper notebook somewhere. I was asked by a friend (Jo) to help crew the yacht she worked on so, with only a couple of days’ notice, I joined her. We sailed a luxurious Oyster yacht (fifty-something feet long) all the way from Brindisi (SE Italy) to Southampton in England, over two weeks.
19:25 (+2 GMT), Friday 20 August 2004
40° 39’ .775 N
18° 01’ .55 E
SOG (“Speed Over Ground”): 8.4 kts
COG (T) (“Course Over Ground, True”): 076°
Just outside of Brindisi harbour
CREW: Angus Fuller (Skipper), Jo Chatterton (Chef), Max Kalis
NEW ORDERS, Watches on first night:
AF 18:00 – 22:00
BB 20:00 – 00:00
JC 22:00 – 02:00
MK 00:00 – 04:00
The sun is an enormous peach, only its own diameter above the horizon. The adventure proper is at last underway and my first experience of Italy (give or take) is shrinking behind us.
Brindisi is seriously ugly from here – an industrial complex which is the only visible object besides the scattering of fishing boats has the appearance of some future city viewed from a great distance. Still, its manufactured ugliness is having no effect on my mood. And what is my mood? Vague excitement at the forthcoming odyssey but not such that I am darting about or blurting out inane comments: much more of a steady, pensive feeling like that of old English explorers I imagine. This evening is so warm that I am only in shorts and almost at the point of searing but not in the least bit uncomfortable. Perfect really.
It’s going to be very great. Very easy. What I have found so far is that I can revel in so many little pleasures. For instance, just before writing the last sentence I walked to the stern with my plastic mug of tea, dipped my fingers, lightening quick, to grab the tea bag, slowly, purposefully released it overboard and watched the bag, string and label course away before me. My new, healthy, moving world.
05:55 (+2 GMT) Saturday 21 August
39° 34’ .105 N
18° 08’ .092 E
SOG: 7.1 kts
COG (T): 223°
My first night watch passed with surprising ease. In spite of my manic city life recently, boredom – or the need for something to do – never set in and soon it was my time to shower, wake Max and turn in for four hours’ kip. When the sky became fully dark and the Plough emerged behind us the mainsail came out for a brief time but made little effect on boat speed. I stood at the stern and watched the great white sheet unfurl and dance above me. On our right sides the crescent moon lay out a narrow, light strip on the water which coursed along with us and the boat, steadily, unceasing, pushed further towards Italy’s heel.
We have all been assigned four-hour watches, staggered by two hours, such that Max and I never share a watch while Jo or Angus can supervise the entire time. Angus started us off at 18:00, while dinner was being cooked by Jo and I came on at 20:00.
The night was hazy and a fair amount of light pollution emanated from the horizon to starboard so I felt disappointment at the clarity of the heavens on my first real night at sea. The occasional shooting star made up for things. However, on being awakened at 04:00 to start my next shift the night was wholly different.
The Plough and Cassiopeia had set and my favourite part of the sky had taken their place, as Orion and the Seven Sisters hung proudly in the East, shoulder to shoulder with Mars who shone so bright that he laid a pale streak across the sea to us like an unveiled carpet at a royal show. I wanted so much to write about them but no light can be had at night – you are forced to be with your thoughts.
In no time though we noticed Mars’s pride waning against a neon blue glow across the same part of the sky. The air lightened at an impressive rate and then the morning was upon us. I only had to look away to make notes in this book before turning back and missing the sunrise. Now, morning is well in and I could have woken up Max and returned to bed 25 minutes ago but in the roasting Mediterranean air, sleep hardly seems worth it now.
We are now, it feels, fully at sea, the lights of habitated land having disappeared into what looked like a tear in the dark oversheet of night, through which heaven was shining. To look around now, one would see that which I had been waiting to become familiar, that symmetric, circular world, where one’s visual limit is plotted by a locus from their position precisely, where one can see for many miles inside that which has the appearance of being very small.
Boredom set in a little after the last sentence so I looked for a new adventure and decided to advance to the foredeck and see what goes on up there. In these calm Mediterranean waters Tearaway makes a languid and rather awkward progression through the slight, choppy swell approaching from starboard. She is a heavy ship, designed for luxury and reliability so she makes ugly work of off-shore sailing by comparison to lighter or, indeed, grander vessels. I cannot, by any means, complain however as sitting against one of the forestays with the morning sun on my back and no sight of a cloud for a day and a half now, peace is being ground into me, like flour under a rolling pin, by the chaotic rock and roll of the yacht.
A couple of minutes ago my attention was caught by a white flash ahead and as ever my excitement jumped in about half a second ahead of my sensibility and I stared at the spot a moment longer than just any other. Another flash, this time more prominent than the breakers I have seen so far. Then two more in the same area, with dorsal fins. I stayed where I was, staggering to balance and arguing with myself as to whether I could get excited by these large fish, possibly small dolphins.
The next thing, I saw one of them – a dolphin for sure – faster than feasible, a shining grey, fat little streak, come clean out of the water and across our nose by a few feet. They (I estimate that there were four of them) were soon gone and the excitement never reached much of a height but, rather pathetically, it felt like I had something to tick off the list.
Well, boredom, truly took charge after the last point of writing and my eyes started to roll so I broke a strange lifetime’s habit and took a nap. This of course, helped a great deal in compounding my confused mental state, such that time is now beginning to bear as little meaning as location and speed.
Shifting from one part of the deck to another, always too afraid to go below in case I should get sick, reading a bit here, staring into space a bit there. Jo made fresh Bruschetta for lunch with ingredients we bought in Brindisi before Max and I had a tense backgammon rematch to decide who should run the Hoover around the companionway. I lost.
A couple more hours of trying not to accept my immature inability to relax and then everything changed as a breeze popped up from nowhere. In a minute we were under full main and headsail, reefed to the bollocks and ‘cracked-off’ as Angus calls it, punching upwind against a fair old swell and 30 knots apparent. At this point it was all in the cockpit or lifejackets on and such pleasures as using the head to relieve the desires of our bowels were put on hold.
After a whole day of steady rolling we were now bulldozing through impressive wave crests, swinging up to the wind then being hammered back away by the sea. As we all sat under the spray hood, water was flying about and the sea was a mountain range being pulled underneath us like a carpet.
10:44 (+2 GMT) Sunday 22 August
37° 54’ .338 N
15° 55’ .331 E
SOG: 9.2 kts
COG (T): 273°
Passing the toe and about to turn up into the Messina Straits (between Italy and Sicily)
[carrying on from last entry…] I took the helm for a while and practised holding a course on a close haul, working the rudder against the weather helm and then slackening off when each wave pushed the bow back away from the wind. After a few minutes though the wind had swung around clockwise and we were reaching, making it easier to steer steady.
As quickly as it had built up though, the rough patch passed and we were back in calm waters with the sun falling behind clouds above what we reckon must have be the verruca before the toe of Italy. Jo cooked up some pizzas and we all kicked back with music and enjoyed the plain sailing – sorry, motoring (as we can rarely get the sails up).
As night fell, Angus and I were on watch, Max and Jo were in their beds and the weather worsened again. For an hour or so I had been drinking tea and wandering around on deck admiring the stars in an attempt to stop my eyes from rolling. When sitting, my head would drop and I would suddenly come to and remember my duty to watch for oncoming traffic. At one point I saw something float past the starboard bow and was not in the least bit alarmed at its dangerous proximity. Probably because it was a quaint, half-timbered railway junction house. Time to get up and walk on deck!
Standing on the stern watching the firework display of the green starboard and red port navigation lights glowing against the spray from the bow wave there was a bigger splash than before and I slipped my head under the spray hood before the stern took a soaking. In moments, this was a constant thing and Angus, a now awake Jo and myself were heading against a Force 9 wind (» 40 knots) in rough water.
Our plans to reach Palma (Mallorca) by Wednesday evening for a piss-up and refit were put right back as Angus decided to take us into shallow water and anchor for the night. We watched the carrot coloured crescent moon sink behind a deep orange cloud from a fire on the hillside ahead and dropped anchor in a spot of utter calm besides the awful drone of some local guitar band on shore. We whipped out Max’s guide to swearing in foreign languages and, through the loudhailer, told the “ugly motherfucker” that he had all manner of exotic diseases and incest issues before giving up and crashing for our first night of peaceful (eventually) sleep.
The day had been a challenge, my first day of waking at sea and staying there and I was exhausted