First Day Out

As a reminder to myself later in the summer- when we will no doubt be sitting in a damp and cold boat rocking in gale-force winds- I am going to write the following words:

The weather is fantastic right now!

And it has been fantastic, both here and in Norway, for the last ten days or more. That’s important in Norway, because May is a month of many public holidays, culminating in the National Day of the 17th May. For high school kids, this is the final day of the Russefeiring, a month-long celebration of nothing much other than leaving school (they haven’t even taken their final exams) but which essentially involves dressing up in coveralls and going bezerk:

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For the last month the youth of Stavanger has been singing, shouting, dragging ghettoblasters around the city, and no doubt engaging in other similarly pastoral pursuits; the authorities issued warnings that teenagers should not have sex on roundabouts. Consequently, the day on which this all comes to a head has a dark reputation amongst expats- either close your curtains and hide in the basement/bathroom on 17th May, or leave the country was the general advice. Choosing discretion as the better part of valour, then, the warm dawn of the 17th found me stepping aboard a KLM aeroplane bound for Amsterdam and connecting to Cardiff. After packing a quick bag and thundering down the M4 in our ancient Passat (which, thankfully, had passed its MOT days before) the cool evening found us spending the night at our usual Milford Haven staging post-the Beggar’s Reach Hotel- ready to rig Karisma up the next day.

Rigging her up (properly, ‘bending on’ the sails) is usually a bit of a labour, not difficult but prolonged, with the four battens and three reefs of the mainsail best rigged up via a succession of hoists and drops, requiring coordinated family effort. The boat had been moved, in our absence, to a new berth (C38– bring wine if visiting, anything you like except Pinot Noir) and she was parked nose-in, stern to an unexpectedly stiff breeze from the south and west. PredictWind had been suggesting four knots of nothingness, but even if we turned the boat around it would be a bit breezy to rig up. So we went for a drive and waited. One of the PredictWind forecasts: that from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting or ECMWF (that’s a mouthful)- saw a breezier start with the wind falling away; when we returned at lunchtime, that was exactly what had happened, an accuracy that was duly noted.

So after lunch we started the job, got the headsail on in 15 minutes, and within 40 minutes I had the main up and on the track, ready to drop and fit its battens. Usually after first hoisting it I re-fit the stack pack, so the sail drops into the lazy jacks and I can pull it back up, fitting battens and reef lines- job done. The lazy jacks are of course left up the mast all winter; they drop from a turning block about a metre or so above the spreaders, with the jacks running down to the stack pack and control lines to cleats on the mast at about the level of the halyard entry. The whole lot are tied down tight to the spinnaker ring on the front of the mast during the winter.

The port side of the stack pack went on easily, and I was already congratulating myself on a record rig-up time as I ran the starboard side of the pack into the groove on the boom which holds the cloth and reached for the lazy jacks to tie them off. Strange! they’re not moving- in fact, they’re jammed, and bloody well too. The winter gales had somehow blown the starboard lazyjacks over to the port side between their turning block and the starboard spreader, and wrapped them behind the only obstruction there- the steaming light. A lot of cursing ensued, there being no obvious way of freeing them. I tried to run the lazyjacks out of the jam behind the light by ‘mousing’ them out- attaching a thinner line to the end of the jacks and pulling it round to the area of the jam, hoping the result would be a freer tangle that might possibly work itself loose from behind the light; but all that happened was that the force required to move anything through the jam parted the whipping (stitching) that I had used to attach the mouse to the jacks. and everything ended up on deck, that was that.

So there was no alternative but to run for help, and once again Windjammer Marine saved the start of our season. Dave was at the boat within an hour, and despite a bit of good-natured grumbling, he was up the mast straight away and re-attached the lazy jacks. Next weekend I owe him a bill, and beer.

I finished rigging up the main, slowly realising that I had now been out on deck for about four hours, and was pretty sunburnt. We retired to the Griffin at Dale for a dinner of scampi and chips. Sunburn and Scampi, must be a Pembrokeshire summer.

Freeflow in the Milford locks was on until 9.30am on a windless Saturday morning, so with all set we motored out around 9.15am near the top of the tide. Eira is now 14 months old, almost walking, bright as a button, and instead of lying below in a bunk as she did for most of last season, she is togged up in a baby lifejacket and roaming the cockpit on the end of a tether. So we took it easy for her first trip as Competent Crew, motoring up-channel with the last of the tide towards Hazelbeach. Delighted with herself, she stood on the coamings commanding all her eye could see, and even jumped down into the cockpit to take the helm with enthusiasm. Eira’s enjoyment of the trip was aided by a bunch of new toys, kindly presented to her by Chris and Bianca of Sea Ptarmigan, whose own kids have outgrown them.

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Commanding all her eye can see- with maracas, should a point need emphasis

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The Cabin Boy, cool as a cucumber

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“I’ll show you how to do that properly, Daddy.”

We pulled onto the Hazelbeach pontoon without too much fuss. A group of divers were training in the shallow waters; there was only a little beach in front of the Ferry Inn pub, and it was too early in the morning for the pub to be open (shame), so Eira had her first ever paddle in the clear, if still cold, water.

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After motoring back for a fab lunch at Martha’s Vineyard, we finished the day off with some crabbing and a beach barbecue at Dale.  A really nice start to the season, and a fab family day out. Let’s hope the weather holds!