Mal de Mer and Mutiny on and off the High Seas - 2011 Season
I had been planning a long voyage this season as far back as January when in the depths of the freezing evening air (after the children had been successfully put to bed) I “popped to the boat for a quick job or ten”. The prospect of a long voyage possibly to the Isle of Man and elsewhere with various drunkenly (and as it transpires temporarily) enthused friends spurred me on to work tirelessly to improve the accommodation on Wren.
After many years of a light touch approach by Jim in the interior cleanliness and tidying department the boat had responded well to multiple and vigorous applications of Mr Muscle.
Now it was time to go further. Aided by the statutory cup of tea that takes up twenty minutes of any quick job on the boat I had replaced the perspex locker covers, which had permanently revealed the mess and mould behind, with personally hand crafted teak faced plywood, having thoroughly cleaned and painted inside the lockers themselves.
Encouraged by the progress I then proceeded to repaint everywhere that had once been glossy white and replaced the curtains with bespoke navy blue courtesy of my mother in law.
In a final effort I pulled back, stripped and re glued the headlining in the forecabin providing pleasing results and a confidence that any guest crew/wife would be kept in the best kind of luxury a 23 footer can provide.
However despite a longstanding vague plan to sail to the Isle of Man with some old university buddies I noticed the email feedback was becoming slow to nonexistent, my photos of the boat in glamorous condition had no effect. Encouraged by the occasional promise to get back to me etc I persevered but found with increasing rage and bitterness that a sailing trip on those terms was increasingly unlikely and was not making for tranquil sailing memories. The first mutiny had occurred even before they had set foot on the boat!
Wren at the Start of the Sailing Season
I began to revise my plans and turn back to the old faithful destination of Conwy for my sailing adventures. I had a longer trip planned with my wife Kerry in August but seized on a combination of events to undertake a bonus extra voyage, namely the rescheduling of the Ranzo Cup mixed with Kerry taking the children to visit her Auntie thereby providing guilt free sea leave.
I had often told my two neighbours Ray and Paul of the idyllic voyages available to those that dared venture to the foreign shores of Conwy and probably whilst at the Hightown pub, described the scene in such favourable light, painting a scene of peacefully sailing across a glossy smooth ocean basking in the sunlight, listening to the radio and shooting the breeze whilst drinking premium bottled lagers that when I mentioned this short notice trip they both jumped on it without hesitation.
I was very much encouraged by their enthusiasm for the trip and we held briefing meetings during the week chiefly about what alcohol, food and iPod music to bring. They were also strictly advised to indulge lightly on the Friday night before the trip so as to be in the best shape possible. Particularly as Ray had been sea sick previously although had seemingly conquered that affliction and Paul had not been out at all and was therefore an unknown quantity.
The start of the Ranzo Cup was scheduled for a very early start. High water was at 5.30AM and this was the official start time the racing fleet were to pass the outer corporation marker.
We devised our plans accordingly and arranged to meet on my driveway at 4.30am.
After making my final preparations before bed and running through the official checklist I turned my attention to sleep only occasionally thinking with some excitement of the early morning calm of the Alt and the image of our eager crew slipping effortlessly along the Alt to the awaiting boat commando fashion with the twilight of the early hours as our back drop.
However the reality was to be somewhat different.
I awoke vaguely rested at 4am and after coming to terms with the hour (not too difficult or uncommon having two children aged 2 and under) I sprung into action, I was soon disturbed by the tentative knocking of Ray who had misunderstood and thought the meeting time was 4am not the recommended getting up time (although being a media junkie he still found time to announce his early rise on facebook).
We assembled on the drive and were soon joined by Paul. It was clear that the calm early morning departure dreamed of was not to happen. The wind was howling and as we pulled up to the club house ominous breakers could be seen in the distance.
To make matters worse we were running behind on time, there was nobody in the dinghy yard, vigorous activity could be seen on the participating yachts and I realised with the tide coming in and a strong westerly wind we would struggle to row out to Wren if the water rose over the sandbanks.
My still lethargic crew were startled into action by unexpected pressure and urgency to get launched immediately. We scrambled around, inflated the dinghy and carried it to the slip. Three adult men and our supplies tested the Avon’s buoyancy to the limit but we were afloat.
Whilst we could certainly float rowing in any consistent manner was extremely difficult but with determination and flexibility we were able to make some headway with just the occasional oarful of freezing Alt water being equally distributed over the crew from time to time.
As I observed my crew soaking wet in a small cramped dinghy clinging on for dear lift and staring out grimly at the imposing weather conditions I knew I would have to do a lot to bring this trip back up to the pleasure cruise I had promised.
Exhausted we steadily made our way up stream fighting the westerly wind trying to drive us onto the beach and slowly but surely made it to Wren our sturdy ship and home for the voyage.
We clambered aboard and quickly stowed the luggage. Paul with no knowledge of sailing procedure and who was looking a bit startled was put in the corner whilst Ray and I made the boat ready.
Within 5 minutes the engine was going, the mainsail cover was off and the kettle and radio were on as is standard procedure for any trip. At my command Ray, having already made himself useful by locating Radio 2, headed to the bow to cast off. With a semi professional sounding command to the bow we were underway.
At this point I was still half contemplating at least starting the race to see how it went, but as we chugged along the Alt and the strong wind coming directly from Conwy became more evident I realised that my crew were not going to be up for it and the shorter the cruise the better for the sake of moral. It takes a more hardened crew to withstand a pure sailing race of tacking which virtually doubles the time taken to get anywhere, as was to be proved true of the only other boat to make it to the other side.
At this point though there were at least four participants in the race and I was still hesitating for the sake of sportsmanship when I remembered that as a safety precaution of sorts I had decided to tow the dinghy with me as an emergency life raft should we need it. That sealed the deal as I feared the dinghy may just cost me my competitive racing edge. Magnanimously I handed the mantel of racing over to my fellow club mates and forewent the promise of potential racing glory.
We made our motor sailing intentions known to race officiator Ian on Nimrod and such is the nature of sailing that we headed straight for our destination at what seemed 180 degree angle away from the sailing purists.
The wind was 5-6 and it was in fact too choppy to make direct headway with any sense of comfort so I beared away heading toward Hilbre Island with just the genoa out motor sailing at a good lick, I left the mainsail down partly out laziness and partly because I didn’t want to disturb the crew too much who were just beginning to settle down as evidenced by the grim look of determination in their stoic faces.
Being a good host I had given them the best seats in the cockpit each tucked up in a corner either side of the hatch and under the sprayhood. To facilitate comradely conversation I sat at the aft end of the cockpit to survey the scene. My crew didn’t seem too chirpy and my attempts to bring up the mood were tempered by rogue waves throwing what felt like large buckets of water over me periodically from time to time over the top of the boat.
The weather conditions remained strenuous and with the Wirral cost growing ever closer we had to give up our tack to the Welsh coast and make our way back to the far end of the Burbo bank wind farm, disturbingly close to home.
My crew barely noticed and I hoped that they were steeling themselves for what looked liked a bumpy trip ahead. The strong westerly wind and waves heading straight from Conwy also meant that the trip would take longer than usual but I decided not to mention that lest they give up all hope. I needn’t have worried as hope was the last thing on their mind. Once on the fresh tack I had just offered hot drinks when suddenly Paul shot bolt upright with a surprising look of determination and purpose on his face. His purpose became clear when moments later he flung himself round, leaned over the dodgers and began a long process of retching. I took that as a no and hoped he would get the sea sickness out of his system quickly.
However a cup of coffee later (for Ray and I) Paul was still hanging over the side popping his head up less and less frequently occasionally revealing watery blood shot eyes which were starting to become concerning. His sudden request for use of the heads for something not suitable for direct delivery over the side made the decision for me, he had to be moved to a bunk to try and sleep it off. Nobody uses the heads on my boat unless it is life or death!
With regard to the heads aside from the commonly known hassle of working out which way to turn the seacocks and the guarantee that it wouldn’t be set up right and the possibility that unpleasant reminders may reappear later. I was fairly sure that if I let Paul go in there in this sea state with his sea sickness state I would be faced with a pretty depressing cleaning up job later, not to mention the injuries Paul might suffer in a small heads cabin in wavy conditions.
Thankfully in his weakened state he was easily distracted and I guided him into a bunk caringly placing the ships bucket next to him for his convenience.
Immediate crisis over I turned and shrugged to Ray in a “landlubbers!” type gesture. His half hearted return shrug should have tipped me off, the penny dropped when I noticed the undrunk coffee and familiar grey hue I had seen spread across Ray’s face on previous occasions. In a very polite and dignified manner he declared ‘excuse me a moment’, turned and adopted the exact same pose Paul had pioneered over the other side of the boat. I now feared for the state of both of my (brand new) dodgers but decided not to look for now in order to maintain peace of mind.
My hopes that this would be a brief and temporary relapse for Ray were dashed when he declared he should maybe have a lie down too. I guided him to the quarter berth and only fully appreciated the wretched state he was in when he tried to get into the quarter berth (essentially a fibre glass cave) head first. I gently guided Ray round to the correct position as one would an elderly invalid and left him with eyes closed and a look of relief on his face. I made sure that he and Paul were equi-distant to the sick bucket before returning to the cockpit.
Peace now returned to the yacht and although the weather conditions were still sprightly a bit of sun had now begun to pop out. I tacked the Wren again now heading toward Colwyn Bay in the far distance. At this point we were still at the Queens Channel end of the Burbo Bank wind farm and my mission now became to get as far as I could into a different setting before they both ventured back up again.
I decided to keep the main down so as to prevent excessive healing which may have disrupted the sleeping beauties and just go with the genoa and a decent amount of engine revs. We were now making a good pace and I began to settle into the voyage.
I wondered how long they would sleep and whether they would awake refreshed and cured. The longer the better I reasoned. Also the longer Paul was asleep the longer it put off the potential showdown with the heads. We were only by now two hours into an eight hour trip and in my heart of hearts I didn’t think the heads would make it unscathed.
Putting the heads to the back of my mind I sunk into a relaxed sailing trance (Moitessier style) enjoying the motion of the boat against the wind and waves and the exposure to nature.
And so the hours drifted by interrupted only by my occasional foray into the cabin for tea and a snack and (fortunately separate) incidents of one or the other of the crew retching ineffectually into the bucket.
Skipper and Crew
We got to the Welsh coast relatively quickly and were able to adapt the tack slightly to crawl along the superb Welsh coastline. We had lost sight of all other participants in the Ranzo race and I wondered how they were doing, extremely glad we were taking the lazy option.
As we pulled in to Llandudno bay, Ray, looking slightly like Keith Richards after a heavy night emerged from the cockpit in something of a reverse chrysalis moment. I pretended not to look shocked and smiled encouragingly. Ray being a splendid fellow did his best to smile back but I could see he wasn’t yet 100%, he remained in the cockpit briefly only to say he wasn’t sure anymore sailing was for him, before heading back for his quarter berth. It did seem with sea sickness that once you tip over the edge there is no coming back.
Fortunately for me I was in the best of health and enjoyed the rounding of the Orme solo despite my crew problems. Even the final approach into Conwy marina itself didn’t rouse/ interest the crew and they only made it back on deck just in time to man the ropes as we approached the pontoon.
We had made excellent time and docked at 3pm. We had the whole afternoon and evening ahead of us to enjoy the marina based yachting experience.
We soon opened some celebratory cans of lager which were declined by the still delicate Ray and which Paul only tentatively sipped at. It was however progress.
The sky had by now become blue, the sun was shining and our collective spirits were lifting. We checked in at Marina control, had hot showers followed by a pub lunch/dinner at the Mulberry. We returned to the boat put on some music and soaked up some sun and some more beers. Designer sunglasses were broken out and the crew began to enjoy the yachting groove, albeit stationary and moored up.
Enjoying marina life
Our talk turned to the fate of the other boats. Three others had set off yet despite out shore bound activities taking up at least two hours no other boats from the flotilla had arrived to the best of our knowledge.
This was confirmed by a surprise pop in by Kieran of Nirvana who had been in the area and had come to welcome in the participants. The marina had no other visitors other than ourselves. It was a bit of a mystery.
As the beer flowed we prepared ourselves for a night in Conwy town. I was pleased to note that Wren happily housed three men within the cabin each with their own space and without getting in each others way. For obvious reasons their sick bunks became their main bunks. In any event as skipper I had secured the marginally more luxurious fore cabin as my own.
Rejuvenated and mildly inebriated we ventured forth into Conwy taking in all the sights, sounds and pubs Conwy had to offer including a circumnavigation of the Castle walls and a rare spotting of Les Batterbee from Corrie (who I have since seen every subsequent time I have been to Conwy).
Enjoying the sights of Conwy
As the alcohol flowed the crew became more forthcoming and as one tentatively suggested they would have to carefully assess the conditions, both biological and meteorological the next day before committing to the return journey. Quickly calculating the alcohol unit count for the evening I knew my fate of a further crew mutiny was sealed, they had tasted the delights of land and would not return to the sea. I could have been tempted myself at that stage as there were several more pints to go and hangover sailing is certainly not my cup of tea.
With no sense of bitterness given the ordeal they had undergone (largely self induced as it later transpired as they had drunk as freely as ever on the night before the departure) I did not embarrass them by awaiting further explanations and released them unconditionally from their commission. Relieved they wholeheartedly returned to drinking which took us back to the Liverpool Arms.
It was there whilst wobbling on the river front, pint in hand, that we saw emerging from the mist and through the castle gates the ghostly sight of the presumed lost crew of Nimrod who told us of a sail of such endeavour and hardship so as to banish any remaining doubts from my crews’ mind about their decision to mutiny.
It transpired that all other boats had abandoned the race, conditions being too unpleasant, Deva Delta back to the Alt with a crewmember wretched with sea sickness and Kaos to Hilbre Island to seek a shorter cruise and shelter. Only Nimrod had persevered under sail alone completing and deservedly winning the Ranzo Cup and arriving in Conwy a full six hours after we had arrived.
After bidding the crew of Nimrod goodnight and leaving them to return to their quest for sustenance in the form of chips whilst we returned to Wren for a hot beverage and a good night’s sleep.
Due to Wren’s rejuvenating powers I awoke largely unhungover and was fully cured by a large fry up aboard.
Ray was becoming conflicted between a sense of duty to the ship and that of self preservation. I however assured him he was a free man and Darwinism won through. I bid them farewell and cast off heading back out toward the Orme.
The weather conditions were sunny and warm with a light force 2-3 from the West taking me straight back to Hightown in a gentle motion with the sun dancing across the waves. Accompanied by tasty food, a good book and the grand prix on the radio I had the least stressful and most relaxing solo voyage in history and thought with some irony that this return leg was one of the idyllic voyages I would subsequently describe to new unwitting crew…
To the memory of Jim Brown former owner of Wren and BSC Member 1960 -2011